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Re-energizing Obama supporters who were nonvoters in 2016 seen as best path for Dems in ’18

A quartet of political scientists, writing for the Sunday New York Times, took a relatively novel path to explore not only how Donald Trump won the 2016 election, but also what Democrats might do to get a different result in 2020.

Their approach was to focus deeply on those who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 but didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. That includes not only those who voted for Donald Trump, but those who voted for minor party candidates and, most especially, those who voted for Obama in 2012 but didn’t vote at all in 2016. The piece was titled: “The missing Obama millions.”

In fact, of those who voted for Obama in 2012 and didn’t vote for Clinton in 2016, slightly less than half (6 million) voted for Trump. Slightly more than half either voted for a minor party ticket (2.3 million) or (4 million) didn’t vote at all.

The analysis by the foursome (political scientists Jesse H. Rhodes and Brian F. Schaffner of the University of Massachusetts, Bernard L. Fraga of Indiana University and Sean McElwee of Data for Progress) focused a bit on the issue positions of those who left the Obama coalition, but also on the demographics, and they found that a huge majority (84 percent) of those 6 million who switched from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016 were white.

But about half of those who switched from voting for Obama to not voting at all were non-white, and most of those were black.

On one level, that’s not too surprising — given the historic nature of Obama’s candidacy, especially for African-American voters, and given the usual fact that whites have a higher turnout rate than blacks — that a lot of black voters turned out for Obama then didn’t vote in 2016.

But the authors went a step further. They suggest that most of the whites who defected from the Obama coalition to the Trump coalition are going to be hard for Democrats to get back. But those who voted for Obama, then stayed home in 2016, will probably vote for Democrats if they can be motivated to vote at all. They wrote:

Democratic strategists should recognize that Obama-to-Trump voters do not represent the future of their party. Obama-to-Trump voters diverge from the Democratic Party on many core issues, and in any case they are not particularly loyal Democrats: Less than one third of Obama-to-Trump voters supported Democrats down-ballot in 2016, and only 37 percent identify as Democrats.

In stark contrast, Obama-to-nonvoters share the progressive policy priorities of Democrats, and they strongly identify with the Democratic Party. Four out of every five Obama-to-nonvoters identify as Democrats, and 83 percent reported they would have voted for a Democrat down-ballot. A similar share of Obama-to-nonvoters said that they would have voted for Mrs. Clinton had they turned out to vote. In short, while reclaiming some Obama-to-Trump voters would be a big help to Democratic prospects, re-energizing 2012 Obama voters who stayed home is a more plausible path for the party going forward.

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 03/12/2018 - 02:14 pm.

    Wasn’t that the plan last time?

    What was it someone said about doing the same thing and expecting a new outcome? But hey, by all means; carry on.

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/12/2018 - 06:11 pm.

    A political strategy

    that worked in 2008 and 2012, and drew 3 million more votes than the opposition in 2016 (even if it lost in the Electoral Collage) can hardly be said to be a failure.
    You quote, BTW, is often attributed to Albert Einstein, although also to Ben Franklin and Mark Twain.

  3. Submitted by ian wade on 03/12/2018 - 06:51 pm.

    Maybe they should just come up with

    a meaningless slogan and lie about bringing long dead industries back to life. It worked for Trump.

  4. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 03/13/2018 - 11:57 am.

    The main point here is, though, that there is a values center–the Democratic Party’s ideological basis for being–that should not be tossed aside in some “turn” to the right, or pandering to those who don’t agree with Democratic principles, just to get certain Trump voters to vote for someone other than Trump. or a Trumpite next time around.

    We must remember, every time pollsters tell us that Trump voters are firmly sticking with Trump (as he said, no matter what he says or does, and no matter how inept or scuzzy) we must keep in mind that they are a tangible minority of Americans, and a significant minority of American voters.

    The United States of America is not Donald Trump.

