While Republicans struggle with the potential for a massive dropoff in enthusiasm and party loyalty no matter who wins the nomination, a similar dilemma across the aisle has not drawn much attention. Voter turnout for Democratic primary contests have fallen far below that of the GOP’s events, and significantly off the pace of the 2008 Democratic primaries. Frank Luntz conducted a focus group in Florida, a state won convincingly by both party’s frontrunners, comprised of voters opposed to both Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in the state’s primaries. A significant number say they believe they’ll sit out a general election if faced with that choice in November:
“I would rather not vote than vote for either one of these candidates,” one woman told CBS News contributor and Republican strategist Frank Luntz, who led the group at the Orlando Public Library. “And it pains me to say that, because I feel it’s my right as a member of this democratic society to be able to vote. But given those two candidates, I can’t vote for either one of them.”
“Why none of the above?” Luntz asked.
“I just think that none of the– either party doesn’t deserve my vote. They’re not giving me what I feel we need as a country,” another woman explained. “So why give the support to someone who’s not gonna do what I need them to do for me and my family?”
“I don’t believe Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton really care about the American people. I don’t trust either of them. I don’t think they are presidential,” one man said.
Well … maybe. This kind of talk is cheap eight months out from the general election, but things tend to change after the conventions. Don’t forget that both parties have pushed those back into mid-July, allowing for more than three months of party-unity cheerleading as well as dire-consequences scaremongering over the damage a loss will do. As Jazz often reminds us, remember when the Party-Unity-My-Ass PUMAs helped elect John McCain in protest of Barack Obama’s usurpation of Hillary Clinton’s nomination in 2008? Good times, good times.
That doesn’t mean that low voter enthusiasm won’t be a problem for both parties in November. It may mean that it could be more or less an equal problem for Republicans and Democrats, but the key will be where that manifests itself, and among which demographics. Where enthusiasm flags, organization has to replace it, so even in a None of the Above election at which Luntz’ group hints, there are ways to dominate. The RNC has built its own organization in key swing states, while all indications at the moment suggest that the DNC has largely left that to the nominee. If that nominee has a problem motivating people into working effectively on the ground, that could be a critical gap — or if the other nominee doesn’t buy into that need, that could be a huge strategic issue.
Luntz does identify a couple of effective lines of attack if we end up in a Trump-Clinton election in the fall. This ad about Trump’s history of outsourcing scored high with the Trump skeptics. It has over 83,700 views since it was posted last week, six days before Super Tuesday II:
For Hillary, the effective line of attack was Benghazi, an ad from six months ago:
It’s worth noting that neither of these ads put much of a dent in the momentum of the frontrunners in the primaries. The question will be whether they will discourage support from the electorate when faced off against each other. The most likely outcome of a Trump-Clinton election will be a grim unfolding of tribal loyalties, with less-engaged voters opting out but in percentages well below what is being claimed at the moment. The same relentless negativism that drove down voter engagement in 2012 will return in 2016, with uncertain impact on both this race and those down the ballot.