New York Times (Editorial)
March 25, 2016
The nation has reached the halfway mark in the 2016 presidential primaries. It’s difficult to draw big conclusions from the small slice of Americans who vote in primaries, but turnout among Democratic voters has been less enthusiastic than among Republicans, with roughly five million more votes cast in Republican primaries than in Democratic ones. That suggests Democrats will need to do more to motivate their constituencies to vote in November.
The good news for the country is that 2016 primary turnout is high over all. In November, “levels of engagement could be at the high end of the range that we’ve seen in the last century of American politics, and it’s possible they could go higher,” said Michael McDonald, who runs the University of Florida’s United States Elections Project.
Young people have been unusually engaged this year, and not only on the Democratic side. They have set all-time turnout records in nearly every Republican primary, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.
The group’s analysis showed that Donald Trump drew more young voters than his Republican rivals, but his lead was far from decisive. He has received slightly fewer votes from young people than Hillary Clinton. Bernie Sanders, the overwhelming favorite of millennials, has received more votes from the young than Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton combined.
A recent poll by Rock the Vote and USA Today found that while 65 percent of Mr. Sanders’s millennial supporters said they would support Mrs. Clinton if she was the nominee, 20 percent said they would not vote at all, and 9 percent said they would vote for Donald Trump if he was on the ballot.
Low turnout in elections favors Republicans because Democrats tend to depend on supporters who are less likely to vote, chiefly young people, African-Americans and Latinos. This has been made worse by Republican-controlled statehouses, which have put up barriers to voting, like voter ID laws, that have a disproportionate impact on poor, elderly and young voters.
President Obama’s candidacy awakened many new voters, and it brought higher levels of technological sophistication to the party’s get-out-the-vote effort. But this primary season shows that Republicans are adopting these methods. Ted Cruz’s use of social media data to hone his voter outreach efforts is one example.
Some Democrats may assume Mr. Trump will be easy to defeat if he is the Republican nominee, but to think that way is reckless. If Mrs. Clinton wins the nomination, Mr. Trump, the Republican who will say anything, can be expected to attack her long record and run an ugly campaign — as he has against his Republican rivals — that could prove persuasive to some. But regardless of who the Republican candidate is, a strong turnout will be critical for Democrats come November. As Mr. Obama said in a closed-door meeting of Democratic donors this month, party leaders will need to unite soon, and figure out how to bring new voters to the polls.
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