Discover more from Hopium Chronicles By Simon Rosenberg
Revisiting - Memo: Get to 55, Expanding Our Coalition, The Youth Opportunity
Dems have learned how to get to 51% in national elections. Can we get to 55% in 2024 and beyond?
Following up on Laura Brill’s terrific youth vote post yesterday, I send along the very first major post on this Hopium site, “Get to 55.” It remains the post I come back to most often in my own writing and analysis, as it challenges Democrats to approach this election cycle from a place of confidence and strength, and look to expand our coalition, take away political real estate from them (as we’ve been doing in 2023) and get to 55% nationally in 2024. The core of this strategy is about pushing the youth vote to the upper end of what’s possible, thus the followup to Laura’s post from yesterday.
For the many new subscribers who’ve come on in recent weeks, this memo is essential to understanding what we are trying to do here at Hopium. Check it out and let me know what you think - Simon
One of the projects I’m planning to work on over the next few years a group of us are calling “Get to 55.” The idea is to create a big conversation in Democratic and pro-democracy circles about how to grow the current Democratic coalition from Biden’s 51.4% in 2020 to 55% in 2024 and keep it there for a while. It may be the only way we’re going to get the Republicans to abandon MAGA and become a more traditional center-right party. Getting to 55% will be good for Democrats of course, but it will also be good for the country and the long-term future of the Republican Party itself. I spent some time talking about this idea in my recent interview with Ron Brownstein in the Atlantic (and in a new short video).
My working premise is that there are at least four groups we should be looking at to expand our coalition in the short term – under 45-year-old voters, Hispanics, Never-MAGA Republicans and those whose political views have or can be changed due to Republican extremism on abortion (not just women but men who run from the GOP due to this too). There is obviously significant overlap within these groups, but my hope is that we work together to better understand the opportunities for expansion and develop strategies to grow our vote in each. Others will argue we have to add AAPI voters to that list, African-American voters in Southern red states or voters in small towns or rural communities. Very open to tht. All ideas for expansion should be on the table now.
Consider the math here. If we start with Biden at 51% and gain a single point nationally with each of these groups in the next two years, we hit 55% (note the average Presidential vote over the past 4 elections is 50.9% D - 46.5% R). If we can do this in 2024, we crush MAGA, again, and will likely keep the Senate and flip the House. It would be the fourth bad election in a row for MAGA, and will again give Democrats control of Washington to move our agenda forward.
Let’s look at how close to 55% we got in some of the most important battlegrounds in the country last year:
CO Gov 59%, CO Sen 55%
PA Gov 57%, PA Sen 51%
MI Gov 55%
NH Sen 54%
NM Gov 52%
GA Sen 51.4%
AZ Sen 51.5%, AZ Gov 50.3%
WI Gov 51.2%
NV Sen 48.8%
So, getting to 55% is hard, yes, but not impossible. We got there in some of the most important battleground states in an off year election when we were told a red wave was going to wash over the land.
We kick off this thought exercise with some data about the group who probably provides us the biggest opportunity, under 45-year-old voters. For this analysis we collaborated with our friends Mike Hais and Morley Winograd, who’ve been researching and writing about Millennial voters for almost 20 years. Joined by their colleague Doug Ross, they’ve updated their historical analysis to add a focus on the generation after Millennials, who they call Plurals (others call GenZ). Millennials are currently 26-41 years old, Plurals 10-26.
Here’s something they put together from Pew data and census projections:
2020 Pres Millennial/Plurals 30% of all voters 51%-47% Dem +4
If we were to increase these two generational cohorts so they voted at the same percentage of the population in 2020, 40%, we end up with a 4 point national vote gain:
2020 Pres Millennials/Plurals 40% of all voters 54%-46% Dem +8
Projecting forward, keeping the 2020 vote constant, but now adusting upward for the growth of these generations into the electorate, we end up with:
2024 Pres Millennials/Plurals 37% of all voters 53%-47% Dem +6
If we push 2024 M/Plurals turnout to their share of the overall population, 49%, we end up with:
2024 Pres Millennials/Plurals 49% of all voters 55%-45% Dem +10
There it is. 55%. Just by increasing turnout of these two generations to a level equal to their population distribution in the 2024 election.
Okay, you say, we will never get youth turnout up that high. More Hopium you say. But what if we dropped like $100m starting this spring and made it a national party, pro-democracy coalition wide priority to drive youth registration and turnout through the roof in 2024? Do we think we can move the needle, do something significant, even historic? We think so. We did something historic, something no one thought was possible in 2022. We simply don’t have to accept these lower levels of youth turnout as the norm. We can change it.
Let’s look at the margins Dems have been getting with younger voters in the last 3 elections (using the Exit Polls which you find by clicking on the year below, and which don’t track voters by generation but by 18-29 and 30-44 age cohorts). What’s very clear when you look at this data that the most Democratic part of the electorate votes the least, and the most Republican votes the most. Don’t we think we should try to change that?
