Why Democrats Didn’t Show Up To Vote, Again

Democrats are searching for the answers as to why they lost the 2016 election. It’s really pretty simple. Nationally, Democratic voters didn’t show up. Clinton attempted to reassemble the Obama coalition that elected him in 2008 and 2012. Unfortunately, 5 million of those 2012 Obama voters either didn’t vote, or voted for third party candidates in 2016. Hillary received 5 million less votes than Obama did in 2012.

However, those 5 million voters didn’t all move from Hillary to Trump. Trump received less votes than Romney received in 2012.  Certainly some working class voters and rural voters that generally vote for Democrats did move from Clinton to Trump. They were the deciding voters in states like Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. However, had those 5 million Obama voters shown up and voted for Clinton she would have won. Nationwide it appears Clinton may end up beating Trump by 2 million votes; she’s ahead by 1 million right now and counting continues.

Democrats are left asking the same question they asked in 2010 and 2014 mid-terms. Why aren’t Democrats able to consistently get their voters to turn out? Democrats won in 2008 and 2012 but couldn’t turn out voters in the mid-terms. It was assumed that in this presidential year the enthusiasm and turnout level would rebound to the levels of 2008 and 2012, but that didn’t happen.

Was it the Democratic message that created the enthusiasm gap? Did that lack of enthusiasm create Democratic voter apathy? Democrats bragged about their organizational superiority. They touted their national ground game claiming it would make the difference in turning out voters. However, that ground game failed to bring those 5 million voters to the polls. Obviously, candidate Clinton was closely identified with the Democratic message. Was it the lack of enthusiasm for her and/or her message that dragged down turnout?

Talking to volunteers in the weeks preceding the election, it was obvious voter and volunteer enthusiasm didn’t reach the levels of 2012. The one glaring messaging error was her inability to overcome Trump’s negative character assaults leveled at her. She was never able to overcome his vicious attacks on her character and trustworthiness. No question the FBI investigation decision just prior to the election added to that distrust.

The answer to increasing low voter turnout requires effective, inspiring and motivating messaging. Democrats must plug into voters’ concerns and needs.  Let’s compare and contrast both the Clinton and Trump campaigns messaging. Nearly everyone would agree this campaign was different than anything seen in recent history. Trump was a totally non-traditional candidate and defied historical campaign strategy. That should be taken into account in any comparison. Trump said and did things that no other candidate in history ever could do and survive. That points to the unflagging enthusiasm and power of his message. His supporters were willing to overlook all his horrific language and still remain rabidly committed.

It’s obvious that Clinton and Trump approached messaging entirely differently. Trump’s basic message was very simple and easily understood. Trump’s success in reaching working class voters may have been his extremely simple messaging that targeted their concerns and needs. His targeted audience are folks that probably don’t follow politics closely and are just grabbing the key talking points.

“Make America great again” is pretty easy to understand.  His central theme was building the wall, restoring jobs, bringing back factories and ending bad trade deals (that he claimed encouraged job loss). His economic argument was easily understandable and directly appealed to working class fears and concerns. He hammered that over and over. He was never forced to prove that he could or would do any of these things. In fact, he resisted laying out specific proof that he could accomplish any of his agenda.

However, it sounded good to voters that have lost good paying jobs, can’t find work or are seeing their small towns dying as factories have fled to foreign countries. In addition, it was a message of change and a rejection of the establishment. He used it successfully against his 16 Republican primary opponents and then directed it at Clinton in the general election. All of those Republicans as well as Clinton represented the hated establishment.

The Clinton campaign had plenty of definitive plans and proposals on numerous policy positions. For the policy-wonk voter, she presented thorough and comprehensive solutions on a long list of issues important to Democrats. In addition, she reformed her message to meet the demand of Bernie Sanders and progressives.

Her theme of “Stronger Together” was understood by Democrats as inclusive, an end to obstruction and the uniting of the country. However, was this the best message to appeal to working class voters? The fact that the African American vote was off from Obama’s numbers suggest the “Stronger Together” message didn’t resonate. The shortfall in millennial and progressive voters suggest that message didn’t get their attention either. Many of these millennial and progressive voters either didn’t vote or may have voted third party. Obviously, working class and rural voters weren’t sold on that message.

In reshaping the Democratic message, it must be tailored to the needs of all the Democratic constituencies. If working class voters, African American voters or progressive voters feel they are left out or taken for granted, they will simply stay home.

Powerful messaging in 2018 will be more important than ever. Typically, mid-terms begin with an enthusiasm gap compared to a presidential year. Democrats must overcome that natural lack of mid-term enthusiasm and inspire and motivate their base. The one positive is that the out-of-office party generally has an advantage after the first two years of a new president’s term.

Democrats must begin now to develop a compelling and winning message for 2018. The sooner Sanders and Clinton people unite, the quicker that message can be forged.


by Rick Smith
Posted 11/17/16

20 Comments on "Why Democrats Didn’t Show Up To Vote, Again"

  • It must be acknowledged that Clinton was a bad candidate. The most disliked in party history. To many people she represented everything wrong with the Democratic Party. We must run stronger candidates and embrace progressive populism.

