Want to beat Trump in 2020? Register people to vote.
Greg Sargent | July 8, 2019
A new Washington Post/ABC News poll released over the weekend pointed toward a scenario in which President Trump could win reelection despite his deep and enduring unpopularity.
The poll showed that all of the top-tier Democratic candidates defeat Trump in head-to-head matchups by sizable margins among all U.S. adults. But among registered voters, those matchups suddenly become mostly dead heats.
Specifically, among all adults, Joe Biden leads Trump by 55 percent to 41 percent; Bernie Sanders leads by 51 percent to 45 percent; Elizabeth Warren leads by 51 percent to 44 percent; Kamala D. Harris leads by 51 percent to 43 percent; and Pete Buttigieg leads by 48 percent to 44 percent.
But among registered voters, Biden leads Trump by 53 percent to 43 percent, while all the others are locked in a dead heat with the president.
To be sure, polling right now isn’t at all predictive. But this does offer an opportunity to ask whether Democrats are reckoning with the possibility that a voter turnout failure could allow Trump to squeak through to a second term. Making this more likely, Trump could again prevail in the electoral college while losing the national popular vote.
Obviously, the matchups among registered voters don’t by themselves tell us much about what turnout might look like, since registering people is half the battle, while getting them to actually vote is a separate matter.
But still, the disparity in the matchups among all adults on one hand and among registered voters on the other is a reminder that as a general matter, Democrats will reduce the chances of another fiasco if they do a good job at tapping into the pool of eligible voters. That will, of course, entail registering them and turning them out.
Right now, most signs are that senior Democrats and Democratic-aligned data crunchers expect that interest in the 2020 election will be something approaching thermonuclear, which in theory should make it possible to do that successfully.
Writing at the Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein recently offered a definitive analysis of 2020 turnout expectations. As Brownstein reported, figures collected by Michael McDonald of the University of Florida, an expert in demographics and voting behavior, suggest that as many as two-thirds of eligible voters may cast ballots in 2020 — which would be the highest percentage in over a century.
The Democratic-aligned firm Catalist recently estimated that turnout could climb as high as 160 million — dwarfing the 138 million who turned out to vote in 2016. We’ve already seen a hint of what this might look like with the massive turnout in the 2018 midterm elections, which drove the large national popular vote win that delivered control of the House to Democrats.