How Politics, Demographics and Money Influence U.S. Elections at All Levels
During an in-depth, four-part presentation on December 4, David McCuan, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Sonoma State University Department of Political Science, gave Sonoma County Alliance members his assessment of the political climate in the nation leading up to the 2020 general elections only 335 days away.
He also observed that there were only 90 days left until the 2020 Super Duper Tuesday, March 3, primaries, and just 61 days to the first voting begins in Iowa (Monday, February 3, 2020).
Dr.McCuan noted that there may be some lingering effects still with us following the 2018 election that will have an impact on next year’s contest, and that bellwether states (Missouri, Iowa and New Hampshire, among others) will be important to watch for an early indication of voter preferences. For Missouri – or “Big MO” as it is known – has voted for the winner in all but three U.S. presidential elections from 1904 to 2016 (with the exceptions of 1956, 2008 and 2012).
According to Dr. McCuan, there is wide disparity when it comes to determining who is the front runner at any given point in time, with the lead changing with every survey. In early December Joe Biden had 29% followed by Bernie Sanders with 20%, Elizabeth Warren 15%, Pete Buttigieg 9%, Kamala Harris 5% and Michael Bloomberg 5%. The remainder of the Democratic field collectively had only 12%.
Dr. McCuan said the Democratic race would change if Sen. Kamala Harris’ supporters shifted to candidates they identified as their second choices – with Biden gaining +1%, Sanders +1%, Warren +1%and Buttigieg (no change).
In the Iowa caucuses, voters were asked which Democrats would be their first choice. They said Warren (22%); Sanders (19%); Buttigieg (18%) and Biden (17%) with Klobuchar, Harris and Yang collectively having only 10%.
Taking a look at Big Mo projections, according to a CBS news report on battleground states, Missouri voters would today would favor Biden (67%), Sanders (56%), Warren (56%) and Harris (40%), but that by next September these percentages would change to 77%, 58%, 55% and 44% for these candidates in the same order. (Note: Since this poll, Kamala Harris has withdrawn from the race).
Looking at the consistency of picking Republican or Democrat winners in Iowa and New Hampshire during general elections from 1976 to 2012, on the “red” Republican ticket Iowa only picked W. Bush in 2000, and New Hampshire selected only two in the same time frame, Reagan and H.W. Bush in 1980 and 1988. On the “blue” Democratic side, Iowa voters picked Carter in 1976 and 1980, and New Hampshire picked Carter in 1976 and 1980 and no other candidates that became winners through 2012.
Dr. McCuan said Iowa and N.H. are much “whiter” than the Democratic Party compared to the U.S. overall as well as Super Tuesday states in terms of this party’s share of the Democratic primary electorate.
Impeachment vs. Re-Election
Turning to the impeachment process, Dr. McCuan outlined the 10 steps necessary from start to finish, beginning with six actions convened by the Speaker of the House and four procedures in the Senate.
An assessment of voter views on the impeachment inquiry from October 7-8 through November 15-17 showed that those supporting the inquiry fell modestly from 50% to 48%, while those who opposed impeachment rose from 44% to 45% during weekly polls surveying roughly 2,000 registered voters.
Candidate positions on key issues were also polled by CBS News showing that healthcare was very important to 87% voters in battleground states, 79% said climate change, 70% listed income inequality, while 60% said guns and 52% mentioned impeachment.
In the “persuadable” category, among those who haven’t made up their minds about impeachment, a poll of 2,088 respondents taken in Nov. 13 to Nov. 18 showed a wide range when it came to a level of certainty about whether Trump committed an impeachable offense, and how closely they had been following the impeachment process. Among those who said they were “certain,” 37% said they had not followed the process closely or at all, 41.5% said somewhat closely and only 24.6% said “very closely.” Persuadable voters are Obama voters.
In the not-so-certain category, 65% indicated they were not-so-certain (among those not closely following the process) and 34% revealed they were more certain (among those who followed the process closely or very closely).
Looking at records showing public support for impeachment in connection with Trump, Nixon and Clinton at the start of the impeachment process, 29% said they supported impeachment for Clinton, 30% for Nixon and 44% for Trump, according to polls by Gallup, CNN and Monmouth University.
Dr. McCuan shifted gears to talk about assumptions involved with American politics. He said there are three fundamental variables: Fiscal Stress, Uncertainty and Discretion, and how these factors are relevant today, observing that a candidate’s most precious resource is time, along with having a global angle.
