Meet the vot­ers who hold the key

These blocs in swing states could be de­ci­sive

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Todd Span­gler, Craig Gil­bert, Candy Woodall and Frank Gluck USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

WASH­ING­TON – In 2016, Don­ald Trump de­mol­ished the Democrats’ vaunted blue wall in the Mid­west by win­ning Michi­gan, Wis­con­sin and Penn­syl­va­nia by the slimmest of mar­gins. And he flipped Florida red again af­ter it had gone for Barack Obama in both of his runs for the White House. Then came 2018.

In last year’s midterm elec­tions, key blocs of vot­ers swarmed precincts in un­heard-of num­bers com­pared with re­cent non-pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, with Democrats – es­pe­cially women – scor­ing big vic­to­ries across the coun­try, in­clud­ing in the Up­per Mid­west. That flipped con­trol of the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives back to Democrats for the first time since 2011.

Now the 2020 elec­tion looms large. Just like 2016 and 2018, next year’s elec­tion is likely to come down not just to the prover­bial swing states them­selves but the vot­ing blocs that de­fine them and – im­por­tantly – whether they show up at the polls.

Those in­clude work­ing-class vot­ers out­side Detroit and Pitts­burgh. Sub­ur­ban women out­side Mil­wau­kee and Philadel­phia. Ru­ral vot­ers in northern Florida, or Penn­syl­va­nia, or Wis­con

sin. His­panic and black vot­ers in South Florida and south­east­ern Michi­gan. They all played piv­otal roles in the last two elec­tions, one way or an­other.

“It would be very hard for Trump to win re­elec­tion if he loses two of those states,” said J. Miles Cole­man, as­so­ci­ated ed­i­tor of Sa­bato’s Crys­tal Ball, a po­lit­i­cal hand­i­cap­ping and anal­y­sis web­site at the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia Cen­ter for Pol­i­tics. “You can’t take any of them for granted.”

Who are these vot­ers? Re­porters from around the USA TO­DAY Net­work took a look at what are con­sid­ered the key vot­ing blocs in each of the four key swing states.

Swing vot­ers in Michi­gan

Trump won Michi­gan’s 16 elec­toral votes by fewer than 11,000 votes out of nearly 4.8 mil­lion cast, or about twotenths of 1%. Head­ing into 2020, the con­sen­sus among po­lit­i­cal hand­i­cap­pers is that Trump faces a tough re­elec­tion cam­paign there. But noth­ing’s a given, as both sides know well af­ter 2016. Here are some of the key blocs of vot­ers who will have a say in what hap­pens in 2020:

The miss­ing (sub­ur­ban) vot­ers from 2016

One of the big­gest sur­prises in 2016 was how many vot­ers de­clined to even cast a bal­lot for pres­i­dent: More than 75,000 Michi­gan­ders who went to the polls didn’t vote for pres­i­dent at all, more than dou­ble the num­ber in 2008. Of those, nearly half – more than 35,000 vot­ers – were from coun­ties won by Hil­lary Clin­ton. The state hadn’t backed a Repub­li­can nom­i­nee since 1988.

Voter apathy may ex­plain part of it, with peo­ple turned off by ei­ther Trump or Clin­ton, who did little out­reach in the state. In 2020, ex­pect both sides to take noth­ing for granted: “The get-out-thevote ef­fort is go­ing to be huge in 2020,” said Susy Heintz Avery, a for­mer Michi­gan Repub­li­can Party chair­woman and co-di­rec­tor of the Michi­gan Po­lit­i­cal Lead­er­ship Pro­gram at Michi­gan State Univer­sity. “Big­ger than we’ve seen in a long time.”

African Amer­i­can vot­ers in Detroit (and else­where)

Clin­ton did almost as well in Detroit as Pres­i­dent Barack Obama did in 2012, win­ning 95% of the vote in the ma­jor­ity black city. But Clin­ton got about 47,000 fewer votes in the city than Obama did.

Amid crit­i­cism that Clin­ton took those pre­dom­i­nantly Demo­cratic votes for granted, party of­fi­cials say that’s un­likely to hap­pen again. Democrats have more than a dozen or­ga­niz­ers on the ground in Detroit, point­ing out that health care pro­tec­tions re­main as un­cer­tain as ever. The Trump cam­paign, mean­while, is run­ning ads in news­pa­pers and on ra­dio in Detroit tout­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s record and launch­ing “Black Voices for Trump.”

Ma­comb County, the Thumb and the I-75 cor­ri­dor

It’s hard to set aside the role that Ma­comb County, just north of Detroit, played in 2016 when it swung more than 30,000 votes from Obama in 2012 to­ward Trump.

While Ma­comb is his­tor­i­cally known as a work­ing-class area, it has be­come a some­what more sub­ur­ban county, with grow­ing di­ver­sity and af­flu­ence. Fa­mously in­de­pen­dent, it re­tains its rep­u­ta­tion for col­or­ful pol­i­tics and a cache of union-cen­tric vot­ers.

