How to fight back after Trump win: Start with voting
The final votes of the 2016 election are still being counted as the last mail-in and absentee ballots arrive. But once again, the American electorate came up woefully short.
No doubt most who are reading this did his or her civic duty. But too many people didn’t, and we’re stuck with the results, as painful, disheartening, and frightening as they are.
Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote count is now nearly 1.7 million and likely will go even higher as up to 4 million more votes in all Western states are tabulated. But the Electoral College votes are the ones that count, and that will give us President-elect Donald Trump. Not that we should ever stop pointing out who won the popular vote.
Many of us keep hoping we might still wake up from a nightmare and see that the election results are different. It’s tempting to just burrow under the covers again to avoid the pain. Some are coping by continuing to protest; wearing safety pins; and donating to progressive causes like the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Planned Parenthood.
All of those are important. It’s also useful to examine why not enough Democratic voters showed up at the polls, and explore ways to get more of them out next time around.
Was voter suppression a factor? Yes, although not the only one. A story on Think Progress outlines how voter ID laws and other forms of voting restrictions might have been the difference between a Trump win and a Clinton victory in three states with Republican-run legislatures and governors—Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Florida. All of these new laws were made possible by a June 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling essentially gutting the Voting Rights Act.
In Wisconsin, for example:
Donald Trump won the state by fewer than 30,000 votes. According to the state’s own records, ten times that many eligible voters in the state — as many as 300,000 people — lacked the proper ID and may have been disenfranchised.
Neil Albrecht, the executive director of Milwaukee’s Election Commission, believes the policy depressed turnout in the blue counties Clinton desperately needed to carry Wisconsin. Compared to 2012, 60,000 fewer people voted this year in Milwaukee — the county that holds the vast majority of the state’s black population. Statewide, turnout was the lowest it has been for a presidential election in two decades.
Albrecht said his office received a flood of calls from voters in the city’s poorest districts who said they were unable to cast a ballot because they lacked the proper identification. According to new data released by the state, nearly 600 ballots will be thrown away because voters did not have the right ID. And Albrecht said he worries many more did not even attempt to vote because of the law.
One North Carolina county cut early voting sites from 16 sites in 2012 to just one in 2016; early voting by African-Americans dropped by nearly 9 percent. In Florida, roughly 1.5 million Florida residents (almost 2.5 percent of the state’s population) are permanently disenfranchised because of a law banning ex-felons from voting.
But voter suppression doesn’t excuse the voters who just don’t bother to show up.
As of right now—and all of these numbers are still estimates at this point—only about 1.4 million more people voted in 2016 than voted in 2012, even as the U.S. voting-eligible population grew at a faster rate than that. “About 57 percent of eligible voters cast ballots this year, down from 58.6 percent in 2012 and 61.6 percent in 2008, which was the highest mark in 40 years,” says a story at FiveThirtyEight.com.
Let’s face it: Not enough voters came out for Clinton and other Democrats down the ballot. There might have been more Democratic votes than Republican votes overall in congressional races as well as the presidential race, but that still doesn’t change the outcome. As FiveThirtyEight says:
On average, turnout was unchanged in states that voted for Trump, while it fell by an average of 2.3 percentage points in states that voted for Clinton. Relatedly, turnout was higher in competitive states — most of which Trump won. In the 14 swing states — those where either the winning party in the presidential race switched from 2012 or where the margin was within 5 percentage points — an average of 65.3 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. In the other 36 states and Washington, D.C., turnout averaged just 56.3 percent. That gap exacerbates a tendency for turnout to be higher in the places where candidates concentrate their travel, advertising, and other get-out-the-vote efforts.
The low turnout outside of swing states could have affected the national popular vote margin (though not the outcome in the Electoral College). Clinton trails Trump in total votes from swing states but leads him in the other states and overall. Clinton’s popular-vote lead probably would be roughly 40 percent higher if turnout in uncompetitive states caught up with turnout in the swing states — though there could be other factors that make turnout higher in the group of states that are most competitive in presidential races.
A recent Washington Post column by Philip Bump discussed a survey done by the Post and the Schar School for Public Policy at George Mason University on how people felt about the election results. The responses “upset, terrible, scared, and shocked” outweighed “happy and hopeful,” and responses from Clinton voters and Trump voters were pretty much opposites, as you might expect.
Here’s the thing, though. The responses from those who didn’t bother to cast a ballot fell much more heavily in the negative category than on the positive side. As Bump writes:
It’s a small sample size, but the responses were more evenly distributed. More nonvoters said they thought the results were terrible than expressed happiness about them, for example.
To which I say: Are you kidding me?
Some people aren’t able to vote on Election Day because they’re working or have some sort of emergency that prevents their doing so. Those people are excused from the following critique. For those who were eligible to vote but chose not to: Your opinion is bad. Voting is the price of admission for complaining about the results. Nothing’s stopping you from complaining, of course; the First Amendment protects complaints more than anything else, really. But don’t roll up to America and say “you made a bad choice” after not weighing in on that choice. It’s like showing up to dinner with a group of friends an hour in and complaining about what they ordered. Tough luck, man; eat your liver.
This also reminds me of the NFL players who have every right to protest the playing of the U.S. national anthem by taking a knee, either because they are calling attention to racial inequality or to Trump’s election. But several of those players admitted that they didn’t bother to vote, like Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers. As a matter of fact, Kaepernick has never even bothered to register to vote, according to a story by the Sacramento Bee.