    • Submitted by jim hughes on 03/13/2018 - 03:25 pm.

      but there’s that one little thing…

      It’s fine for Democrats to talk about how this or that would be true, or would have happened, “except for the Electoral College”. But if we want to retake the White House we have to fact the reality that however dysfunctional and obsolete it may be, it’s here to stay. Pushing ever more “Progressive” issues wins more votes in blue states, loses votes in red states, and only exacerbates the situation.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/15/2018 - 03:07 pm.

        “Progressive” issues are popular nationwide.

        A clear majority of American’s reject the Republican platform. I’m not sure what you mean by progressive but Republican voters already have Republican candidates to vote for, Democrats won’t pick up elections by giving them more Republican candidates under the Democratic flag.

        • Submitted by jim hughes on 03/15/2018 - 09:23 pm.


          Would you call Conor Lamb a DINO or do you see his successful candidacy as a good model?

          Democrats are definitely gathering steam for this year’s election but I think we’d all be better off if the pendulum swung less wildly in the future.

          • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/16/2018 - 12:36 pm.

            There is no magic pendulum

            We have to stop relying magical thinking. There is no such thing as magic, or magic pendulums. Things change, conditions fluctuate, the reason we fight for what we believe in is because not infrequently things collapse and a lot people get hurt. We don’t just wait for the pendulum to swing back from the far side of genocide or civil collapse.

            Lamb was no DINO but Lamb isn’t really the point. Obviously the Democrats can expected to win a lot of seats in the next election cycle for a variety of reason. But Democrats will just start losing again in the following election cycles if they don’t produce results and address the issues voters need addressed, that’s why they need to do more than merely win elections, they need to be liberals who get things done. If we replace whackos without replacing whacko policies voters will simply look elsewhere… again.

            Getting back to Lamb briefly, it is weird indeed to see centrist and mainstream Democrats who had NOTHING to do with his campaign or victory, point to his campaign and victory as a confirmation of their “strategies”. Twas progressives like Sanders and Ellison that have been pushing for 50 state every seat contests like Lambs. As a great man once said: “you miss 100% of the shots you never take”, it’s been progressives and liberals demanding more shots.

            • Submitted by jim hughes on 03/20/2018 - 02:37 pm.


              There’s always that tension: delivering for the people who supported you, versus further antagonizing those who didn’t. I’m onboard with “getting things done” if they’re substantial, beneficial, and realistic and not just more in-your-face ‘social justice’. Driving down prescription drug prices would be an example of the former; renaming Lake Calhoun would be an example of the latter. And many proposals are somewhere in between.

              Republicans are in the process of digging themselves into a very deep hole and have lost touch with reality. Let’s not emulate them.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/15/2018 - 12:31 pm.

    It just go show…

    If you give the NYT’s enough time they’ll eventually recognize the bloody obvious. This information has been available and recognized for over a year. Details and observations about lost Obama voters have recognized and discussed many time if not by a trio of wise men writing for the NYTs.

    Once you stop trying to blame Sanders’s and find other excuses for Clinton’s defeat this is the most obvious data you would look at. And the conclusion is obvious, a popular candidate running on a liberal platform of change that has popular appeal will have broad enough appeal to win elections. The only people who don’t seem to understand this are elite Democrats and party regulars who thought a retreat to the “center” with a mediocre and unpopular candidate would win the White House. Clinton and her team literally thought Republican votes would put her over the top, that a predictable mistake, and this data show us that those voters opted for Trump.

    We have a majority of Americans who currently support a variety of liberal policies and reject Trump and Republican policies… yeah those are the ones who voted for Obama.

  6. Submitted by Jeffrey McIntyre on 03/18/2018 - 07:34 am.


    “Penetrating Glimpse of the Obvious”….if you look at the vote tally in Mn in Nov. of 2016, Trump got about the same number of votes as Romney in 2012…HRC got 250,000 less than Obama in 2012…which tells you many Democrats chose to stay home on election day. Hopefully history will not repeat itself….

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