What Do Voters Want in 2020? -- Sunday Political Brunch April 14, 2019

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – I think it’s early in the 2020 political season, yet it really is not. We’re nine months from the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary. Already, 18 Democrats have declared for the White House, including another young face this week. It made me wonder, “What are voters looking for? Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“It’s a Small World, Swalwell” – I used to live in the Congressional District that Rep. Eric Swalwell, (D) California, now represents. This week he announced his run for President of the United States. I’ve met him, but don’t know him well, as he was entering local office just as I was departing California. He’s 38 and is in his fourth term in Congress. He’s something of a maverick and legend for defeating 40-year Congressman Pete Stark (D) California. Stark and I had a bond as two former Milwaukee kids who wound up in the Bay Area. His defeat by Swalwell was a shock, and maybe this young upstart has some buzz. We’ll see!

“The Generational Divide” – As mentioned there are 18 candidates declared on the Democratic side. Nine of them are under age 50, while the other nine are over 50. At the extremes, three of them are in their 30s; six of them are 66 years or older. And we aren’t including Joe Biden, age 76, since he has yet to declare for the nomination. Wow! What does this say about not only the candidates, but the potentially divided voter pool? Again, wow!

“Why Don’t Young People Vote?” – I grew up during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Young people, who could not vote until age 21, were so outraged that a Constitutional Amendment was approved lowering the voting age to 18. The irony was that in ensuing years, young people didn’t show up to vote in numbers that were near parity to the rest of the population. In 1976, only 44 percent of youthful voters (ages 18 to 24), cast ballots. Remember this was the first election since Watergate and the Vietnam War ended. The low turnout was a head-scratcher and continues to be, with few exceptions.

“The Outliers” – Youth voting further declined and dropped to its lowest points in 1996 and 2000, with just 36 and 35 percent of young voters turning out in those elections, respectively. 2008 was a big exception, and potentially offers a model for 2020. Youth voters were truly inspired by Barack Obama and came out in droves to support him. A full 49-percent of voters age 18 to 24 turned out according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, known as CIRCLE. Young voters were engaged by the young, enthusiastic, and inspiring candidate in Barack Obama. By the way, the second highest youth voter turnout (at 48.6 percent), was in 1992 when Bill Clinton was first elected.

“Do You See a Pattern Here?” – The two times where youth voters were most engaged were in 1992 and 2008. Bill Clinton was 46 when elected; Barack Obama was 47. By comparison their opponents, George H.W. Bush was 68 and John McCain was 72. Young voters like young candidates. What we may see in 2020, is another surge in young voters, and they may gravitate towards one of the newer, younger faces in their party. There could well be a generational split in how people vote next year, given the age range of the 18 candidates in so far.

“The Tactics” – If you’re going to leverage youth voters, you must get in the game early. And Joe Biden may be making a mistake by taking so long to make a final decision on entering the race. Declared candidates are already building staff and raising money. Yes, Biden has a big lead in the polls and will have some well-oiled, heavy-hitters as backers, but in politics you never assume the frontrunner spot is safe and secured. Hillary Clinton made that fatal mistake in both 2008 and 2016.

Who are you backing in 2020? Or are you taking a wait-and-see attitude? Click the comment button or email me at Mark@MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia and its five surrounding states, as well as most of the Washington, DC media market.

© 2019, Mark Curtis Media, LLC
Photo Courtesy: Getty Images

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