Now the ques­tion for some who voted for Trump in 2016 is whether the pres­i­dent can still count on their sup­port or whether a Demo­crat could at­tract those votes. If the even­tual Demo­cratic nom­i­nee can ap­peal to those vot­ers in Ma­comb County, it’s pos­si­ble he or she can use that to woo work­ing-class vot­ers all over Michi­gan.

Swing vot­ers in Penn­syl­va­nia

Trump won Penn­syl­va­nia’s 20 elec­toral votes by about 44,000 votes, or about seven-tenths of a per­cent­age point, mark­ing the first time since 1988 that a Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee won there. Some hand­i­cap­pers con­sider the state a toss-up in 2020, though his vi­a­bil­ity there may be in ques­tion af­ter Democrats saw key gains in last year’s midterms. Still the state is close enough that few are ready to sug­gest the pres­i­dent can’t do it again.

“It will be a tough slog for him,” said Terry Madonna, a poll­ster and po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Franklin & Marshall Col­lege in Lan­caster. “But I’m not ready to say he can’t win.”

Here are three vot­ing blocs which could make the dif­fer­ence in Penn­syl­va­nia in 2020:

First-time vot­ers

In 2016, Trump won over thou­sands of new vot­ers as Repub­li­can reg­is­tra­tion ef­forts showed huge gains while Demo­cratic num­bers dipped slightly.

Whether those vot­ers will re­main with Trump is a key ques­tion, Madonna said. While little re­search is avail­able specif­i­cally on those new vot­ers, a poll by Franklin & Marshall in Oc­to­ber in­di­cated that just 37% of reg­is­tered vot­ers statewide be­lieve Trump should be re­elected. Of the 59% who want a change, four out of five say they’ll vote for who­ever runs against him.

And some of those new vot­ers from 2016 are among those con­sid­er­ing chang­ing horses.

Ru­ral and blue-col­lar vot­ers in Steel­ers Coun­try (and else­where)

In 2016, Trump gen­er­ally trounced Clin­ton among ru­ral vot­ers and bluecol­lar vot­ers in Penn­syl­va­nia. That was es­pe­cially true in Steel­ers Coun­try – ar­eas in and around Pitts­burgh and south­west­ern Penn­syl­va­nia, where, over decades, man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs and once vi­brant in­dus­trial cities have shrunk or been vir­tu­ally aban­doned.

Madonna says many of those vot­ers have be­gun to feel “left be­hind … eco­nom­i­cally and cul­tur­ally.” And it wasn’t just there. Take Erie County in the north­west­ern part of the state, a for­mer work­ing-class Demo­cratic strong­hold that went for Trump. The same was true in some older in­dus­trial ar­eas in the cen­ter and east­ern parts of the state.

“Trump’s prob­a­bly go­ing to live or die po­lit­i­cally on the econ­omy,” Madonna said. “He will have to make the ar­gu­ment to blue-col­lar work­ers that he’s made things bet­ter.”

Col­lege-ed­u­cated women in the sub­urbs

Clin­ton eas­ily won the Philadel­phia sub­urbs in 2016 thanks in large part to col­lege-ed­u­cated women, in­clud­ing some Repub­li­cans who re­jected Trump.

Madonna ex­pects the trend to con­tinue. But to be de­ci­sive for Democrats, those vot­ers may have to turn out in even larger num­bers to off­set Repub­li­can strength else­where. Trump, mean­while, will be run­ning on the strength of the econ­omy.


Trump’s win in Wis­con­sin in 2016 came as a sur­prise – the state, which has 10 elec­toral votes, hadn’t gone for a Repub­li­can nom­i­nee since Ron­ald Rea­gan in 1984 – but some hand­i­cap­pers say it’s likely to fa­vor him again in 2020.

Here are some key vot­ing blocs that could make the dif­fer­ence:

The small-town vote

The Trump wave in Wis­con­sin three years ago was a ru­ral, small-town phe­nom­e­non. And no re­gion of the state epit­o­mized that as much as the state’s Sev­enth Con­gres­sional District, which sprawls across Wis­con­sin’s northern tier. Trump won the district by 20 per­cent­age points in 2016, com­pared with just 3 points for Repub­li­can nom­i­nee Mitt Rom­ney in 2012.

A key to 2020 is whether Trump can match or ex­ceed his 2016 out­come in the ru­ral parts of the state. If he’s go­ing to win, he’ll need big mar­gins there to over­come his prob­lem at­tract­ing votes from ur­ban ar­eas, es­pe­cially in Mil­wau­kee and Dane coun­ties.

Women, col­lege ed­u­cated vot­ers in the south­east­ern sub­urbs

For decades, the most Repub­li­can parts of Wis­con­sin were the sub­ur­ban coun­ties out­side Mil­wau­kee. But in 2016, Trump un­der­per­formed there.