There have been a plethora of stories about how Trump voters were looking for change; how the media “misread” the Trump voter; how the 11th-hour James Comey letter on Clinton’s emails tilted too many people against Clinton (YA THINK?); how the media’s free pass for Trump and laser-like overblown reporting about Clinton’s emails turned the tide; how the Clinton team didn’t bother to court the white working class; how the white working class voter has been left behind. There is truth in all of those factors, even as they don’t deal with Trump’s open courtship of white nationalists. And those stories never bother to point out the programs President Obama proposed that would have helped the working class but were stymied by congressional Republicans.
So what are some ways to drive voter turnout for more success next time around? Various groups like Latino Decisions pushed voter registration, and the number of Latino votes was up: 79 percent went for Clinton, reporting on bad exit polling notwithstanding. We can only be grateful for those efforts. Here are some other possibilities.
Automatic voter registration. Many rejoiced when Oregon instituted automatic voter registration this year. According to a story in The Oregonian, more than 2 million in Oregon cast ballots, breaking the 2008 record of 1.84 million. Yet the 2016 total with added automatically registered voters produced a lower percentage of the state’s population—78.9 percent—than the last three presidential elections. Some 42 percent of voters who benefited from automatic voter registration took part in the 2016 election.
Oregon is only one example; California, Connecticut, Vermont, and West Virginia also have such laws. Illinois is one step closer, as the Illinois Senate overrode Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of proposed legislation; if the Illinois House follows suit, Illinois will become the sixth state to register voters automatically when getting a driver’s license or using other state services.
But that won’t overcome voter suppression in too many states with GOP-controlled legislatures. Midterm voting is crucial to have some of those state houses swing back into the “D” column. Democrats actually lost influence this election; Dems lost control of houses in Iowa and Kentucky, while Republicans successfully defended their majorities in most states. Democrats now hold governors’ mansions and state legislatures in only five states; before Nov. 8, that number was seven.
Vote Democratic, damn it. The old saw is: Democrats fall in love; Republicans fall in line. And boy, did GOPers fall in line this time around, even for the most abhorrent candidate possible. Some who denounced Trump after the Access Hollywood tape exposed him as a groper-in-chief changed their minds and announced their support only weeks later. Because emails, of course.
Not all Democrats fell in line behind Clinton. As good as we felt about the reports of early voting numbers, the post-Comey Election Day numbers killed her.
A Wall Street Journal story claims that the 4 percent of the popular vote going to Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein had little effect on Hillary Clinton’s vote totals in the swing states that she lost. The Journal argues that she would have needed an outsize percentage of third-party votes to gain those electoral votes. But a close look at the numbers shows that’s not so.
A small percentage of those votes could have swung either Wisconsin, Michigan, or Pennsylvania. Nearly 224,000 votes went to Johnson and Stein in Michigan, and Trump took the state with less than 12,000 extra votes. The same is true for Wisconsin (27,000-plus for Trump vs. 137,000 third party) and Pennsylvania (68,000-plus for Trump vs. 191,000 third party).
We obviously don’t know how those voters would have voted had they not voted for Johnson or Stein. But in Wisconsin, had Stein’s voters alone gone for Clinton, she would have won the state.
We need a deeper—and younger—bench. There are some rising stars in the Democratic Party, but not nearly enough. There are many new Kossacks on the site (think of all of the “first-ever diaries” you’ve read throughout this election season). Who’s ready to pass around some nominating petitions? For school boards, for city councils, for state legislatures? How about going back to Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy and winning more congressional seats? How about some more Democratic governors? A governor post often serves as a springboard to the White House. The fight for 2018 starts has already started.
Stop running retreads. If you’ve lost an election, it makes little sense to face the same opponent in another election. Every now and then, the voters will return you to office, but not often. Former Rep. Brad Schneider took on Republican incumbent Robert Dold in Illinois’ 10th District in a rematch and won, but he was the exception.
Former Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh was polling well until the end of the campaign, mostly on name recognition, but heavy GOP spending hitting him for being out of state so long (among other charges) did him in. In the race that really hurt, former Sen. Russ Feingold, despite being smarter, more honest, and just a better human being, lost in a Wisconsin Senate rematch with Republican incumbent Ron Johnson after a huge infusion of outside GOP spending. But Wisconsin voters earlier showed, in the Gov. Scott Walker 2012 recall election against Democrat Tom Barrett, that once defeated, you stay defeated (Walker also defeated Barrett in 2010). The sting of losing the Senate hurts almost as much as losing the presidency, especially because 25 Senate Democrats face re-election in 2018.
Midterms, midterms, midterms. Voter turnout in presidential years usually approaches 60 percent, while turnout in midterm elections is 40 percent or less. The turnout nationwide for the 2014 midterm elections was a paltry 36.3 percent. In that election, 37 percent of voters were 60 or older, and only 12 percent were under 30. And older voters skew more conservative and more Republican.
REDMAP, the Republicans’ Redistricting Majority Project, was an enormous success in 2010. It was organized by the Republican State Leadership Committee and flipped control of 19 state legislatures as well as the House. GOP control of states let them redraw gerrymandered congressional districts throughout the country. What kind of similar effort are Democrats planning?
Democrats will be doing the usual post-mortems after an election defeat, especially one that stings as badly as this one does. I’d love to hear more ideas and strategy. In the meantime, let’s remember what Hillary Clinton told an audience at the Children’s Defense Fund’s “Beat The Odds” Gala in Washington.
“We have work to do, and for the sake of our children and our families and our country, I ask you to stay engaged, stay engaged on every level,” Clinton said. “We need you. America needs you, your energy, your ambition, your talent. That is how we get through this.”
Originally posted on Daily Kos, Nov. 20, 2016.