In the Two Minute Drill, we explain complex issues in politics in 500 words or less (roughly the amount of words it takes the average adult two minutes to read on a monitor). Politics just isn’t always that complicated. Without the fluff and partisan bias, even the most complex of our political differences can be explained succinctly. This week we examine Donald Trump’s claim that he has created new Republicans. This is The Two Minute Drill for May 27, 2016.
A few weeks ago, we wrote about the relationship between voter turnout in the primaries and voter turnout in the general election. Our conclusion: there is no correlation between primary turnout and success in November.
That conclusion remains true. But one undeniable fact, however, is that Republican primary turnout in 2016 has increased pretty dramatically when compared to previous years. Donald Trump has been quick to claim credit for the increase, saying that he has drawn “millions of millions” of new voters into the Republican party.
Is he right? Has Donald Trump expanded the GOP electorate by “creating” new Republicans?
The Explanation (500 or Bust)
No. It is easy to mistake Donald Trump’s surprising and commanding triumphs in the Republican primaries for broader approval across the country. But while Trump can legitimately claim credit for increasing Republican participation, he has not “created” new blocs of Republican voters. Rather, data from exit polling indicates that Trump has been successful in turning out Republican-leaning voters who do not have a history of voting in primaries.
An analysis by Politico first cast doubt on Trump’s claim last week. Politico obtained voting statistics from GOP officials and independent analysts, and found that the data rebutted Trump’s central claims that he has attracted new voters and flocks of Democrats to his presidential campaign.
In the battleground state of Florida, for example, Republican turnout in the 2016 primary smashed the 2012 turnout numbers by 40 percent. But it turns out that 94 percent of these “new” voters had participated in either the 2012 general election or 2014 midterms. Considering the fact that 1 million new voters have been added to the voter rolls in Florida since 2012, the 6 percent of true first-time voters – or about 142,000 – is a fractional share of the electorate.
There is no evidence, moreover, that Trump has attracted more Democrats to the Republican party. In South Carolina, for example, first-time voters amounted to 8.4 percent of the GOP electorate. Triple that number – 25 percent – were voting for the first time in a Republican primary. But despite this turnout, per Politico, the “Trump-led ballot brought almost exactly the same number of former Democratic primary voters . . . as a Trump-free ballot did four years ago.”
Two conclusions emerge from the data. First, the “new” Republican primary voters are new to primaries, but not elections – they are likely to vote in November anyway. Second, these “new” voters are not “new Republicans.” They are old Republicans who have been driven to the polls by a contested primary headlined by a controversial leading candidate.
But lest you continue to conflate the increase in Republican primary participation with an increased Republican share of the electorate, remember that more than 60 percent of Americans disapprove of Donald Trump’s candidacy.
Trumpism, thus, hasn’t infected the country more broadly. It has, however, spread like an epidemic among voters who are, and largely always have been, Republicans. Trump, in other words, is distilling the GOP. What he is not doing, however, is expanding or remaking it.
Word Count: 407
What Role Will Latino Voters Play in the 2016 Elections?
In case you missed it, check out The Weekly Column. The increase in the Latino vote is part of a broader march toward a more diverse electorate. But despite the increase in the Latino vote share, their political clout has not. We explore why this may be the case. Read the Column for May 24, 2016.