Year Under 45 % Vote Over 45 % of Vote
2022 55-42 (+13) 34% 44-54 (-10) 66%
2020 56-42 (+14) 40% 48-51 (-3) 60%
2018 61-36 (+25) 35% 49-50 (-1) 65%
Lets look at the margins Dems got in key battleground states from the under 45 year old vote in 2022 (from the Exit Polls):
AZ Sen 65-31 (+34)
GA Sen 58-44 (+14) (November first round)
MI Gov 63-35 (+28)
NH Sen 67-31 (+36)
NV Sen 62-34 (+28)
PA Sen 63-35 (+28)
PA Gov 65-33 (+32)
This last bit of data reflects our “two elections” analysis (video, memo). We believe that in 2022 there were two elections - a bluer election inside the battleground and a redder election outside. Democrats outperformed 2020 in 7 battleground states, AZ, CO, GA, MI, MN, NH and PA, but we fell back in CA, FL, NY, TX. You can see that while our under 45 year old numbers nationally were down from 2018 and 2020, it looked a lot more like 2018 in the battlegrounds. If you only look at national numbers in 2022 you miss the real story of the election – that Democrats had a great midterm in the states which matter most in American politics, and there were at least two elections, not one.
A few more things to consider as we kick around this “Get to 55” idea:
- The success of the abortion-related ballot initiatives in Kansas and Michigan last year show that abortion can be, under certain circumstances, a true wrecking ball for the Republican coalition. More work needs to be done here to understand the potential the GOP’s extremism on abortion offers Democrats, but this is certainly an area where Dems need to be on offense.
- In an October discussion hosted by NDN Bill Kristol and I explored the idea of some sort of more formal alliance between Democrats and NeverMAGA Republicans. If we were in a parliamentary system we would have perhaps brought the Liz Cheney wing of the GOP into some kind of grand coalition, and she and perhaps others would have become part of our cabinet. We saw many neverMAGA Rs play significant roles in helping Dems win in key races across the country in 2022. This too is an area we need to keep exploring, and become more intentional about. Ron Brownstein estimates that non-MAGAs are 20% of the GOP so this an important area of opportunity for us as the two most likely GOP nominees, Trump and DeSantis, are 100% MAGA.
- While Democrats have lost a bit of ground with Hispanics, the impact of that dip has been wildly exaggerated (we are stronger in the Southwest today than we’ve been in over 80 years). Nevertheless we need to regain what we have lost, and keep working here as the Hispanic electorate is full of new voters whose vote we need to earn every two years. There remains much more upside for us here and we cannot be satisfied with where we are.
I hope the “get to 55” project become something that has many analysts and organizations collaborating to explore, together. I know our friends at Future Majority, being true to their name, plan to do work looking at how to expand our coalition. Morley Winograd, Doug Ross, and Mike Hais have just published a new youth vote analysis with Brookings, and I know they have more analysis coming soon. I expect John Della Volpe will have something to say about this idea, and I hope the folks at Navigator Research take this on (I am big fan of their work). I expect Fernand Amandi, who did some important polling of Hispanic voters with Future Majority in 2022, will also be contributing to this discussion. As will many others.
As folks may know I have a long history of working in this area of finding demographic opportunities for Democrats. Along with Sergio Bendixen, Fernand Amandi, Bob Menendez and Ken Salazar I helped introduce bi-lingual polling and Spanish language advertising to the Democratic Party in 2002, and helped create the party’s national Hispanic strategy which has been among the most successful party wide strategies in either party in the last generation of American politics (video, memo). Morley, Mike, and I did the first Democratic poll ever of Millennials all the way back in 2005, research which became central to their critically acclaimed book, Millennial Makeover. We put a lot of this research into a big magazine article I wrote with my friend Peter Leyden, The 50 Year Strategy: A New Progressive Era (No Really!) back in 2007. In our work back then we argued that by leaning into this new emerging coalition Democrats could expand our then coalition and build something like a durable Democratic majority. At that time Democrats had not broken 50% in a Presidential election since 1976 and not gotten above 50.1% since 1964. We’ve broken 50% in three of the four Presidential elections since, averaging 50.9% over these four elections to the GOP’s um, 46.5%.
This graph (all data is from the Exit Polls) speaks to this emerging Democratic coalition Pete and I, and Morley and Mike saw back in 2007. The big shift of younger Americans (and Hispanics too) happened in the 2006 election. Obama built his campaign around these new demographic realities and got Democrats past 50.1% for the first time since 1964, the only time other than 1964 going all the way back to 1944. I want to repeat this basic stat – from 1944 to 2004, over 60 years, Democrats only broke 50.1% in a Presidential election one time, in 1964, less than a year after Kennedy’s assassination. That we’ve done it in 3 of the last 4 Presidential elections, and have averaged 50.9% during these elections, is a remarkable, historic achievement by the modern Democratic Party. It is our best extended popular vote run since FDR’s Presidency.
In the years after the 2004 election Democrats imagined and built a new majority coalition, their largest and most durable coalition since the 1940s. Now, given the threat of MAGA, we need to imagine and build an even bigger coalition, one that gets us to 55%. It may be the only way to truly ensure that freedom and democracy prevail.
Feedback on this memo is encouraged.
Adding this post-publication from a reader: