The public radio program On The Media had an excellent interview with Ibram X. Kendi about how the media is obsessively focusing on the wrong swing voters, and because of that error, party establishment Democrats are trying to persuade people who are unlikely to switch back to them, at the cost of ignoring those voters who previously voted Democratic but either did not vote in 2016 or voted third party. He says that these latter voters are far more persuadable to vote Democrat this time and should be the primary focus of the campaigns.
Most of the Democrats running for the White House are making their case for defeating Trump with the persuasion theory, whereby they say they can draw moderates and disaffected Republicans into their tent. This is the traditional conception of the “swing voter.”
These candidates — and many pundits, too — may be missing an important voting bloc hiding in plain sight: those who go from voting for Democrat to not voting at all. Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist and executive director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University calls them “the other swing voters,” citizens who are not disengaged, but who are unsatisfied and unwilling to cast a ballot for those who won’t recognize them.
Kendi writes in The Atlantic that these other swing voters have swung elections and may do so again. In order to activate them, he tells Brooke in this segment, the press and campaigns need to stop thinking of these voters simply as “nonvoters” who need to “turn out,” and more like swing voters with agency who can be persuaded to favor particular policies.
Kendi says that there were more Obama voters who swung to not voting or voting third party than who swung to Trump, and yet the media and the political establishment focuses obsessively on the latter group, and erroneously lump the former, who are typically younger and people of color, with non-voters who have not registered to vote and have no intention of voting, and thus dismiss them as hopeless causes.
He says that the size of the group of 2012 Obama voters who in 2016 did not vote or voted third party far exceeded the total of 86,000 voters that Clinton lost by in the three states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Nationwide about 4.4 million 2012 Obama voters did not vote in 2016 while another 2.3 million voted third party, the total being larger than the six million voters who swung to Trump.
Kendi also says that about 70% of those Democratic voters who switched to Trump in 2016 are generally satisfied with him and are unlikely to be persuaded to vote Democratic this time around and are now effectively like Republicans.. But it is these voters that candidates like Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, those who dropped out like Petet Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, and the Democratic establishment are courting.
Meanwhile about 70% of those Democratic voters who did not vote in 2016 or voted third party are dissatisfied with Trump and can be persuaded to vote for the Democratic nominee this time around but that is less likely to happen if you did not give them a reason to switch back with a message that appeals to them. If the party nominates someone just like Hillary Clinton again, those people will stay away again.
He says that those who warn that there is a risk that nominating Sanders will alienate some voters are right but they are ignoring the risk that nominating someone like Biden will alienate other voters. The point is that the voters that Biden will alienate are the same ones that Clinton alienated but who can be persuaded to vote for a Democrat like Sanders.
It is an excellent 11-minute interview.