Four Guaranteed Predictions for 2020
By Nathan Gonzales,
Inside Elections Editor and Publisher
Public Affairs Council Senior Political Analyst
Anybody who tells you they already know who will win the Democratic nomination for president or whether President Donald Trump will win re-election is lying to you.
But there are a handful of predictions you can take to the bank. Lock them in and throw away the key, because they are happening. (And if they don’t, please forget you ever read this column.)
Record turnout. Whether people love Trump or hate him, everyone is tuned in and on high alert because of the president. And thus more people than normal are likely to vote in November 2020.
Voters set a modern record for turnout in a midterm in 2018 when nearly 50% of the voting-eligible population cast ballots. Over the past century, the average difference in turnout between a midterm and a subsequent presidential election has been 16 points. That would pin 2020 turnout at about 66%, which looks like a very attainable modern record.
The largest turnout in a modern presidential cycle was 63.8% in 1960, when John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon. Turnout was 61.6% in 2008, when Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois mobilized a new coalition of Democratic voters, and 60.1% in 2016 when Trump mobilized a new coalition of Republicans. Reaching even further back, turnout was 73% in 1900, when GOP President William McKinley faced down Democrat William Jennings Bryan in his winning re-election bid.
Democrats will be united. Republicans are reveling in the presidential primary field featuring more than two dozen Democratic contenders. But the division will last only until Democrats choose a nominee.
In 2016, just 89% of Democrats voted for Hillary Clinton in an election when some Democrats took the race for granted. That won’t happen again.
For some context, 95% of Democrats voted for the Democratic candidate for Congress last year. That’s a more unified party than Obama could assemble in both 2008 (89%) and 2012 (92%). Credit goes to the extraordinary power of Trump in the Oval Office, which means the party is likely to remain united in November 2020.
Republicans have a new star. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York will be featured in more GOP ads this cycle than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. This new strategy will take some creativity from Republican ad makers who have relied on Pelosi ads for more than a decade.
But having a freshman member who previously aligned herself with the Democratic Socialists of America, advocates for progressive legislation such as the Green New Deal, and comes from liberal New York City is just too good to be true for the GOP.
The passing of the torch has already begun, as evidenced by Republican Dan Bishop’s first general election ad in the do-over race in North Carolina’s 9th District. Bernie Sanders was the first bogeyman to appear in that ad, followed by Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Michigan, and finally Pelosi.
Bernie is not going away quietly. I remember being in the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia in July 2016, when Sanders dragged out the nominating process all the way to Tuesday, the second day of the national convention. Clinton had won the race for all intents and purposes, but that didn’t stop Sanders from holding out until the last second.
This cycle, the Democratic race could be more divided, causing more uncertainty. And it’s important to remember that Sanders — who represents Vermont in the Senate as an Independent — is a Democrat in the presidential race out of convenience, not out of loyalty or obligation to the party.
And in a crowded field, Sanders’ solid base of anti-establishment supporters and his fundraising prowess will ensure that he remains a factor in the race for a long time. And without the priority of party unity, there’s no reason for him to bow out until he absolutely has to. This is the 77-year-old senator’s last opportunity on the national stage. That doesn’t mean Sanders will win, but he won’t go away quietly.
Nathan Gonzales is a senior political analyst for the Public Affairs Council and editor of Inside Elections, a nonpartisan newsletter with a subscription package designed to boost PACs
Want More Information on This Topic?
Contact Kristin Brackemyre, senior manager, PAC and advocacy practice