UT Expert Discusses Critical Voting Groups for 2016 Election

The 2016 presidential elections will likely be one of the nation’s historic races—both because of the presumptive candidates and the voter groups each will drive to the polls—according to a UT political science expert.

Richard Pacelle

Richard Pacelle

Hillary Clinton, the first woman to head up a major party ticket, and Donald Trump, a businessman with no experience in public office, are counting on the large turnout of specific groups of people—based on gender, race, and social class—to propel them into the White House, said Richard Pacelle, head of the Department of Political Science.

“Fifty years from now, are we going to say this was just a crazy election or is this going to be the start of something different?” he said.

The economy normally is the single issue that sways an election. By all objective measures, it is much better, but people are not feeling it, Pacelle said. So this year, Democrats will make the election focus social issues and leadership while arguing that the economy is better than it was under the last Republican president, George W. Bush. Republicans will highlight security and the economy.

Generally, education is a great predictor of voting turnout and those who are less educated tend to be less likely to vote, Pacelle said. The unemployed, people of color, young people, and immigrants also are less likely to go to the polls. Voting numbers among all these groups are almost sure to rise this year, he said.

Trump seems to be banking on white male voting and is using a “white anger” strategy by playing on the Republican Party’s inability to help the less educated. Republican lawmakers have cut taxes on the wealthy in the hopes that the benefits would trickle down to the lower and middle classes, but they have not. “These angry voters feel they have been betrayed by the Republican Party and are turning away from the party and going to Trump,” he said.

Clinton is playing the “woman card,” which will be beneficial to her, particularly in light of disparaging comments Trump has made about women. “Women don’t like Trump,” Pacelle said.

Trump has focused on immigration and terrorism and has attempted to put a broad domestic face on these issues by attacking Latinos and Muslims. He has suggested that both groups are threats to national security. “He’s using those kind of things because they are resonating with voters,” Pacelle said.

Republicans typically get about a quarter to a third of the Latino vote turnout, but they may not fare as well in this election. More than 50 percent of Latinos are expected to show up at the polls—an unusually high percentage compared to previous elections, “which will be very helpful to Hillary Clinton,” he said.

The Democratic Party needs minority votes, and those groups are going to come in strongly for Clinton, Pacelle said. Immigrants also have an incentive to come out and vote against Trump, and they will likely turn out in greater numbers.

Democratic candidates historically receive more of the African-American vote than Republicans. President Barack Obama garnered record levels of black votes in the 2008 and 2012 elections. “Those levels are certainly going to fall, but how much they fall is going to be the question,” he said.

Trump has not made the same type of disparaging remarks against African-Americans as he has against other ethnic groups. He also hasn’t talked about the black vote—except to say periodically that African-Americans are more negatively affected by the economy and that he will help all.

The Republican election strategy has been twofold: try to move the African-American vote a little in critical states such as Ohio, Florida, and Virginia, or, failing that, to do the next best thing and depress minority voting. “This is why virtually every red state with a decent African-American population has a law making it harder for people to vote,” Pacelle said. He noted that a lot of the states have laws that require voters to have certain identification cards like driver’s licenses. These requirements could be a voting barrier for many people who don’t drive, like the elderly and those who live in cities.

Young voters, mostly college students—many of whom dislike the presumptive Republican nominee—have flocked to Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders out of a real fear of the economy because of larger debt and a lack of available jobs when they graduate. With Sanders seemingly blocked from the nomination, many could “vote with their feet and stay home, and that will hurt Clinton.”

Ultimately, the election will come down to which states candidates win or lose and whether they can turn the electoral map in their favor. “About 40 of the 50 states have voted the same way for four straight elections, so there are some battleground states or toss-up states to watch,” Pacelle said.

The electoral map favors Democrats, so if Clinton keeps the map intact she has a strong chance of winning the presidency. Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, and New Mexico are toss-up states. Trump is likely to have a difficult task in trying to win a number of them, he said.

Michigan and Pennsylvania are blue states and Georgia and Arizona are red states that the other party is going to try to win. To expand the electoral map by turning blue states red is likely what Trump has to do to win the election, Pacelle said.

The personalities of the presidential candidates will take center stage, and personal attacks will be the tenor of this election. “At the end of the day, we know more about their personalities than we know about the issues,” Pacelle said.

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CONTACT:

Lola Alapo (865-974-3993, lalapo@utk.edu)

Richard Pacelle (865-974-2845, rpacelle@utk.edu)