As the margin of losing an election narrows, the possible reasons for defeat multiply. Hillary Clinton lost the three states that tipped the election — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — by 106,000 votes combined, so it’s no surprise that there are many different explanations for the Democrats’ loss. There’s a compelling case that there were multiple reasons — death by a thousand cuts, if you will — but as liberals regroup and prepare for the next elections, one challenge is clear: getting their supporters to vote.
The new Washington Post-Schar School poll contains this nugget: Among people who said they did not vote, 45 percent said they wanted Hillary Clinton to win, compared with only 23 percent who said Donald Trump. (Lest you think it was dispirited third-party supporters making up the rest: Only 5 percent said Gary Johnson or Jill Stein; 16 percent said “none of the candidates.”) When you look through the crosstabs, again and again those who did not vote were more positive about President Obama, Clinton and the Democrats and more worried about Trump than those who did vote. The gap is not unique to this poll: Past Post polls again and again found that “likely voters” tended to be more conservative as a group than all respondents to those polls.
This is not a surprising finding to political veterans. A 2012 Pew Research study found that nonvoters backed Barack Obama over Mitt Romney 59-24. And we can see the effects: A number of studies both domestic and international have found that higher turnout — especially higher turnout among poorer income brackets — is correlated with more progressive and economically equal policies.
It’s not as if all nonvoters are completely unengaged with politics. In the latest Post poll, 56 percent of nonvoters said they discussed the election “nearly every day” or “a few times a week” — a lower number than among those who voted, but still a majority. One-third of nonvoters said they discussed it almost every day. The Census Bureau has repeatedly found that nonvoters do not cite disinterest in politics but convenience — lack of time to vote, inaccessible polling stations, being out of town on Election Day and so on. It makes sense: Many people, especially those with lower incomes, don’t have the flexibile schedules that make it easy to take time off to vote. These are barriers that can be overcome — with help.
I had a number of emails after my last blog post from readers fearful of a Trump presidency asking, “What can we do?” There are many answers to that question, but here’s an easy one: Liberals should start working now, in your states and communities, to boost turnout in two years, four years and further down the road. The sooner they start doing that, the better: Waiting until a few months before the next Election Day could lose valuable time.
Liberals should ask the people they know who are worried about Trump if they voted. If somebody didn’t vote because he or she didn’t have time, liberals should offer to help them find a way to vote, whether obtaining an absentee ballot (available to all registered voters in many states) or figuring out a day when they can vote early. If the nonvoters weren’t registered and they’re eligible, progressives should help them register. And the next time they’re inclined not to vote because they’re not enthusiastic about the top of the ticket, liberals should remind them of how small Trump’s margin was. (If a nonvoter really doesn’t want to vote for a candidate, point out that they can vote for candidates that they like elsewhere on the ballot.)
The battle carries over to legislation as well. Progressives should support and volunteer for groups that support voting rights and making access to the ballot easier. Those who live in a state where Republicans try to push through more state-level restrictions on voting should call state representatives to make their opposition clear.
Let’s not sugarcoat this: No one person is going to bring in a lot of new votes this way. But as we saw this year — yet again — a few votes here and a few votes there can quite quickly become all the difference.