There were two schools of though heading into the 2016 presidential race. Some Republicans thought the party should heed the advice of the 2012 “autopsy” conducted after Mitt Romney lost and reach out to a more diverse pool of voters. Others thought that the key to victory was turning out rural, white voters that sat home in 2008 and 2012.
You can see which side won that argument.
So, how will identity politics play out in 2020 and will they get the same results? Republicans will no doubt go back to the same playbook. First of all, it worked for them in 2016. It also proved to be a winning strategy here in Georgia in 2018 (although, at the cost of a lot of metro Atlanta area Republican seats.) And second, with Donald Trump on the ticket again they don’t really have another option. Trump is guaranteed to campaign on immigration and appealing to the crowds that still flock to his rallies. But can he bring the magic back again.
Frank Luntz has an interesting analysis over at FiveThirtyEight. He lays out two possible strategies for Democrats to win. One is to appeal to that same group of white voters in the Midwest that switched from Obama to Trump in 2016. But he also sees a second possibility: reclaiming the 2012 Obama voters who either voted 3rd party in 2016 or didn’t vote at all. The percentage of black voters dropped substantially from 2012 to 2016. In other words the black voters who turned out in droves for Barack Obama just didn’t bother to show up for Hillary Clinton. About 9% of voters switched from Obama to Trump but 7% of Obama voters didn’t vote in 2016 and another 3% voted 3rd party.
That’s a lot of potential votes for the Democrats to try and win back. And never forget: they only need to flip 80,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to win in 2020.
So, which way will the Democratic party go? Clearly, that depends on who the party ends up nominating. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris would obviously have a better chance at driving up minority numbers. Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren may not appeal to either group, given their leftist policies and problems with minority groups. Amy Klobuchar would definitely win over more white voters in her native Midwest. Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg poll better with upscale white voters than blue collar white voters or minorities.
And then there’s the big donkey that’s not IN the room but sure seems to be hovering right outside the door: Joe Biden. He’s the early front runner without even having declared a candidacy. But his potential candidacy has already drawn attacks from the other camps.
Luntz also highlighted another trend from 2018 that could effect the 2020 election: white voters who LEFT the Republican party in 2018. Will they return to the Republicans in 2020 or vote in even larger numbers for the Democrats?
Luntz clearly advocates that the Democrats try to win back the white rural voters in those 3 states rather than try to appeal to the absent black voters. But Biden could hit the trifecta for Democrats. With an enthusiastic Obama campaigning for him, he could win back the black voters AND the rural white voters. And Joe Biden is just about the ONLY potential Democratic candidate that can win over former Republican moderates.
I conducted my own completely unscientific poll of my liberal Facebook friends (and all 3 of them responded!) Basically, support for all the candidates is soft. Most are completely undecided. Nobody has put a bumper sticker on their car yet. My cousin quipped “I’m waiting to see how many more clowns get in the car.” A couple are leaning towards Elizabeth Warren, even though they supported Sanders in 2016. I asked one about the switch and he replied “Hillary Clinton isn’t running this time and I have other options.” Pete Buttigieg had a lot of admirers. All but one said they would vote for a dead cat as in order to beat Trump. And that one guy said Biden was the only Democrat he would vote for in the general election.
I’m not a professional pollster or campaign consultant, but if I were advising Republicans I’d tell them to hope that Joe Biden’s campaign implodes on the launch pad.