For the most part, voting is a pain. Some people sign up to have a polling place located in the garage of their suburban homes; those folks have it figured out. For most people, though, voting requires heading out to a random church or school you visit once every other November and waiting in line for your chance to pick which county supervisor you think will do the best job. When it's raining or if you are unimpressed with the candidates on the ballot or if you have to work a double shift, you're very naturally less likely to vote.
This is why political campaigns put money and staff on the job of making sure people go to the polls. Some people will always vote, no matter what. A lot of people will probably vote -- and they're the ones that the campaigns will spend all day on Election Day bothering, checking polling places to see if they've voted already and showing up at their door -- maybe even offering a ride! -- if they haven't.
Donald Trump says that he thinks that's a waste.
In an interview with Fox News noted by Talking Points Memo, Trump dismissed the idea of having a get-out-the-vote (GOTV) operation like the one described above.
The network's Eric Bolling asked if the ongoing tension between Trump's campaign and the Republican Party put at risk Trump's access to the party's turnout systems and data.
Trump's response, as transcribed by TPM:
We are gonna have tremendous turnout from the evangelicals, from the miners, from the people that make our steel, from people that are getting killed by trade deals, from people that have been just decimated, from the military who are with Trump 100 percent. From our vets because I’m going to take care of the vets.
I don’t know that we need to get out the vote. I think people that really want to vote, they’re gonna just get up and vote for Trump. And we’re going to make America great again.
It's important to note that the context for this is Trump's dispute with the GOP. Trump's stated negotiation strategy is to be willing to walk away from the table, as he's made clear in his arguments around NATO. Saying that he doesn't need the party's resources could be a manifestation of that.
But it's also clear that Trump's campaign is far behind past campaigns (and his opponent) when it comes to setting up GOTV operations. There is one campaign office in Florida, a tenth of what one former head of the party in the state told Politico he would expect to see. There is no field office in southwest Ohio; Mitt Romney had four by early June 2012. As of June, Trump had just over 70 paid staff. Hillary Clinton's campaign had over 600, many dispersed to battleground states.
Is Trump right that his folks will just turn out on their own? Some will, sure. He has the advantage of being the Republican candidate in the race. The people most likely to turn out tend to be higher income, older and white -- demographic groups that all generally favor Republican candidates. But that isn't who Trump is talking about above. That's not who he's targeting.
He's targeting blue-collar voters -- a group that only partly overlaps with the demographics above. In the most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, 90 percent of white college-educated women said they were certain to vote in November. The figure among white men without a college degree was 62 percent.
Our polling from 2012 found similar splits in turnout, and data after the election mirrored the difference. The turnout rate for white college-educated women four years ago was 79 percent. For white men without college degrees it was 55 percent.
How do you increase that figure? You hassle people until they go vote. You run a GOTV operation.
What doesn't help push people to the polls is what's called "visibility" -- lawn signs and standing by major streets wearing candidate t-shirts and so on. Politico's Daniel Lippman reports that the Trump campaign would like to do some visibility, though.
"The Trump campaign has asked the RNC to open offices in all 50 states, a move one party aide told Daniel is a 'complete waste of resources,'" Politico wrote in its daily newsletter, Playbook. "An RNC source said it was a 'fool’s errand' and more for Trump’s 'ego' and for 'bragging' purposes, instead of deft campaign strategy. The source said it was a 'personal request' by Trump to have offices in all 50 states." I can't speak to the pejoratives about ego and so on, but it is fair to describe a 50-state field office plan as a waste of resources. Trump has repeatedly said he can win New York state, which is untrue. There is no point for Trump to spend any money on his campaign in New York (or Massachusetts or California -- or Wyoming or Alabama, for that matter). But even non-Trump candidates love visibility, because it feels like it does them good. (Also they like to see their names.) It mostly doesn't.
There's also the enthusiasm question. Trump explained to Bolling that the sheer excitement people felt for his candidacy would drive people to go vote. A recent poll from Bloomberg, though, shows that it's actually Clinton supporters that are more enthusiastic about their candidate.
Because Republicans generally turn out more than Democrats, it's the left that's built strong systems for pushing people to the polls. Democratic campaigns run field efforts like clockwork; Republicans, less so.
Trump's campaign strategy appears to be focused on getting less-frequent voters to the polls (as it was before Iowa, which was a surprise loss). The best way to ensure you're getting people to the polls isn't to assume that they love you so much that they'll drop what they're doing and schlep off to a random church despite having worked a 12-hour day. It's to work to help them get there.