Despite three-hour lines in some areas, the number of Georgians who voted early steadily increased throughout the week, according to state data. Already, 482,435 people have voted in advance, including nearly 92,000 on Friday alone. The number of early votes so far represents 19 percent of all votes cast in the 2014 midterms. …
About 61 percent of early voters so far are white and 29 percent are black … Almost 30 percent of early voters didn’t cast a ballot in 2014.
The prevalence of early voters who didn’t turn out in 2014 suggests Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams’s strategy to appeal to irregular voters may be producing results. An Abrams win, which would make her the first African American female governor in the United States ever, would instantaneously vault her to the top ranks of a new generation of Democratic political stars. The victory of a nonwhite, non-Republican, non-male governor in the Deep South who eschewed middle-of-the-roadism would have ramifications for 2020 and beyond.
Most important, the conventional wisdom that progressives are less politically viable than moderates would be upended. While political operatives and the media place great stock in policy prescriptions and ideological labels, with each election cycle voters seem less concerned about these things.
President Trump, who embraced a slew of positions that had been an anathema to the right (e.g. protectionism, anti-interventionism), hit the right notes of cultural identifiers (e.g. white resentment) that subsumed ideological concerns of many self-styled conservatives. Call it identity politics or celebrity politics, but voters clearly prioritized how he made them feel over what he said he’d do.
In an age of cynical politics, voters’ expectations that politicians will keep their promises are low to nonexistent; they now expect their leaders to be gladiators against cultural and political foes and to provide personal reaffirmation. As a result, ideological labels become less critical, if not irrelevant. Emotional connectivity, authenticity and personality supersede policy. Give voters a dynamic, inspirational leader promising “change,” and they are more likely to overlook policy specifics.
This is hardly a new phenomenon, but for Democrats who have lived in fear of being written off too “radical” or “outside the mainstream,” an Abrams victory would remind Democrats (unless they didn’t learn the lesson of 2016) that moderation combined with personal aloofness is not a winning recipe. Look for an Abrams win to embolden the dynamic progressive 2020 contenders.
In addition, progressives may gain confidence in an Abrams victory that their policy positions are far less radical than Republicans would have them believe. At a time when majorities dislike supply-side tax cuts, building a wall, cutting entitlements or rolling back Obamacare, we need to redefine what “mainstream” means. Republicans have been peddling a variety of policy nostrums that are remarkably unpopular; progressives who repudiate them may find much less resistance than they expected.
Democrats in the wake of an Abrams win — despite blatant Republican efforts at voter suppression — also may rethink their approach to irregular voters. If their target voters include nonwhites and millennial voters, then investing more in registration and get-out-the-vote efforts may pay large dividends. Democrats don’t have to get millennial voters to turn out in the numbers that seniors do; they simply need to nudge participation up a few points. That in turn should spur Democratic governors and state legislatures to stress voter access measures (e.g., automatic registration, voting by mail). If Republicans are attempting to suppress minority voting to delay their demographic reckoning, Democrats must push with equal vigor to expand the electorate.
Finally, the Republican Party reputation with millions of college-educated voters, women voters and suburbanites is weakening. To put it more bluntly, plenty of voters are fleeing the GOP in disgust. A dynamic female gubernatorial candidate who promises change or makes a compelling case for Medicaid is not going to scare off women who’ve voted Republican but now find themselves horrified by the party they’ve called home. Those voters are leaving the GOP not necessarily for (or only for) ideological reasons but out of revulsion over the tone and moral vacuity of the party. Give them humane, respectful, optimistic leaders, and they’ll overlook many policy differences.