    • I disagree. I was an election official and observed in our rural community, where the religious right consistently vote straight republican ticket, did so again, expressing hope that Trump would surround himself with “good” people like Ben Carson. That is a direct quote from a dedicated Republican. There also were more older (40-50) first time voters and more voters who needed help voting because they could not read. A different demographic than seen before. Social media played a role as well. Many of these people have access to and spend a great deal of time on facebook and other sources of skewed information that play on the fears and worries of people on limited income and budgets. I am convinced that we were outplayed. The Trump people are sales people. It would seem that we completely overlooked that factor and poo pooed the idea that he could wage a convincing campaign. We became enamored of our own superiority. Big mistake. We need to look at changing our leadership and looking into the eyes and faces of our population. It would be a positive move if we employed people educated in the psychology of “the sell”. Painful as it may be, we could benefit from picking apart the Trump campaign and recognizing the strategies they used. I do not mean outrageous behaviors of the candidate but knowing the people and offering a bit of hope to those whose lives are not going well. The women of the Democrat Party are a force with which to reckon. Do not dismiss them and do not assume that Clinton was a “bad candidate”. We let her down.

      • Nancy much of what you say is true but you cannot dismiss the fact that your candidate sought to deceive the American people with the private email server, she corrupted government with the Clinton Foundation and she had more foreign policy failures than successes. She lied repeatedly and changed her story every time people caught on to the lies. She orchestrated the corruption of the DNC to beat Bernie. That makes for a bad candidate.

  • I think she wasn’t a very good candidate. It all started with the caucusus. My wife and I have been in Dem Party politics for 40 years and were disrespected by the Clinton people at the caucus. It is difficlt to rally around a candidate when that happens. We voted for her but I had a difficult time rallying around her. I voted for her because of the Democratic philosophy and the Democratic Party. Even though she was experienced and one of the best qualified for the job, she was not a good candidate. Too much baggage.

  • Absolutely. The article acts as if Hillary has no history. First she has Bill who passed NAFTA not to mention his more personal history. She hurt a lot of innocent people when she helped Bill pass the so called welfare reform and then dared to call herself an advocate for women and children. It did not allow any exception such as a parent taking care of a disable child 24/7.
    And then your article did not even talk about pay to play with between State and the Clinton Foundation. Nor did it talk about her love affair with war.
    I think if you look at the returns you will find that most of us who did not voter for either loser actually voted for the Democrats in the down ticket. We did not stay home our vote was a protest vote against how the establishment runs the Democratic Party beginning with the primary. Bernie would have won – but oh no it was her turn.

  • Clinton was among the most qualified candidates in history. Early on the GOP reckoned that she would be the Democratic candidate, so they concocted a series of hearings on Benghazi and her emails, all obviously intended to destroy her as a viable candidate. This resonated with many, including some Democrats, and that greatly weakened her. Then she went up against Bernie Sanders whom I initially supported, and it didn’t help that it was discovered the party apparatus did all it could to hurt Sanders, leaving his supporters angry at Clinton. Then came Wikileaks, which although had very little worthy of posting, further eroded confidence in her. Then of course was that deliberate letter to Congress by the FBI director, designed to derail her candidacy. During the election, Clinton also went up against another obstacle that drew little attention–voter suppression actions in GOP-controlled states. Perhaps she might have gotten more of the black vote had there not been voter intimidation. She also had the dubious distinction of a number of stupid remarks from her husband! Given all that was piled up against her, she still drew more votes than that outright fascist, Trump, and the racist, lying, mean-spirited, well-financed RepupliKKKlan Party!

    • Marshall the GOP concocted nothing. Hillary lied about a video causing the death of Ambassador Stevens and 3 Americans in Benghazi. Congressional testimony confirms that. Hillary has admitted she created the private email server and her past comments confirmed she lied repeatedly about it. Nothing about the hearings was concocted. I suggest you research the congressional record.

    • Marshall WikiLeaks revealed the corruption in the Clinton Campaign and the DNC. I wouldn’t call the following unworthy:

      – Made it clear that the DNC actively supported Clinton and worked against Bernie Sanders candidacy. No party needs this kind of corruption inside the leadership.
      – Obviously the media was not only cheerleading for Clinton but insiders helped her cheat in the debates. You apparently don’t believe the media and the press have a morale obligation to not cheat???
      – If you read the posts concerning the private email server its clear that Clinton sought to deceive the American people. She broke the law and then lied repeatedly. She changed her story multiple times because she was found out.
      – The Clinton Foundation is a corrupt money laundering operation.

      The FBI should have held a grand jury in the spring and Hillary would never have been the Party nominee after being charged with crimes. Comey did her a favor by saying should couldn’t be prosecuted, that is simply preposterous based on his statements alone.

    • Marshall, calling people fascist and racist reveals your lack of character. Unfortunately for Hillary that was all that Hillary had for a campaign and the American people saw thru it.

