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Hullabaloo


Sunday, February 21, 2016

 

Wild card

by Tom Sullivan

Donald Trump won the South Carolina Republican primary handily as expected. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz promise to Make America Second Again. Jeb Bush? Jeb! has left the building. In Nevada's Democratic caucuses, Hillary Clinton bested Bernie Sanders by five points.

McClatchy reports:

The outcome could also have serious implications for more establishment-friendly candidates who are hoping for strong finishes to stave off questions about their viability.

Exit polls showed 4 in 10 voters angry about how Washington is working, and more than half saying they felt betrayed by politicians in the Republican Party.

“I don’t like politicians,” said Jim Jaruszewicz, a 37-year-old radiology technician who voted for Trump. “I don’t trust politicians.”

It's that kind of electorate. Turnout could be a real wild card.

So some of the post-game, online chatter has focused on turnout. As Rachel Maddow observed last night, turnout has been down for Democrats in the last three contests, while Republican turnout is up. The South Carolina State Election Commission reports nearly twice the number of absentee ballots returned in either the Republican or Democratic primaries of 2008. Final numbers are hard to come by this morning.

NBC played up a story about "lost voters" coming back to the polls and breaking 27 percent for Trump. But those numbers appear to be speculative and based on Reuters-Ipsos polling from last year, not on actual turnout.

Still, the trend could prove a problem for Democrats should Hillary Clinton win nomination. So far, the momentum in grassroots activism seems to be for Sanders. He won in Nevada overwhelmingly with voters under 45, while Clinton won with older, more reliable voters:

A battle between hearts and heads was apparent, with Clinton trouncing Sanders among voters focused on experience and electability, while Sanders whomped Clinton among those looking chiefly for a candidate who’s honest and trustworthy or who “cares about people like me.”

Among caucus goers under age 45, 76 supported Sanders in the ABC News entrance poll. Sanders’ support soared to 84 percent of those younger than 30, continuing his absolute dominance in this group. That said, Clinton won by more than 2-1 among voters age 45 and older – and they accounted for nearly two-thirds of the caucus turnout.

A remarkable seven in 10 caucus goers described themselves as liberals, including a third “very” liberal – far higher than their share in the 2008 Nevada caucuses, 45 and 18 percent, respectively. Liberals, however, did not break as strongly for Sanders as they did in New Hampshire. Here they backed him by 51-46 percent, while Clinton countered with 59 percent support among moderates, 13 points better than her result in this group in Nevada in ‘08. (PHIL4)

Notably, half of caucus goers said the next president should generally continue Obama’s policies, and this was a very strong group for Clinton – she won 75 percent of their votes. Sanders got 77 percent of those who prefer more liberal policies, but there were fewer of them.

You can read the results either way (and partisans will). But getting overall turnout up by November will be key for Democrats if the enthusiasm for Trump holds, he wins the GOP nomination, and "lost voters" become a real thing for Republicans. On the other hand (anecdotally), we have older voters here in traditionally conservative areas for whom the knock that Sanders is "soft on guns" actually plays well. They like him. It's an anti-establishment election, and those who find Trump too extreme actually find Sanders more to their liking. Especially for Democrats and Republicans who would never vote for Hillary Clinton.

But the focus on turning out younger, less reliable voters is intriguing. Perhaps it is because they represent the demographic future for Democrats. Perhaps they represent the Democrats' "lost voters" between presidential elections. Their energy and availability for grassroots organizing is invaluable, and when they fall in love with white-knight candidates such as Obama or Sanders, their effect can win elections. I don't mean to minimize issues and policies, but believe most people really do vote with their guts. The rest is motivated reasoning. But how that functions changes with age.

It is not for nothing that we call these things campaigns. They are not wars. Winning wars take longer-term commitments. And perhaps that is why older voters are more reliable voters, rather than that they just have more stuff or skin in the game. They know something about longer-term commitments. Younger voters are still tentative about theirs. Hence the heads vs. hearts problem. Many younger voters want candidates who are soul mates, as many are still searching for theirs. In this way, attractive candidates can be surrogates.

What got me to this reverie on aging is an interview with recently naturalized Craig Ferguson. His new show, “Join or Die,” premiered Thursday night on the History Channel. In an interview with Salon, Ferguson was asked about his evolving relationship with America:

Your American citizenship was a big deal at the time: You went to great lengths to get it. What does it mean to you now, in 2016?

It’s an evolving thing, much like America itself. It’s a very kind of rah-rah, Fourth of July feeling when you become a citizen. It goes from being a very simple thing to something more complicated. I’m no less patriotic… But like any good and faithful belief, it questions itself. That’s good. So I hold it up to scrutiny – and in an election year that’s more prevalent. For everybody – not just for immigrants.

I want to get into the show in a second, but since you’ve mentioned the election: Has that done anything to weaken your patriotism?

Oh, absolutely not! My love of America isn’t like that. It’s not a romantic love, it’s what I am. It’s more like you’re a family member – it’s not my  girlfriend.

Maybe it takes an immigrant's perspective.