California and the keys to the 2016 election
|January 20, 2016, 05:00 AM By Melissa R. Michelson|
Many people are focused on Republican candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, along with the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, but the elections of 2016 are much bigger than that. Voter turnout, voter suppression, California’s role in the House, Senate and presidential elections, digital mobilization strategies and other factors loom in the coming year. Here are the six biggest issues for the upcoming elections.
1). California still matters. There’s no guarantee the presidential nominee will be chosen by California’s primary June 7. Thanks to Citizens United and the Super PACs, we could have a repeat of 2008 for either political party, especially for the Republicans, with the nomination decision coming down to those last primary elections. There will be heated battles in California for statewide offices, especially the U.S. Senate seat opening up. If you live in California, your vote still matters, a lot. And that’s not even taking into consideration any hot ballot proposition decisions that might qualify by then.
2). Turnout, not persuasion. Getting out the vote and mobilizing new voters was key to Obama’s victory. It will likely be the key in 2016. Non-likely voters and new voters will be game changers. If Republicans can significantly increase turnout of their core support group (white men), that could counteract mobilization efforts among women and people of color by the Democrats. As new voters join the active electorate, predicted winners and losers based on outdated models of likely voters could mean more surprises.
3). The power of the Latino vote. The New York Times recently posted a story, “Whatever Happened to Latino Political Power?” questioning the impact of the Latino vote and the resurgence of the anti-immigrant vote as evidenced by Trumps’ surge in the polls. “Compared with Black Lives Matter protesters, Latinos seems passive,” the story noted. This is far from the truth. Latinos are key to margins of victory in swing states like Nevada, Texas and North Carolina. Both sides are trying harder than ever to woo Latino support, e.g. with endorsements and staffing decisions. One or both nominees may choose a Hispanic running mate (or nominee), which could provide a real-world test of theories of the power of shared ethnicity to drive voter turnout and vote choice.
4). State polls matter. National polls and national match-up polls don’t matter (although they are fun fodder for debate); nominations and Electoral College support decisions are made at the statewide level. What do state polls, and historical outcomes for early winners, tell us about who is likely to become the nominee? Such analysis also needs to take into account the quality of various polls; there are quite a few bad polls out there. Paying attention to the source and methodology of published polls is key to truly understanding who has what level of support, and who might really turn out to be our next president.
5). Voter suppression, Take 2. Voter ID laws, making IDs harder to get (Alabama closed DMV offices in African-American neighborhoods), Wisconsin enacted even stricter laws to obtain an ID, and both Texas and North Carolina have been sued by the federal government, limiting voter hours and making it harder to vote. Will this suppress the vote? Or will those who feel threatened fight back? In 2012, community organizations and nonprofit groups successfully organized to counteract the effect of voter suppression efforts, helping voters whose rights to vote were threatened to obtain needed documents and participate. In 2016, will the new round of voter suppression efforts successfully depress turnout among targeted communities, or will we see a repeat of 2012?
6). New toys and old reliable ones. Voter mobilization used to be all about pounding the pavement and driving individuals to the polls. Then, the rise of television, and especially direct mail, moved campaigns to mass communication efforts. The last few cycles have seen a return to the old style, driven by political science research that demonstrates that personal mobilizing is more effective, if more expensive. At the same time, folks are continuing to try to use new tools like Facebook, text messages, WhatsApp, and other online tools, to reach out to voters and mobilize their support. This year promises to see a mix of both old and new, as campaigns aim to hit the sweet spot of the ideal method of maximizing support from different communities.
Melissa R. Michelson is a professor of political science at Menlo College in Atherton, California, and an expert in campaigns, elections, Latino politics and California politics.