  • Not a mention of the voter suppression laws across the country that kept millions from voting?
    Not a mention of the overwhelming free media that was given to Trump by all corporate media.
    Not a mention of the media being almost totally right wing, including most of the MSNBC line up. Pretty hard to compete when your message is kept within a black hole by the media while your opponent’s message is given 24 X 7 positive coverage.
    While some may say that Clinton was flawed, I have yet to see any candidate that wasn’t.
    Republicans ran the worst candidate in history, yet Republicans rallied around him – including the billions in free media – while we kept fighting internally thus telling many of our supporters not to vote for Hillary.

  • The Democratic Party has become solely a machine for winning, an insiders club whose mission is salesmanship and advertising. This article perpetuates that. We must be about far more than “messaging,” a traditional advertising term. Rick, you get a bit closer to the real issue when you say we need to have a message. Unfortunately that seems to translate into needing good slogans, another traditional advertising approach. Here’s my take: we need to stand for something. When need to recover our real purpose for being, which is NOT to get Democrats elected, but to serve the public interest. When all you care about is winning, you will lose, every time, and you will deserve to. When the political discussion over a candidate focuses exclusively on who we think can win, or could have won, we will lose. Over and over. This election was a resounding rejection by America of an arrogant, entitled, establishment elite who think they can win over voters with incredibly expensive demographic outreach (another advertising term). We call it inclusion. Yes, we are an inclusive Party, and that is good, very good. But inclusion for what? Why would anyone want to be included? If we want to serve the public interest then we need to figure out what that is. And we can only do that by reaching out to the public and asking them, listening to them, empowering them to tell us what they want and need. We need to spend less time deciding what we think people need and telling them, and far more time listening. This will take a revolution in this top-down party, turning it upside down and asking the public to lead us, for a change. We are here to serve them.

    • I agree. Democrats have lost their way. The power of the individual has been given away by Democrat complicity that has resulted in the rich getting richer, the poor having even less, the middle class in trouble, Wall Street, corporations and mega-donors controlling elections and the politicians that they choose. This has taken many years to happen and I do not see a recovery to true Democrat values and positions until the people decide to take the party back from those who have aided in destroying the mission it used to have. When individuals run up against the “powers that be” that are currently so entrenched that there is no way to be heard, there is no sense of being represented how can the Democratic Party as it currently exists even think it can survive.

      • David you should keep in mind that Hillary was the candidate of Wall Street. She took millions in corporate donations and then claimed she would focus on the middle class. All we hear is we were deplorable and watched my she grabbed all the dollars she could getting rich.

  • In the 70s, when Democrats took control of the Legislature, the coalition included big labor unions in both the private and public sectors, struggling farmers, and minorities. Now there are fewer private sector union workers and fewer struggling farmers. So now the Party targets government union workers, racial and ethnic minorities, and women, the latter hopefully of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. But the former private sector union workers have no place to go. Fewer factory jobs, no coal jobs, less farm jobs (and those are being taken by new residents).

  • I was a caucus chair and the Hillary supporters were horrible to other caucus attendees supporting other candidates and to me. I was an O’Malley supporter. As far as I’m concerned Hillary interrupted other candidates far too many times during debates and her campaign lacked messaging like a slogan and advertising skill. And as many times as she addressed audiences she never learned how to work a crowd. I’m still so mad a Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s rigging of the primary process against Sanders. And Hillary did not spend the necessary time and energy repudiating the charges made against her. But the media coverage of Donald Trump was non stop and the FBI letter was the last nail in the coffin. What gets me is that all the polls were wrong because all had Clinton winning. And to tell you the truth, I am frightened for the future and what a Trump Presidency means for this country because we also lost the senate and we don’t have a majority in the house. For those of us in Iowa it is even worse because we have no control in state government either. Democrats really need to do some hard thinking and come up with ways of reaching voters that will resonant with them.

    • Don’t be frightened Kathy. Donald Trump will be a moderate President. Wait until he is inaugurated. If you recall Hillary started the campaign early with a smear campaign. She made it about personal politics which turned off the American people in many places that mattered – FLA, NC, OH, PA, MI and WI.

  • And after all the talk about how bad Hillary was we have Trump. “Don’t be frightened Kathy..”?!! – Gary, give me a break! You folks ain’t seen nothing yet.

  • She was only a “bad candidate” because for 30 years the hate machine has told people that she is a “bad candidate.” If we give in to that, there is no end to it: the right will *always* bash our candidate, always increase their negatives. If that makes us unenthusiastic, that is on us – the Republicans did their job, and we gave them a veto. Clinton was not a natural at campaigning, but to argue Trump had a brilliant message is to say we should all just campaign on lies and platitudes. “Stronger Together” was about a choice of the kind of country we want to be. It is sad that so many apparently don’t want that kind of country. But to blame Clinton ignores why the “Obama coalition” also doesn’t turnout in midterms, a problem that predates Hillary being on the ballot. Blaming her shortcomings lets us off the hook for our poor off-year performance and – since she won’t be running again – keeps us from focusing on the bigger issues we need to address.

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