Will Black, Latinx and Young Voters Turn Out?
Three groups are working hard -- and spending big -- to turn out these voters.
The Blue Wave election of 2018 elected a full slate of Democratic state officers, topped by Tony Evers’ successful race for governor. Part of that was because of groups pushing to turn out minority and college-age voters.
African American voters have typically supported the Democratic candidate for president by 85 percent or more. And polls show that the Millennial generation is very liberal and more likely to vote Democratic. But younger Americans have tended to only vote at half the rate of older Americans, while the turnout by Black voters was down nationally in 2016 including a 20% reduction in Wisconsin, driven by lower numbers in Milwaukee.
A story by Channel 4 found the campaign ran “negative ads designed to crush Hillary Clinton’s turnout,” including a video with her referring to Black youths as “super predators” and “which aired on television 402 times in October 2016 and received millions of views on Facebook.”
Black and youthful voters are also more likely to be deterred by voter ID restrictions which have made it far more difficult to vote. Republicans have argued this prevents voter fraud, but voluminous research has proven this rarely ever happens in elections. Wisconsin has some of the most restrictive such laws.
In response to all this, liberals and Democrats have created get-out-the-vote efforts targeting the very groups Republicans have tried to prevent from voting.
NextGenAmerica, funded by Tom Steyer, the billionaire former hedge fund manager who ran unsuccessfully for 2020 Democratic nomination for president, is a group that targets young voters. The group did work for the 2016 campaign, but greatly expanded the effort for 2018, spending $33 million on mobilizing youth voters in 11 battleground states. It spent at least $2.5 million in Wisconsin. with 60 paid staff working across 26 college campuses.
The effort for this election in Wisconsin involves only 38 staff working at 19 college campuses, but has been going on for two years and has cost $5.5 million, says Kade Walker, the group’s Wisconsin Press Secretary. And the approach has changed due to the pandemic: no face-to-face efforts on campus, but instead all virtual, connecting to young voters via cell phone, texting and social media outreach. In the Covid age, he notes, “everyone is online more than ever.”
So far the work has resulted in 47,018 young people in Wisconsin who have pledged to vote for Joe Biden, Walker says.
For the 2018 election the group had a budget of $600,000, with five staff and 24 paid canvassers, and knocked on 227,000 doors. The effort paid off. Turnout in the city’s majority-Black wards increased from 64.5 percent in the 2014 mid-term election to 68 percent in 2018, according an analysis by John Johnson, a research fellow at the Marquette University Law School.
BLOC has a far bigger operation for this election, with nine full-time staff, 73 ambassadors working 30 hours a week and many volunteers. “It’s the biggest team we’ve ever had,” Lang says.
Like NextGenAmerica, BLOC has gone virtual, contacting voters using phone banks and texting, but Lang believes it is going very well. “We find our contact rate is about the same” as with door-to-door work, she says. And the enthusiasm level about voting compared to 2016 is far higher, Lang adds.
The immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera worked on turning out voters in 2016 with its affiliated “Action” group, but Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces, felt the effort could be improved. She “grew frustrated with the traditional approach to political canvassing, which she thought relied on ‘stranger-to-stranger’ interactions,” as story in New Yorker reported. “She also found that the addresses on file for Latino voters were out of date, and that the [state voter] rolls left out thousands of people who had been removed after failing to vote.”
For the 2018 the group added an alternative approach to cold calling, dubbed “relational voter turnout,” whereby a “vocero’ — someone who spreads the word —contacts relatives and friends to urge them to vote. Voces gathered more than 400 voceros who reached out to people they knew, “most of whom had never cast a ballot or no longer appeared on traditional Democratic Party canvassing lists,” the story notes. The result was a 17% increase in turnout in heavily Latino areas compared to 2014, Voces believes, which helped defeat Republican Scott Walker. Johnson’s data shows the turnout in heavily Latinx wards rose from 50% to 64 percent.
Latinx voters are very diverse and are not knee-jerk Democrats. The poll aggregation website fivethirtyeight.com finds that 65% of Latinx respondents say they intend to vote for Biden. But in Wisconsin the recommendations of voceros could drive that percentage higher.
All of which suggests there could be a bigger turnout of Black, Latinx and college-age voters in Wisconsin than in 2016. In an election expected to have a very high turnout, every one of those voters may be needed by Democrats.