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Looking to 2020, let’s hope voters are inspired to turn out

Vote Here sign
MinnPost file photo by Karl Pearson-Cater

The growing public dissatisfaction with government and politics — two of three Americans have negative views about the current circumstances — suggests a look back at our two-party system, initially consisting of the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans, and a look ahead to 2020.

Organizationally, our political parties have been institutionalized, evolving over many years into something like a three-legged stool: 1) the trenches where hard-core loyalists do the necessary work to shape issues, recruit candidates, oversee campaigns, identify voters, get out their own vote on election day and to raise funds to pay for it all; 2) the candidates who are serving in office or seeking election to office, generally more moderate on issues than the activists; and, 3) the largest grouping is the party on Election Day, usually a coalition of people that covers a broad cross-section geographically and philosophically. (Yes, there are conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans.) 

Periodically, the end of the current two-party political system is predicted and other forms of election and governance are advanced, but not adopted. Often, it is the desire for a strong third-party challenger for president that inspires hopes for the reformers, though no third-party candidate has ever won election to our nation’s highest office. 

Voting in Minnesota

In Minnesota, population 5.6 million, Republicans estimate they have about 1.1 million voters who will reliably go to the polls in support of their candidates; DFLers had a base vote of nearly 1.4 million in 2018, a higher number than in previous years. There are generally 2.5 to 3 million voters in Minnesota, tops in the nation with turnouts of about seven in 10 of the eligible voters. 

 I faced unusual obstacles when I was elected at age 28 as the Minnesota Republican state chair just after the 1970s Watergate scandal that resulted in the resignation of President Richard Nixon. With the DFL in solid control of the Minnesota’s political machinery, our early surveys indicated that only 10 percent of voters were solid Republicans, with well over 40 percent claiming to be independent. The DFL had over a third of the voters identifying with its side. 

Chuck Slocum
Chuck Slocum
As a result of a broadly sponsored effort in 1975 to grow the party base, Minnesota became the only Republican organization in the nation to expand its outreach by formally adopting the Independent-Republicans of Minnesota (IRM) moniker. Our organizational actions included intentional party outreach to labor, women, minorities, younger voters and those who were unaligned with any party. 

By 1978, the IRM vigorously bounced back with major statewide victories for two U.S. Senate seats, governor and in the state Legislature. 

Since the 1980s we have had a competitive two-party system in Minnesota that has spread the responsibility for governing. Currently, five of eight U.S. House members  from Minnesota are DFLers; three of the newcomers are in closely contested districts (two DFL and one GOP). Both U.S. senators are DFLers, as is Gov.  Tim Walz. The Minnesota House is controlled by the DFL, the Senate by Republicans. 

In May, the DFLers and Republicans completed the 2019 legislative session working together in a civilized manner to find compromises and trade-offs that left all sides with things accomplished and things left undone for work next year. That is not necessarily a bad thing. 

2020 could see big, diverse turnout 

With 16 months to go before the election, political strategists are already defining what to expect in the near future. 

A lively presidential election year is shaping up. President Donald Trump is expected to win nomination for a second four-year term, and the Democratic Party already has two dozen candidates seeking the party nod, including Minnesota’s  newly re-elected Sen. Amy Klobuchar. 


Republicans note that most U.S. presidents who seek a second term are successful, but those four who were not include Republicans George HW Bush, Herbert Hoover and William Taft; Democrat Jimmy Carter lost his re-election bid to Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election. 

Signs are growing that voter turnout in 2020 could reach the highest levels in the past century — with a surge of new voters producing the most diverse electorate in American history. The Democratic leaning voter-targeting firm Catalist has projected that about 156 million people could vote in 2020, an increase of 13 percent from the 139 million who cast ballots in 2016. Likewise, Public Opinion Strategies, a leading Republican polling firm, recently forecast that the 2020 contest could produce a massive turnout that will be the most widely heterogeneous in U.S. history.

With Trump’s often tumultuous presidency stirring strong emotions among supporters and opponents, strategists and academic experts are now bracing for what Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist has called “a voter turnout storm of a century.”

Potential Dem strategies

Democrats believe that chipping into Trump’s base of non-college-educated and rural white voters is one way to win back the Rust Belt states that he unexpectedly won in 2016. Others assert that Democrats could win by increasing voter turnout among young people, minorities and first-time immigrant voters. 

May the elections ahead inspire rather than discourage Americans to vote and may Minnesota politics continue to practice civility in its public discourse.

Chuck Slocum is president of The Williston Group, a management consulting firm. He can be reached at Chuck@WillistonGroup.Com 

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 07/13/2019 - 10:32 am.

    And, let’s hope that today’s GOP–nothing at all like the GOP in the 1970s, by the way–stops trying to suppress voter turnout on the fierce and multi–angled ways they did in 2016 and especially 2018!

    Today’s America is different from what it was 40-some years ago, and only the Democratic demographics reflect that. The GOP knows that the older, white, rural America is a definite minority of who we are now, and many of us are hoping that Democrats get out to vote this next time to reassert the majority’s will.

    Mot of us want Trump returned to civilian life, where he can finally be indicted for the state and federal crimes we all know he has been committing with impunity.

    • Submitted by Steve Rose on 07/14/2019 - 09:27 am.

      The two greatest causes of voter suppression in the 2016 election.
      1) Choice of candidate – Hillary Clinton
      2) DNC and Clinton campaign collusion against Bernie

      Yet, the prevailing narrative continues to blame the loss on the Russians, Trump-Russia collusion, the Electoral College, and voter suppression by Republicans.

  2. Submitted by Jim Spensley on 07/14/2019 - 09:38 am.

    Mr. Slocum has stood as each of the 3 legs of the stool, to ad to his anology. There was a fourth leg (integrity) now stuck in the mud and of little concern to the party functionaries or to some candidates..

    Mr. Slocum’s a little confused on the liberal-conservative breakout: good government requires a bi-partisan commitment to integrity regarding facts in evidence and to informing the general public of of their right to vote. A conservative of either party opposes Roe vs. Wade while declaring the individual right to privacy (except for pregrancy). A conservatve of either party wants peope to register and vote –for their party’s candidates –not necessarily as an informed participant in governance.

    Campaign “dirty tricks” include geting out the vote selectively and barring turnout of citizens in precincts usually support the other party. Candidates for re-election as President who folowed this course usually over-stepped campign rules (FEC) and engaged in criminal acts.

    This may not include more ex-Presidents, but it surely includes Nixon-Agnew and Trump-Pence.

  3. Submitted by Julie Stroeve on 07/14/2019 - 02:31 pm.

    Are there enough Trumpers to outweigh all the voters who are aghast at the attack on our country under this POTUS? Sometimes I think Chuck and his consultant class wear rose-colored glasses that prohibit them from experiencing what we regular folk see and feel daily. If Steve Bannon’s and Stephen Miller’s view of draining the swamp is what’s happening all over America, and particularly in the Beltway, then we have no choice but to oust the whole damn bunch. VOTE, Americans. VOTE.

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