For example, since his inauguration, Trump has held 67 relatively small-town rallies in 63 cities. Of the 63, only 21 were ranked among the 200 most populous cities. In a further breakdown, 33 cities had populations of less than 100,000; 19 had populations of less than 50,000, 8 had fewer than 30,000 and 3 had populations of less than 10,000.
This led Dr. McCuan to ask if this approach and the growing number of independents in the U.S. are evidence of the rise of a broader middle group? Gallup found that as of 2017 the percentage of independents had risen to 42%, while the number of voters registered as Democrats had declined to 29% and registered Republicans at 27%.
He said political scientists look at six rules when attempting to analyze upcoming elections: The role of campaigns and models of election dynamics, the importance of campaign spending, along with debates and vice-presidential selections, information deficits, blocks and overflow, Events over Plans and Data over Instinct factors. Dr. McCuan said campaign spending doesn’t really matter. Debates are what matters, not who will be vice president.
Democratic themes are all over the map as candidates strive to see what resonates with voters. An analysis of the issues that dominated each of five Democratic debates (from June 26 to November 20) shows a continuing shift in the order of priorities from early to later topics.
At the start, Healthcare was at the top that later shifted to foreign policy. In second place, Immigration was replaced by social issues. The third priority focused on Trump and the Republicans but ultimately morphed to a study of democracy; followed by economic inequality, the environment, criminal justice, jobs and education. By November 20 (debate 5) health care had dropped to 7th place.
2020 is a pivotal election – since 2016 was the last election for old Republicans. Today the issues revolve around volatility, terrorism, security threats, combined with a negative president. Large numbers of emerging young voters are diverse and mobile (26 million of them). Two-thirds of the regular electorate are white voters, according to Dr. McCuan.
He said it is a contest between “old white people” and the new Democratic Party in terms of what they both stand for. From a voter perspective, the key themes are the economy and security, in Dr. McCuan’s view. Elections are about contrasts, governing is about gaining consensus. Politics is an art, but today Trump rules by issuing executive orders.
The big question is with 50% of voters dissatisfied with Trump, can Biden capture them? At the same time, suburban women of color are for Biden, and some 37% of U.S. households are headed by women. At the end of the day, Iowa and N.H. leading Democratic candidates must do better than expected.
What is interesting is that seven of 10 Obama, and later Trump, voters approve of Trump, but a president’s approval rating is always under water, even as low of 40%.
The quest for every candidate in this election is to capture and interpret changes anticipated for the period from 2020 to 2040 in terms of what can be expected. For example, an economic slowdown is anticipated by the end of next year.
Dr. McCuan outlined demographic trends that will be reflected in the U.S. 2020 Census – Latino’s will probably be 10% of the population (3.25 million registered Latino voters in Georgia alone). The number of individuals who have not completed college is rising, meaning they can’t afford a home, but instead rent or cohabitate, and the number of regular voters who live in mobile homes is also rising. The focus is on RAE – Unmarried women (25%), Latinos (10%), Youth (22%), African Americans (12%) and other races (6%).
These groups are responsible for 80% of the growth in U.S. population between 2000 and 2010 – and also make up for more than half of the Voting Eligible Population (but was only 47% of the electorate in 2008 and 42% in 2010). It move up to 51% in 2016 and is expected to reach between 52-54% in 2020.
Locally in Sonoma County, homelessness is a major issue, as is housing, along an increasing need for lots of help coming from outside groups. In 2020, lots of angry people will be voting.
While the Latino population is rising, those 18 to 22 don’t vote, but those ages 25 to 29 do. The question is how do we poll young people? At the same time, the non-white population is also growing in the South. Republicans have stopped talking about immigration.
We need to start looking at elections by counties, not by Congressional districts, and attempt to determine likely voter mentality. For example, registered voters may not vote, but poorly educated voters matter.
If you look closely at the election process across the U.S., five counties are barometers for the 2020 election: Maricopa County, AZ; Miami-Dade County, FL; Kent County, MI; Beaver County, PA, and Milwaukee County, WI.
Final points…Does “America First = America Alone?” Trump Tweeted 140 times the first week of the public impeachment proceedings. Some 22 states are GOP-owned; both governorships and both sides of the state legislature. Another five states lean toward the GOP.
What to Watch in 2020
Keep an eye on the calendar and key dates, as well as changes in the general vs. voting populations, such as demographic shifts and the RAE factor. Watch the Gallup “General Ballot Test and “Enthusiasm” poll along with presidential approval numbers.
Study macroeconomic Indicators and conditions: Such as Congress, Senate differences vs. White House priorities and macro-micro problems. Observe dominant media narratives of anti-incumbency and anti-establishment “symbolic” politics. Remember that conventional wisdom is often wrong.