That’s not to say Trump won’t carry most of these com­mu­ni­ties – he likely will. The ques­tion is by how much and whether it’s enough to over­come Demo­cratic strength else­where. Key to that cal­cu­lus will be how he per­forms with women and col­lege-ed­u­cated vot­ers in places such as Wauke­sha and Ozau­kee coun­ties. They may be up for grabs, de­pend­ing on whether the even­tual Demo­cratic nom­i­nee is ac­cept­able to vot­ers who may con­sider them­selves mod­er­ate or con­ser­va­tives.

African Amer­i­cans in Mil­wau­kee

Af­ter gen­er­at­ing huge turnouts for Obama, Wis­con­sin’s big­gest and most ur­ban city couldn’t de­liver the state and its 10 elec­toral votes for Clin­ton.

Part of the rea­son was a drop in African Amer­i­can turnout in a state Clin­ton failed to visit dur­ing the fall cam­paign. In 2020, Democrats are promising a much stronger ef­fort to win over what is con­sid­ered a key vot­ing bloc in the state.

“I was there in 2016 watch­ing the tum­ble­weeds roll down the street.

There was no ac­tiv­ity,” U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Mil­wau­kee, said re­cently to an au­di­ence in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal. “We’re not go­ing to ig­nore those peo­ple that are the foun­da­tion for the party.”

Swing vot­ers in Florida

Po­lit­i­cal ob­servers are pre­dict­ing an­other tight race in 2020, though the pres­i­dent may be in a good po­si­tion to win Florida and its 29 elec­toral votes again. Polling has Trump in a close race with all the lead­ing Demo­cratic chal­lengers. As for his ap­proval rat­ing re­main­ing be­low 50%, Aubrey Jewett, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at the Univer­sity of Cen­tral Florida, says Trump “doesn’t have to be real pop­u­lar. He just has to be a little more pop­u­lar than the per­son he’s run­ning against.”

And there is ev­i­dence Florida is lean­ing Repub­li­can. While Democrats made gains in other parts of the coun­try in last year’s midterms, Florida Repub­li­cans elected a gov­er­nor and flipped a U.S. Se­nate seat.

Here’s a look at some key voter blocs:

Tampa, its sub­urbs and the I-4 cor­ri­dor

It’s almost a cliché that Florida’s elec­tions are de­ter­mined by a sim­ple for­mula: Democrats win big in the south, Repub­li­cans win big in the north, and it all gets de­cided by the coun­ties sep­a­rat­ing the two along In­ter­state 4 north­east from Tampa to Day­tona Beach.

Af­ter a 2018 midterm elec­tion that saw Repub­li­can Ron DeSan­tis win the gov­er­nor­ship and for­mer Repub­li­can gov­er­nor Rick Scott up­end Demo­crat Sen. Bill Nel­son, the re­gion still looks as swingy as ever: A re­cent New York Times/Siena Col­lege poll shows Trump lead­ing all the top Democrats, though within or near the mar­gin of er­ror.

His­panic and African Amer­i­can vot­ers

Demo­cratic hopes of flip­ping Florida in 2020 also re­volve around find­ing ever larger sup­port in the state’s His­panic and African Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties, es­pe­cially in South Florida.

Democrats are count­ing on in­creas­ing turnout in those com­mu­ni­ties, look­ing to­ward an in­flux of 30,000 to 50,000 Puerto Ri­cans who have come to the state since Hurricane Maria dev­as­tated the is­land in 2017. Trump has op­posed state­hood for Puerto Rico, which may push some Puerto Ri­can vot­ers to­ward the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee.

Mean­while, Francesca Menes, a Haitian Amer­i­can woman who re­signed as trea­surer for the Florida Demo­cratic Party be­cause she was unhappy with the state of Caribbean Amer­i­can voter out­reach, warned that Democrats can’t take black im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties from Haiti, Ja­maica, the Ba­hamas and Nige­ria for granted.

“One of my frus­tra­tions with the party is that they see black vot­ers as mono­lithic,” she said. “It’s al­ways the nar­ra­tive that black vot­ers will al­ways turn out, so we don’t need to work for them.”

Re­tirees and ru­ral vot­ers across the state

Trump’s big­gest strengths in Florida rest with re­tirees and white, ru­ral vot­ers. Exit polls in the state showed that white vot­ers made up nearly two-thirds of the elec­torate in 2016, and he won them with 64% of the vote. Vot­ers over 50 made up half of the elec­torate, and Trump won them by greater than 55% of the vote.

But some of those vot­ers may be up for grabs in 2002.

“Will they turn out in the same levels, and will they ar­dently sup­port Trump like they did last time?” Jewett asked. “If they do, Democrats are in trou­ble and Trump’s look­ing a little bet­ter in Florida.”


Poll worker Betty Ham­mond places an “I Voted” sticker on Ber­nadette Sadler, 53, in the 2018 midterm elec­tions in Detroit.


In Mil­wau­kee in 2016, a drop in African Amer­i­can turnout helped de­liver Wis­con­sin to Repub­li­can Don­ald Trump.





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