Li-An Putman-Thomas watched the wars waged by her country, the economic downturns that struck her and the election of the first black president. However, the 53-year-old has never been motivated enough to go to the polls.
That changed this month when she took part in the early US presidential election to vote for Democratic nominee Joe Biden or, more precisely, to oust Donald Trump, she says.
“His presidency has sparked something bad that haunts this country,” said the self-employed centrist, a resident of Eidel, a town of 5,500 near Des Moines. “I want to be part of the solution.”
If Biden wins the November presidential election, voters like Putman-Thomas will have a large share of the reasons for his victory.
Polls and early voting results show that millions of Americans who do not normally vote in elections go out of their way to support the Democratic nominee in large numbers.
About 7.3 million Americans voting for the first time, or those who do not usually vote, have already cast their ballots, according to TargetSmart, a Democratic analyst. It is more than two and a half times more than the ballots cast at the same time four years ago, the figures show, as states have expanded letter-voting and early voting procedures due to the coronavirus epidemic.
According to TargetSmart, in this group of voters, democratic votes prevail by 16%.
Republicans warn that these numbers do not carry much weight, as the turnout is expected to increase for white voters without a university degree, a group that is a key part of Donald Trump’s electorate.
“I would avoid saying that these are exclusively Biden voters,” warns Patrick Ruffini, co-founder of Echelon Insights, a Republican analyst, talking about first-time voters or those who do not usually vote.
Democrat analysts believe their party has the upper hand in mobilizing this group of voters in this election, in part because of the unpleasant surprise caused by Trump’s victory in 2016. When the Republican nominee secured a majority of the electorate, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was 3 million votes ahead.
The fact that the outcome of the vote was decided head to head, haunts those who stayed at home, says Barry Berden, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin.
“They are struck by lightning from what happened four years ago and they are trying to make amends for their past sins now.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign staff is conducting an offensive against voters who are not used to voting in the states that are in question for the Republicans. In Pennsylvania, for example, volunteers go door-to-door to talk to such voters and give them information on how and where to vote. The campaign has given the Republican Party 200,000 new registered voters, undermining the Democratic Party’s advantage and limiting Democrats’ new enrollment to historic lows.
According to official figures, something similar happened in Florida and North Carolina.
In a period of political polarization, analysts believe that voters who rarely vote will determine who will be in the White House next January.
Patrick Sebastian, a Republican executive at Majority Strategies, says both parties have strong support for their core electorate, but cannot rely on them alone.
“The party that mobilizes low-turnout voters will win the election,” he said.
The 2016 result gets voters off the couch
About 40% of American voters usually do not vote in presidential elections. The Trump-Clinton match in 2016 followed this model.
In 2016, 137 million Americans voted, while 100 million did not vote, according to Michael McDonald, a professor of political science at the University of Florida.
Voters say they did not vote in the presidential election for a number of reasons, including political apathy, a lack of trust in the US government, and a lack of documents required in some states to reserve the right to vote.
Some analysts predict that turnout this year will be significantly higher, as the polarized Trump presidency has mobilized voters across the political spectrum, including those who stayed home in 2016. Michael McDonald predicts a turnout of 150 million this year.
A series of polls show that the vast majority of voters who rarely vote and will vote this year support Joe Biden.
The Democratic nominee leads by 8 percentage points among voters who ran in the 2016 election, but by 16 points among voters who did not bother to vote four years ago, according to a Pew Research Center poll in October.
Similarly, a September poll by the University of Wisconsin’s Elections Research Center found that Biden was 27 percentage points ahead of voters who did not vote in 2016 but will make the effort to vote this year in the three states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, who gave four years ago the unexpected victory of Trump in the House of Electors.
Among those voters is Lori Edmison, 59, of Little Falls, Wisconsin. After twice supporting Barack Obama, in 2016 he did not bother to vote for Hillary Clinton due to lack of enthusiasm. “I just do not trust her.”
Lori Edmison is not crazy about Biden either, but she has already voted for him in the mail, because of her disgust with Trump.
“I did it mainly to oust Trump. He lies about everything, he is not interested in ordinary people, only in his rich and powerful friends.”
In the disputed state of North Carolina, registered Democrats who did not vote in the 2016 election have so far cast 167,000 ballots, according to an analysis of state data by Reuters. The number is almost double the state’s registered Republican voters who did not vote in the 2016 election, but have voted this year at 94,000. And it is larger than the 140,000 non-party voters who did not vote in 2016 and took part in the early voting.
Local Democratic Party officials are giving similar numbers in other states.
“We see excitement and we are attracting new voters,” said Bryce Smith, president of the Democratic Party in Dallas County, just outside of Moin, Iowa. He says 14% of registered Democratic voters who have either already voted or asked for a ballot did not vote in 2016.
In South Carolina, 15% of registered Democratic voters who cast their ballots through the party’s online website did not vote in 2016. In Montgomery, Pennsylvania, the figure is 21%.
Republicans insist that these numbers on early voting mean nothing. What counts is the final turnout and they expect many of their supporters to vote in person on November 3rd.
Door to door
At a time when the coronavirus epidemic has led Democrats and non-partisan groups involved in the campaign to cut off live contacts as part of the voter registration process, Republicans continued to use door-to-door methods to mobilize their electoral base and the voters who rarely or never vote.
Republican analyst company Majority Strategies according to their report on October the 13nth, independent voters who have not yet voted in six states – Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Nebraska – are the most likely to vote for Republicans over those who have already voted, and are harder to convert.
Donald Trump’s pre-election rallies give an idea of the behavior of these undecided voters. About 23 percent of those who attended the October 13nth rally in Johnston, Pennsylvania, never voted, compared with 30 percent in last Sunday’s rally in Carson City, Nevada, according to a Trump campaign official.
Trump’s campaign staff plans to maintain personal contact with voters who attended the rallies in the coming days. “When we send a registration form or a ballot paper to someone’s house, then we knock on the door to remind them. That is the difference. “The Democrats are not doing that,” he said.
Others have decidedon their own to vote. Anita Cripps, 59, from St. Petersburg, Florida, says she plans to vote for Trump on November 3 – the first time she has voted since 1988. She is well aware of his “flaws.” “Everyone knows he’s a liar,” she says.
However, the 59-year-old believes Trump handled the pandemic “with as much responsibility as one could” even that she is suspicious of the government’s greater involvement in medical care, a key issue on the Democrats’ platform.
“I have a really bad feeling about Biden, I don’t like him at all.”