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Race and the 2020 Election

Democrats have debated what strategy to employ to take back the White House in 2020

Race and the 2020 Election

It is no secret the Democrats badly want to defeat Donald Trump in 2020, but what is the best way to get there? One of the tasks for election losers is figuring out what went wrong and then trying to make adjustments.

Should we talk about different issues? Try to appeal to different groups of voters? Nominate a different type of candidate?

These are all pressing questions for the Democratic Party, and different people have different opinions. Some want to appeal to working-class White voters in an effort to win back some traditionally Democratic voters who went for Trump. Others want a candidate who can drive up turnout among the Democratic base—African-Americans, Latinos and White liberals.

So, what is the right strategy? We can answer by looking at where the party’s votes came from in 2016 and are likely to come from in 2020.

Trump rode to the White House on the backs of White voters. Roughly 60 percent of Whites voted for Trump. Whites provided nearly all of Trump’s votes. According to my calculations (details on methodology here), 88 percent of Trump voters were White non-Latinos. Trump did especially well among Whites without a college degree. He won 64 percent of their votes, compared with 47 percent of Whites with a college degree.

Trump’s reliance of Whites contrasts sharply with the Democrats. Twenty-seven percent of Clinton voters were African-American. Latinos made up another 19 percent, while college-educated Whites composed 29 percent.

Ninety-four percent of African-Americans voted for Clinton, along with 69 percent of Latinos, and 53 percent of White college graduates. Clinton also had strong support among smaller minority groups, too. She won a considerable majority of votes among Asians, Jews, and gays and lesbians.

Hillary Clinton Onward Together

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In light of these facts, Democrats have debated what strategy to employ to take back the White House in 2020.

My take is that employing a strategy based on winning back Trump voters is a fool’s errand. The Democrats should focus on turning out the base. The reasons are straightforward.

Trump won only 46 percent of the popular vote. He managed just 46 percent despite high turnout among Whites, particularly Whites in the South. Despite the perception, Trump’s performance among Whites was not special. He did not match Mitt Romney’s 2012 showing (Romney won 63 percent of the White vote, compared to Trump’s 60 percent).  

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Trump has not made inroads among Democrats and his overall approval rate is only 41 percent. All this implies there is a ceiling to how wellWhy Did the Russians Target African-American Voters to help Donald Trump? Trump can do. He will not win a second term on the support of his base alone.

The Democrats, on the other hand, have room to grow. African-American turnout was down in 2016. African-American turnout was 58 percent, compared to 62 percent in 2012 and 64 percent in 2008. An increase in Black turnout (as we saw in the 2018 midterm) will go a long way toward putting a Democrat back in the White House.

The Democratic candidate also stands to benefit from four years of demographic changes. Latinos, Asians and other groups that vote Democratic should also make up a larger proportion of voters in 2020 because of demographic changes.

The story would be different if Trump won, say, 52 percent of the vote, or had made inroads among independents or Democrats since the election—but that is not the case—far from it. His ongoing little border wall stunt shows he has no intention of even trying to reach beyond his base either. This is a very limited strategy. Trump is a weak president and the Democrats should not pretend otherwise.  

Donald Trump, South Africa, Farmers

White Anglos, who provide nearly all of Trump’s votes, are a shrinking proportion of the electorate. This is due to their lower birth rate and immigration from Asia and Latin America. Non-Whites make up an increasing portion of voters almost every election. On top of that, Trump’s support is concentrated among older Whites. The average Trump voter was five years older than the average Clinton voter.

Trump’s “base” is a shrinking group. This should help Democrats, as young voters, who strongly oppose Trump, replace an older and much whiter cohort. We have already started to see some of the effects. A large part of the Democrats’ success in the 2018 midterms was because they won nearly 70 percent of the vote among those 30 and younger.

The 2018 midterm should provide an important lesson for Democrats—they will win if turnout is high. The base of potential Democratic voters is bigger than the Republican base.

Democratic House candidates obtained nearly 61 million votes in 2018—only 2 million shy of Trump’s 2016 total. The Republicans did not lose the House because their voters did not show up. They were just swamped because there are many more Democrats and they actually showed up to vote.

Rep. Lauren Underwood won a House seat in last year’s midterm elections

The math is straightforward—there are more than enough potential Democrats to win—and win big—if they turn out. There is no need for the Democrats to go chasing Trump voters. Doing so would probably do more to alienate the Democratic base and drive down turnout than gain new voters.

The math would be totally different if Trump had won a majority in 2016, but he didn’t. One advantage Trump has is that his based is spread out efficiently across states. This is how he won the Electoral College despite not winning the popular vote. The Democrats can overwhelm whatever advantage he might have with turnout, especially if African-American turnout is strong.

The Democrats should focus on driving up turnout among their base and winning back some of the nearly 4 percent of voters who supported third parties in 2016. The Democrats were effective in doing this in 2018.

The strategy is clear. The question is will the Democratic Party identify a candidate and campaign that will turn out the African-American vote?   

Josh Zingher is an assistant professor of political science at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshuaZingher.

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