It’s the big variable heading into every election season: voter turnout. How often have you thought about that while developing your political campaign?
- Will people come to the polls?
- Will they be our voters?
- Did we say enough to mobilize our party’s base, to sway independents, and to compel unenthusiastic voters who otherwise wouldn’t have cast a ballot?
Numbers are telling. Unfortunately, you only know the true results after Election Night. Heading into the big day, you need rigorous demographic research to build a foundation for your voter outreach strategy.
Voter Outreach Helps Races At All Levels
Campaigns from the local to national levels are concerned with voter outreach. A local village’s race for mayor may come down to dozens of votes (or less). Some congressional races in hotly contested districts come down to just hundreds or thousands. Millions of votes in a presidential race could mean winning the popular vote but losing the Electoral College. Just ask these loveable losers:
- Hillary Clinton (2016) -- won the popular vote by nearly 3 million, but lost in the Electoral College to President Donald Trump.
- Al Gore (2000) -- won the popular vote by roughly 540,000, but lost in the Electoral College to President George W. Bush.
- Andrew Jackson (1824) -- won the popular vote and Electoral College in a 4-man race, but didn’t receive more than half of the electoral votes. The House of Representatives then chose John Quincy Adams, who later lost to Jackson in 1828.
- The oft-forgotten Samuel Tilden (1876) -- won the popular vote, but lost by 1 electoral vote to Rutherford B. Hayes.
- Grover Cleveland (1888) -- won the popular vote, but was crushed in the Electoral College by Benjamin Harrison. Cleveland, however, won the presidency in 1884 and 1892.
Each of those elections featured unique voter variables, not the least of which included exclusion of female and minority voters through much of the 1800s. Most races can’t be won without counting on backing from large swaths of the population -- sexes, religions, and ethnicities. What they think, believe, and feel matters. You won’t know without asking them. You can’t ask them (enough to paint an accurate picture) without surveys, polls, and other types of demographic research.
Analyzing Demographic Trends
Let’s have a look at the demographics of the 2016 election. The electorate was the most diverse ever, a growing trend. Now, some 18 percent of couples who cohabitate are partnered with a person of a different race or ethnicity. That number is destined to climb as America’s Great Melting Pot melts, mixes, and grows with more people.
Here’s a big shocker: voter satisfaction with candidates has fallen dramatically since 2008 from 72% to 33%. How often have you voted for the “lesser of two evils?”
Black voter turnout hit a record high of 66.6% of eligible adults in 2012 (not so coincidentally as President Barack Obama ran for a second term). But that figure fell in 2016 to 59.6%, the lowest in a presidential election year since 2004.
Politicians at all levels try to persuade the Latino vote. That number remained relatively steady in 2016, which some analysts found surprising because of then-candidate Donald Trump’s stances toward race relations and immigration.
Notably, the number of eligible Latino voters hit a record 12.7 million in 2016, but the number of Latinos who did not cast ballots again eclipsed those who did. That has been a trend since 1988.
Indeed, racial implications played a central role in the 2016 election. Yet the number of U.S.-born citizens who voted has consistently hovered higher than immigrants who have become citizens. That wasn’t the case, though, for Asians and Hispanics in 2016. Naturalized citizens from those two races turned out in droves.
Age is a key demographic. It also has much to do with political party affiliation.
- Millennial turnout increased across all races and ethnicities except for black voters.
- Generation X-ers increased slightly
- Older generations (Baby Boomers, Silent, and Greatest Generations) remained mostly flat
Women voters remained statistically flat between 2012 and 2016 (63.3% and 63.7%, respectively). Among them:
- White women increased from 65.6% to 66.8%
- Black women decreased from 70.7% to 64.1%
- Hispanic women increased from 49.8% to 50%
Numbers of men voters also stayed roughly the same (59.3% in 2016 compared to 59.7% in 2012).
And, of course, partisan divisions continue to grow with more Democrats and Republicans aligning more strongly with liberal and conservative values.
Using Data To Craft Your Voter Outreach Strategy
It’s one thing to know the numbers. It’s quite another to make them work to your advantage. Once you’ve honed in on your target audience(s), you need further data and research to know what drives them. You need to reliably project what you’ve ascertained anecdotally in statistically reliable fashion.
From the moment your campaign was announced, your team members (or yourself personally) have knocked on enough doors for your knuckles to go raw. You know why. Even when circulating petitions, your want to meet the people and earn their votes.
You ask them questions:
- What are local/state/national issues important in your household?
- What’s your take on the long-time incumbent?
- How do you feel about the up-and-comer?
- What could be done to make your neighborhood safer?
- How could your local public school system be improved?
- Are the local utility rates fair?
- Do citizens of your district/class/race feel adequately represented and respected?
- And, of course, what about TAXES?
- Finally, knowing what ad channels likely voters pay attention to is critical to getting your message in front of your likely voters cost efficiently. Remember, digital platform engagement is a moving target and constantly changing.
Races at all levels need a strong political research agency to analyze the voter base, build an outreach strategy, and market to the masses.