Is this a measure of enthusiasm for Donald Trump, or the effectiveness of the RNC’s extensive investment in ground operations? Despite polling that suggests — at the moment — that Republicans will experience a wipeout in swing states in the presidential election, voter registration data shows the GOP gaining momentum. In key swing states, Republican registrations and party-switching has outpaced Democrats, raising questions about enthusiasm and turnout models:
Trump’s poll numbers remain dire, but he can point to at least one ray of hope for a turnaround: Republicans have continued gaining ground in recent months in voter registration in Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Iowa, while the late surge in Democratic registrations relative to Republican registrations that occurred in battleground states the final months of the 2012 election had not materialized in numbers released in early August.
“The atmospherics of voter registration trends in those states do not point to a strong Democratic year, so that’s one negative the Trump campaign does not have to deal with at this point,” said Louisiana pollster John Couvillon, who added that spikes in registration can add a point or two to a candidate’s vote share in a close race. “The voter registration data I’m seeing does not support the idea of a surge in Democratic voter enthusiasm.”
The dynamic is strongest right where Trump and Republicans most need it — in the Keystone State:
The party-switching has been especially lopsided in Pennsylvania counties in the southwest region, coal country, and the northeast, which includes Scranton. Megan Sweeney, the communications director for the state Republican Party, and Charlie Gerow, a Republican strategist based in Harrisburg, said the party-switching was a mix of push and pull factors. “Certainly part of it is Trump-motivated,” Gerow said. My view is that a lot more of it is motivated by the disgust that many Democrats have for the administration.”
Interestingly, Politico’s Ben Schreckinger attributes this phenomenon entirely to Trump. He writes that Team Trump has outsourced almost all of the ground-game essentials to the RNC, and that they are “falling short of its target staffing levels in state after state.” That may be true, but it also may miss the point. Those targets were pretty ambitious all along, and whether or not they met the targets, they have done a lot of hiring between 2014 and now for the Republican Leadership Initiative in battleground states. They have been integrating into key communities in swing states and working to broaden the GOP reach, an effort I described in detail in Going Red.
Enthusiasm is one thing, but it takes organization to expand voter registration on this scale. People don’t just show up and register or change party affiliation, which is why ground organization is so critical. With the near-zero ground organization of Team Trump, it seems much more likely that the RLI has provided the infrastructure to meet the demand generated by Trump enthusiasm in these areas.
But don’t think that this waters down the impact of that enthusiasm. Having the RNC backstopping the lack of ground organization just helps channel it into useful efforts. Salena Zito takes us into these areas of Pennsylvania to explain the enthusiasm that pollsters and pundits may have missed:
Thirty years ago, such people determined the country’s standards in entertainment, music, food, clothing, politics, personal values. Today, they are the people who are accused of creating every social injustice imaginable; when anything in society fails, they get blamed.
The places where they live lack economic opportunities for the next generation; they know their children and grandchildren will never experience the comfortable situations they had growing up — surrounded by family who lived next door, able to find a great job without going to college, both common traits among many successful small-business owners in the state.
These Trump supporters are not the kind you find on Twitter saying dumb or racist things; many of them don’t have the time or the patience to engage in social media because they are too busy working and living life in real time.
These are voters who are intellectually offended watching the Affordable Care Act crumble because they warned six years ago that it was an unworkable government overreach. They are the same people who wonder why President Obama has not taken a break from a week of golfing to address the devastating floods in Louisiana. (As one woman told me, “It appears as if he only makes statements during tragedies if there is political gain attached.”)
Can Team Trump effectively channel those issues and concerns, and turn these voters out in large enough numbers to change the election outcome? So far their organization has been less than impressive, but the voter registration numbers suggest that there may be more going on than meets the media eye, too.
Update: Team Trump isn’t spending much at all on the kind of organization that drives registration advantages, CBS reported yesterday:
Donald Trump’s the 2016 White House campaign.more than doubled last month, even as the Republican presidential nominee held his payroll to about 70 employees, aired zero television advertisements and undertook no significant operational buildout across the country for
Instead, about half of the campaign’s $18.5 million in spending was vacuumed up by Giles-Parscale, a web design and marketing firm new to national politics, Federal Election Commission filings show. It’s a crossover vendor from Trump’s real estate organization. …
Millions more went to air travel. The campaign paid about $2 million for private jets other than Trump’s own TAG Air, which also collected $500,000.
Some of Trump’s consultants are also mysteriously well-paid.
Read on, and it becomes clear that Team Trump hasn’t really had much to do directly with these efforts.