While the race for the Democratic presidential nomination threatens to devolve into an intraparty civil war, President Trump’s campaign is expanding the Republican base by tapping into the vast pool of Americans who are eligible to vote yet exercise the franchise very sporadically. These desultory voters constitute more than 40 percent of the electorate, according to a new Knight Foundation poll. Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, is deploying a small army of volunteers at each of the president’s rallies to identify attendees who may belong to this immense reservoir of potential supporters and convert them into 2020 Republican voters who will show up and cast ballots on Election Day.
After each Trump rally, Parscale posts the percentage of attendees who didn’t vote in 2016. After last Friday’s Las Vegas event, for example, he tweeted that 32 percent of the eligible voters who came to see Trump had not voted in the last presidential election. Subsequent to the Colorado Springs rally held the day before, Parscale tweeted that 19 percent of the attendees neglected to vote in 2016. Following Wednesday’s Phoenix rally, he tweeted that 26 percent of the eligible voters in attendance skipped the last election. The campaign isn’t merely keeping score and compiling lists for use at some later date. They are reaching out to these disengaged voters then and there, as illustrated by this recent AP report:
Ashley Arentz … from Jacksonville, North Carolina, didn’t vote in 2016, and she wasn’t even registered to vote in the state. But there she was on Monday, standing in line for hours in the 90-degree heat waiting to enter President Donald Trump’s rally in Fayetteville. That made her a golden target for the volunteers in day-glow yellow T-shirts working to register new voters.… She filled out a registration form on the spot.
Will this have a significant impact next November? Almost certainly. Parscale’s outreach initiative is being launched at a time when the Democrats are already losing the registration advantage they have historically enjoyed among the electorate. According to a new Gallup survey, 30 percent of Americans now identify as Republicans, whereas only 27 percent identify as Democrats. Moreover, the GOP now enjoys a 48-44 percent advantage when Republican-leaning Independents and Democrat-leaning Independents are included in the calculation. In other words, combined with an increasingly fractious nomination race, this outreach program couldn’t come at a worse time for the Democrats.
It’s likely that many of the sporadic voters appearing at the Trump rallies are disaffected Democrats who would agree with Reagan’s oft-quoted reason for leaving that party: “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me.” That they are showing up at Trump rallies and standing in line for hours suggests they are ripe for harvesting. The Knight Foundation poll also found that if they can be convinced to cast ballots in 2020, they will tend to favor Trump in a number of key swing states: “President Trump would be the favorite in Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia and New Hampshire.” The issues they consider important also suggest an affinity for Trump:
Immigration was the most-cited issue by non-voters in an open-response survey question, mentioned by 19% of respondents. It was the top issue for Republican (34%) and Independent non-voters (17%).… Immigration was the most commonly cited issue in all swing states except Pennsylvania, where the economy ranked first. Non-voters in Arizona (27%) and Nevada (25%) are particularly concerned about this issue.
These sporadic voters show very little concern for several issues on which all the Democrats place enormous emphasis in their campaign speeches, presidential debates, and policy proposals. This became blindingly obvious when they were given a list and asked, “What do you believe is the MOST important issue currently facing the United States today?” Only 5 percent chose “environment/climate change,” a mere 7 percent chose “racism and race relations,” and a whopping 8 percent chose “gun control.” In other words, this usually inactive part of the electorate is fertile ground for President Trump’s reelection campaign if Parscale and his team continue to reach out to them aggressively.
There are, of course, Democratic votes to be found in this huge segment of the non-voting electorate as well. It’s difficult, however, to see how the world’s oldest political party can take advantage of this opportunity while in the midst of an intra-party civil war in which “democratic socialists” declare war on the party leadership and “moderates” challenge the results of every caucus. Bernie Sanders says he will call forth an army of young voters to defeat Trump. But the social justice warriors he would mobilize, according to the Knight Foundation poll, are more clueless than the current pool of habitual non-voters: “Young adults are less likely than non-voters to proactively seek out news content.”
These people won’t be there in the general election — they may not even know when or how to vote — unless they are the focus of a well-led, well-financed, technologically savvy campaign operation unencumbered by internecine party warfare. In the 2020 election cycle, only the Trump reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee come close to fitting that description. They have nearly unanimous GOP support and are signing up new recruits every day from the ranks of the very people the Democrats abandoned after 2008. While the Democrats squabble among themselves and slander the president, he is situating himself to win the electoral college and the popular vote in 2020.