Non-voter reality and Bernie’s theory of the case

In theory, Bernie is going to win the general by bringing in all these non-voters who don’t usually vote.  Umm, first that’s really hard.  If these people were inclined at all to vote they would, you know… vote.  But, yes, the electorate does actually fluctuate.  So, who are these non-voters?  Good stuff from Yascha Mounk:

“To defeat Donald Trump,” Sanders proclaimed at a recent rally in Exeter, New Hampshire, “the simple truth is we are going to need to have the largest voter turnout in the history of American politics. That means we are going to have to bring people into the political process who very often have not been involved in the political process.” The senator’s most famous surrogate, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, put the point more succinctly at a rally in Las Vegas: “The swing voters that we’re most concerned with are the nonvoters to voters.”

Many advocates of what I have called the “progressive theory of mobilization” assume that the typical nonvoter is young, brown or black, and very progressive. But while, of course, some nonvoters fit that description, an overwhelming majority don’t.

Nonvoters are, in fact, somewhat more likely than voters to be brown or black: While 10 percent of voters are black, 13 percent of nonvoters are. And while 11 percent of voters are Hispanic, 15 percent of nonvoters are. But among nonvoters, the overall share of people of color is quite small: Nearly two out of every three nonvoters are white.

Nonvoters are also far less progressive than is commonly believed. They are more likely than voters to support constructing a wall on the southern border with Mexico, less likely to support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, less likely to support abortion rights, and less likely to favor gun control. Nonvoters do skew left on some important economic issues, such as support for a higher minimum wage. But on the defining cultural issues of the moment, they are markedly more conservative.

In light of their views on public policy, it is hardly surprising that nonvoters are not particularly likely to describe themselves as liberal or to say that they favor the Democratic Party. Among voters, 38 percent consider themselves Democrats and 30 percent Republicans, for a differential of eight points. Among nonvoters, 31 percent consider themselves Democrats and 26 percent Republicans, for a differential of only five points. The ideological breakdown of nonvoters is even more revealing: A clear majority of them consider themselves either moderate or conservative; only one in five say that they are liberal.

Nor is there much evidence that nonvoters are particularly energized to remove Donald Trump from office. They are less likely than voters to say that the country is going in the wrong direction or to believe that the upcoming election holds more importance than previous ones. And whereas 46 percent of all voters say that they are likely to vote for the Democratic Party’s nominee, only 33 percent of nonvoters say they’ll vote this way if they choose to go to the polls…

It is natural for ideologues of every hue to project their hopes and aspirations on the reservoir of voters who rarely show up to the polls.

Today, many progressives seem to believe that most nonvoters are young leftists who are being kept away from the polls because the Democratic Party doesn’t cater to their preferences. But if Democrats wants to remove Trump from the White House, they need to take a careful look at what nonvoters actually think. Any candidate for office, moderate or progressive, is unlikely to win if he stakes his strategy on an imaginary electorate.

Again, Bernie can very much win the general.  Heck, who knows what Coronavirus may do between now and November, among other things.  But his theory of the case for how he will win is very much a stretch and thus very concerning.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

4 Responses to Non-voter reality and Bernie’s theory of the case

  1. itchy says:

    I’m also skeptical of Bernie’s chances, but statements like “today, many progressives seem to believe that most nonvoters are young leftists who are being kept away from the polls” …

    I don’t interpret it that way.

    It’s not like Bernie is randomly trying to get ALL non-voters to the polls, only the ones who support him. Obviously, it would be nice if there were many, many of these voters, but even if half of non-voters would support Bernie, that’s a LOT of voters.

    It only matters so much that non-voters are only 5 points more Democrat than Republican. It doesn’t matter that “nor is there much evidence that nonvoters are particularly energized to remove Donald Trump from office.”

    Bernie isn’t going after those people. He’s going after the ones who support him who otherwise would not have voted.

  2. Mike Barr says:

    Bernie will lose big. And he will drag down the rest of the Democrats on the ballot. You can be assured that the right wing propaganda machine will make sure that everyone knows about every pro-Cuba/pro-Communist/pro-USSR/anti-American “socialist” thing Sanders ever said. Therefore, these down-ballot Democrats will either have to denounce these Sanders-isms or be tied to him and suffer the consequences.

    • Steve Greene says:

      But… I swear Trump has said the most pro-Russian, pro-authoritarian stuff in the past year and everybody just ignores it.

      • itchy says:

        I have no idea what to expect if Bernie wins the nomination. Many of the arguments are the same ones used to say Trump wouldn’t win. What I do know is … no matter who wins the nomination, he or she will be demonized. There is not a candidate who will escape this, and seeking one is fruitless.

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