A new study of voting attitudes and preferences shows that the key to this year’s midterm elections will be so-called “swing voters” and not the voters who are historically partisan in favor of either Democrats or Republicans.
This study, called The 2018 VOTER Survey, identified swing voters as those who split parties in their votes during the two most recent presidential elections.
One group of swing voters went for Mitt Romney in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 (Romney-Clinton voters) and the other group went for Barack Obama in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016 (Obama-Trump voters).
The study is important because it discounts the popular theory that partisan voter turnout this year holds the key to victory for either of the two major parties. Democrats and Republicans have both said that to prevail in the midterms they must get their core voters to the voting booth in very high numbers, which is difficult in off-year elections.
So, for example, the study shows that Democrats will be better off if they focus on retaining the loyalty of the Romney-Clinton voters for the 2018 elections than focusing on turning out those voters who have always voted for Democratic candidates.
Support for this theory can be seen by recent polls and even special elections in suburban districts of affluent voters who were traditionally Republican and favored Mitt Romney in 2012. Many of these college-educated suburbanites switched to Clinton in 2016 and also plan to vote for Democratic candidates in 2018. Turning out these voters to support Democrats is the key to the party’s chances of taking back control of Congress — especially the House of Representatives — this year.
On the other hand, the strategy for the Republicans is to get a high turnout from voters who went for Trump and consider themselves economic populists. Historically many such voters were Democrats from blue collar or working class neighborhoods, as well as from small towns and cities.
Republicans hope to pick up seats in the U.S. Senate in 2018, and to do this they will need to defeat some incumbent Democratic senators running for reelection in so-called “red” states that voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016. These states — such as West Virginia, Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota — elected Democratic senators when Obama won six years ago. If the Obama-Trump voters stick with the Republican Party then the Democrats are in trouble.
If these swing voters who switched parties to vote for Trump decide to stay home in 2018 then the GOP candidates will have a very hard time winning. If, however, the 2016 Trump voters show up and vote in 2018, then Democrats are in big trouble.
The 2018 VOTER Survey concludes that Democrats right now have significant advantages in terms of the engagement and loyalty of their base, as well as their ability to engage the support of key crossover voter groups such as Romney-Clinton and Libertarian voters. Many polls show that there is much higher interest and enthusiasm in this year’s election among Clinton voters than among those who cast their ballots for Trump in 2016.
If Democrats can convince large numbers of these nontraditional, anti-Trump voters to support them, a Democratic victory in November could turn into a Big Blue Wave.