Make America Vote Again

By: Richard W. Sharp & Patrick W. Zimmerman

Hey, “likely voter,” it’s time to tune in, turn on, and turn out….the vote!1

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the firehose of political news coming out of Washington, but there’s more up for grabs in November than just control of one of the three branches of government.  The 2018 midterm election is one of the last chances for the public to reject the new America.  You know, the one that is openly white supremacist, unilateral, and misogynist.  The Kingdom of MAGAland. That one. Anything less than a collective shout of grief, anger, and horror at this first chance to vote on a national scale since November 2016 will be taken as an acceptance of the status quo.  A whimper (defeat in both Houses of Congress) will reinforce Trump’s mandate and stick a fork in the myth of the self-correcting democratic process.

Want a voice in how this country is governed? Tell your friends. The candidates are set and almost everybody knows who they want to vote for. But who will actually show up to vote on November 6? Turnout is one of the most critical aspects of the election. It’s still up for grabs and you, yes you, can influence it.

Increase turnout among your friends if you want to make sure actions like going all-in to rush through a provably perjerous accused sexual predator come back to bite the GOP in the butt. Voting won’t stop Brett Kavanaugh’s likely confirmation to the Supreme Court….but it can drive home the not-fake fact that the actions of the ruling party have consequences.  Do channel that disgust at Lindsey Graham’s embrace of the Frat Boy Network (#believemen), and do point out the pattern of behavior from the “very unfairly treated” Kavanaugh. 

November 6th is exactly 5 weeks away.  It’s time to stand up and be counted.  Literally counted. And get your neighbors to do so, as well.


Remind me, again, why turnout is important?

Turnout decides elections.

It’s not enough to be the preferred candidate among registered voters: you have to be the preferred candidate among actual voters. Most people have a clear preference in a major race, but the trick is to get your people to the polls. You don’t convince somebody that you are right and your opponent is wrong: you convince your supporters that you’re worth showing up for. And if you still think turnout isn’t all that significant, experts with hands-on experience disagree.

Nothing excites the base like a midterm. Historical turnout in off years is, um, not great, typically hovering around 40%. The problem is that there’s often not much to vote for. What does the one House seat you get to vote on matter? It’s probably not even going to be a close race since most districts are pretty partisan. There is some notable district-by-district variation, highlighted in the chart below, but in the end most people will wait for the 2020 presidential election.2

Mouseover for details.3

Nevertheless, there are some indicators that point to higher than typical turnout this year. Turnout has been high in the primaries and especially for Democrats in House primaries as compared to Republicans. One reason is likely that the Democrats fielded many more contested primaries that usual this cycle. Without obvious extenuating circumstances (like a high-profile presidential primary for one party but not the other), primary performance can be cautiously interpreted as a harbinger of the general election. It’s far from perfect, but primary turnout does appear to correlate with turnout in the general election. Other leading indicators such as voter enthusiasm (Dems recently up 67/59), national party preference on a generic ballot (Dems +10% in a recent poll and forecast to be +8% at 538 ), and Presidential approval ratings (Trump is -8 points under water compared to Obama’s -4 at this stage in the 2010) support the Blue Wave hypothesis. Temper this, though, with the fundamentals: general economic performance is good and the Senate map favors Republicans.

In short, there’s hope, but only if you vote (and bring your friends).


Now what? Or: How I learned to start worrying and love local politics

I found myself in a strange place in late November, 2016. I was sitting in a neighbor’s living room surrounded by strangers who had arrived with no clear idea of what to do, but with the clear purpose that something had to be done. Most had not been active in politics before. Sure I was a political news junkie, but to actually do something like write to a representative or help organize efforts in the community? That required the company of others to hold me to account, and that is what you can do to help get yourself and your community to the polls next month. 

Talk to your friends and neighbors about voting. Are they registered to vote (in most cases it is not too late)? Are they going to vote? How are they going to get to the polls?

Let’s get local. Want to engage your neighbors without party labels getting in the way? Talk about ballot initiatives and city council races. The issues where you’re literally in it together. The issues that will get them to the polls despite their disgust with national politics.

Talk to your people. Talk to them in person. Talk to them online. Have the neighborhood over next week to talk about those local races that you weren’t aware of until your voter guide showed up in the mail. Have them over again on the 6th to watch the returns. Put it into your mind; put it into their minds to vote, and use the force of community to get them to the polls.


Notes:
1  For those of you who instinctively reacted by thinking “yes, dad,” you underestimate the power of the dad joke.  ^
2  Note: many of the big jumps between 2010 and 2014 voter turnout within the same district number are due to redistricting that happened in 2011. For example, (most of) San Francisco was in CA-08 in 2010. In 2014 (and 2018), it was basically the same district, but numbered CA-12.^
3  Data sources: Federal Elections Commission for 2010 and 2014 vote totals. US Census American Community Survey 5-year API for US Citizen population by congressional district in 2010 & 2014.^

About The Author

Richard is a Seattle area data scientist who builds predictive models and the services that deliver them. He earned a PhD in Applied and Computational Math from Princeton University, and left academia for the dark side of science (industry) in 2010, following his wife to the land of flannel. Fan of coffee, beer, backpacking and puns. Enjoys a day on the lake fishing, and, better, cooking up the catch for a crowd.

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