Posted on January 8, 2020

Demographic Shift Poised to Test Trump’s 2020 Strategy

Aaron Zitner and Dante Chinni, Wall Street Journal, January 3, 2020

President Trump’s 2020 election strategy relies largely on the white, working-class base that he excited in 2016. But he faces a demographic challenge: The electorate has changed since he was last on the ballot in ways likely to benefit Democrats.

Working-class, white voters are projected to decline by 2.3 percentage points nationally as a share of eligible voters, compared with the last election, because they are older and therefore dying at a faster rate than are Democratic groups. As those voters pass on, they are most likely to be replaced by those from minority groups or young, white voters with college degrees—groups that lean Democratic.

That means Mr. Trump will have to coax more votes from a shrinking base—or else find more votes in other parts of the electorate.

“Trump has a certain hill to climb, and this suggests that the hill gets a little steeper,’’ said Ruy Teixeira, a demographer with the States of Change project, which provided assessments of the 2020 electorate.


The project is a joint venture of think tanks with different ideological leanings: the liberal Center for American Progress, where Mr. Teixeira works; the center-left Brookings Institution; the Bipartisan Policy Center; and the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, which includes participants from across the political spectrum.


“Demography creates the backdrop for the play. But it doesn’t determine the outcome of the play,’’ said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster.


Tim Murtaugh, communications director for the Trump re-election campaign, said Mr. Trump was reaching out to voters from all backgrounds, and that he had better tools than in 2016 to draw supporters to the polls.


Projections by Mr. Teixeira and his colleagues find that the declining presence of working-class whites as eligible voters, if considered in isolation from other factors, would be enough to tip Michigan and Pennsylvania from narrow Trump wins into narrow Democratic wins, while producing the barest of margins in favor of Democrats in Wisconsin.


If he were to rely on working-class, white voters to make up the ground he loses to demographic change, Mr. Trump would need to raise turnout among that group by 3 percentage points in Pennsylvania and Michigan and one point in Wisconsin, a Wall Street Journal analysis of the States of Change projections finds.

The Trump campaign already has a record of boosting turnout among voters without four-year college degrees, a common definition of working-class voters, who are white. Turnout among the group rose by 2.5 percentage points in 2016 compared with the prior presidential election, States of Change has calculated. That was a bigger turnout increase than among white voters with college degrees or among other ethnic or racial groups.

Moreover, the Trump campaign has the deeper well to draw upon. Analyst David Wasserman calculated that 23 million white men without college degrees—a group that leans strongly toward the GOP—sat out the 2016 election, compared with 5 million white women with college degrees, a group that leans strongly Democratic.

“I’d say that’s quite a bit of upside for Trump,” said Mr. Wasserman, of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Democrats hope they can build a winning coalition not only by drawing more votes from college-educated, white voters but by boosting turnout among minority groups. Turnout among African-American voters fell by nearly 5 percentage points in 2016 compared with 2012.