Long before the recent caucuses and primaries, countless pundits, pollsters, and political scientists began predicting that high Democratic dudgeon produced by the dark doings of President Trump would drive unusually high turnout at the polls. One excitable academic predicted “a voter turnout storm of a century in 2020.” In Iowa and Nevada, however, turnout barely exceeded their lackluster 2016 levels. Even New Hampshire fell short of its 2008 record, according to FiveThirtyEight: “As a percentage of eligible voters, turnout in the Democratic primary this year was around 26 percent, while it was 29 percent in the 2008 Democratic primary.”
Yet much of the legacy media clearly missed the obvious lesson that most objective observers would have learned from such large gaps between projections and actual turnout. Reuters, for example, recently ran a story that claims “a swell of anti-Trump activism that followed his entry into the White House in 2017 is still rolling across the country’s largest population centers.” This is based on a poll that compared 53,394 responses gathered during the last half of 2015 and 35,371 answers obtained during the same period in 2019. It purports to show that the city mice are more politically engaged than their country cousins and that Trump will thus be swamped by an urban “blue wave” next fall.
This nonsense is based on a variety of myths about small town America in general. As the Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham recently pointed out, the terms “rural” and “conservative” are not synonyms. Nor is “rural” synonymous with “politically disengaged” or “white.” In fact, the bucolic congressional district where this is being written has been represented by a black Democrat for more than three decades. The Reuters/Ipsos poll obviously fails to account for these distinctions and is consequently useless for purposes of predicting what voters are likely to do during the primaries or the general election. But the Democrats have long nurtured an affinity for election mythology.
One of their most cherished myths involves the chimerical youth vote. When they are in deep trouble, they tell themselves that young voters will finally rise up in their millions and sweep all Republicans before them. The problem with betting on these fresh-faced saviors is that they tend to be missing in action when it’s time to cast a ballot. In reality, since the legal voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 in 1972, the only candidate whose turnout was measurably affected was Barack Obama in 2008. Nor has the purported front-runner for the Democratic nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, been able to deliver on his promise to mobilize young voters. Nate Cohn of the New York Times reports:
There was no clear evidence across the early states of much greater participation by young people, a typically low-turnout group that makes up a core part of Mr. Sanders’s base and that he has long said he can motivate to get out to the polls.… Among young people, entrance poll data showed that the share of those voters remained essentially unchanged across the three early states. Participation was basically flat in precincts and townships in New Hampshire and Iowa.
Meanwhile, President Trump’s rallies are routinely packed with supporters — including many young voters — and they are also voting in huge numbers in GOP primaries. In the New Hampshire Republican primary, for example, more than 150,000 people went to the polls to vote for the president despite the absence of any serious challenger for the Republican nomination. This figure dwarfs the Granite State primary votes received by recent presidents running for a second term. In 2012, Obama received fewer than 50,000 votes. George W. Bush received 53,962 votes in 2004. Bill Clinton received 76,797 in 1996. If this doesn’t worry the Democrats, they’re not paying attention.
On the other hand, the media are openly speculating about the demise of “the Resistance.” After the Iowa caucuses failed to produce the expected hordes of social justice warriors, the Chicago Tribune ran a recent article titled, “Is the resistance fading?” The piece focused on rank-and-file Democrats whose ability to maintain their outrage over the outcome of the last election is beginning to wane after three futile years of protest. Their hopes that the president would be brought down by the Mueller report were dashed when he was unable to find evidence that the Trump campaign had colluded with the Russians. They were again disappointed when the long awaited impeachment went nowhere. They’re tired:
Democrats are awakening to a troubling possibility: Their #Resistance energy may be flickering.… Now, at the moment when they need their ground troops the most, there are signs that the past three years may have depleted some of their reserves for organizing, activism and fundraising.… At the same time, Democrats are fractured, with the continued uncertainty over the results of the caucuses deepening divisions in the party between the campaigns, the national party and state officials.
It must be discouraging for rank-and-file Democrats, now that 2020 is here, to see President Trump prospering after they were assured by their elected leaders that he would now be gone. It must be hard to witness sluggish turnout for their caucuses and primaries, to watch their potential presidential candidates squabble over the nomination like so many spoiled toddlers, to realize that the ultimate candidate will be chosen behind closed doors by “super delegates” whom they have never met. At some level, they must see that they have been repeatedly deceived, that the Resistance was a panacea whose purpose was to make them believe they were fighting injustice rather than filling the coffers of the Democratic Party.