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What we know about voter turnout so far

November 3, 2016 at 6:40 PM EST
In the final race to the White House, get-out-the-vote efforts are key. Judy Woodruff speaks with Cornell Belcher of Brilliant Corners Research & Strategies, Michael McDonald of the University of Florida and Mark Hugo Lopez of the Pew Research Center about the effectiveness of outreach efforts, particularly among minority voters.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: We begin tonight with politics and the final push in the race for the White House.

Get-out-the-vote efforts are crucial in these last days of the campaign, including outreach to minority voters.

Joining us now to break it down are Cornell Belcher. He’s a Democratic strategist and the author of “A Black Man in the White House.” Michael McDonald, an early voting expert at the University of Florida. And Mark Hugo Lopez, he’s director of Hispanic research at the Pew Research Center.

And we welcome all three of you to the program.

Mr. McDonald, we’re waiting to get our audio issue straightened out with you.

So I’m going to start with Cornell Belcher right here in Washington.

What is the — how well has the Clinton campaign done so far in terms of reaching out to minorities and especially to African-Americans?

CORNELL BELCHER, Brilliant Corners Research & Strategies: Well, you know, I talked to the Clinton campaign over the last two days and one of their minds there that is taking a look at the numbers.

What They’re saying is, they actually have banked right now more raw votes for African-Americans and Hispanics than we actually did in 2012. I worked on the Obama campaign in 2012. Now, Judy, if you had told me six months ago, with the enthusiasm sort of narrative that we have, that right now in Florida the Clinton campaign would be arguing that they have 74 percent more African-Americans banked in early vote right now than we did in 2012, I would laugh at you.

But looking at the numbers that they have right now, it looks like early voting is up across the board in Florida, but particularly among Hispanics in Florida.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, when you use the word banked, you mean people who have already gone to the polls, have already voted, and they can count on it?

CORNELL BELCHER: And we think from their past performance, they are Democratic voters. And so when they look at 74 percent of more African-Americans in the polling places right now in the early vote, they’re banking that as 90 percent of that being their vote.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Hugo Lopez, let me ask you the same question with regard to the Latino community across the country. We know it’s different in every state, but how would you describe at this point the outreach that both campaigns have made into the Latino community in terms of getting out the vote?

MARK HUGO LOPEZ, Pew Research Center: There has been a focus on getting out the Latino vote in states that are battleground states.

That’s certainly the case in Florida. That’s been the case in Nevada as well. But also some polling has shown that in places like California and Texas, which, by the way, has half of Hispanic voters, there has not been as much outreach. And that’s really been a pattern we have seen over the course of the last few election cycles.

Nonetheless, when you look at a place like Florida, you see two million Hispanics registered to vote. That’s a record number, but it’s also up what one would expect — by the amount one would expect to see given population growth in the state.

So those early voter numbers for Hispanics are partly a reflection of just the fact that there are more Hispanics eligible to vote and registered to vote.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you’re saying it’s just a natural outgrowth of the change in demographics to some extent?

MARK HUGO LOPEZ: That’s a big part of the story for Hispanics, not all of it, but a part of the story.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Michael McDonald, you’re in Florida, but you take a look at the whole country.

What does the picture look like nationally? We heard our Lisa Desjardins report earlier about 30 million Americans have already voted. Who’s turning out and where?

MICHAEL MCDONALD, University of Florida: Yes, we’re up to 34 million at least. We will probably be up to 35 million, 36 million by the end of the day.

When we look across the country, we’re seeing uneven levels of turnout, but in most places, we’re seeing record numbers of people who have voted early. In six states now, we are above the 2012 numbers already. And we have several days of early voting left to go.

So, in many places, places like Texas is running well ahead of their 2012 numbers. Louisiana, Florida, where I’m at, we’re already at our 2012 numbers. And then there are some places that have changed their election law that have expanded early voting. Places like Minnesota and Massachusetts have also reached their levels of 2012.

But there are — while we see lots of voting going on in some places, other places, we’re seeing not — places where they’re not reaching their 2012 levels. That’s primarily in the Midwest. Places like Iowa and Ohio seem to be a little bit running behind their 2012 levels.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, just quickly, staying with you, Michael McDonald, are you saying that this bodes well for one — probably bodes well for one campaign or another, or is it possible to know?

MICHAEL MCDONALD: Well, you have to take them on a state-by-state basis, because each state is a snowflake.

And, so, where I mentioned earlier where turnout is down, that’s primarily among Democrats. And we have seen resistance in the polls to Clinton in places like Iowa and Ohio. There is some recent movement towards — where Democrats seem to be getting more engaged, particularly in Ohio.

I think both of those states are going to be razor-thin come election night. So, if we look at our battleground states, the battleground states and the early vote is reflecting that, by and large.

However, there are two states I think that are well worth watching prior to Election Day, Colorado and Nevada. Both of them are going to have a large number of early votes. We’re already at half the total turnout of 2012. We’re going to go even higher on the early vote.

Right now, both of those states look pretty good for the Democrats. There is some more time left, but, right now, if I were the Clinton campaign, I would be more pleased with those numbers out of those states than the Trump campaign.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Cornell Belcher, we have heard some criticism of the Clinton campaign from friendly Democrats who are saying they should have done more earlier to reach out especially in the African-American community, in Florida, in particular, that there hasn’t been the outreach that there could have been. What do you know about that?

CORNELL BELCHER: Well, listen, I understand some of the frustration.

And from someone who has worked on a campaign that I thought was pretty good, when we took our fair criticism as well, I hear the conversation about — particularly around younger African-Americans and sort of younger millennials in general.

Judy, the key number here for a lot of these places, quite frankly, are these younger minorities, right, the millennials. When you look at what we were able to do in 2008 and 2012, we did that, expand the electorate, largely by bringing in younger voters.

There has been a conversation that not enough resources and time have gone to chase those younger voters than what we have seen in the past. I did focus groups about three weeks ago in Charlotte, really quickly, with some younger African-Americans, who their key issue, Judy, is racism and police brutality.

And when I showed them a policy platform on that, they didn’t know it was Hillary Clinton’s policy platform at all. They’re not getting the information that’s critical to them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Hugo Lopez, what about in looking at the Latino community? Do you see — you know, whether you look at the raw turnout numbers or not, but do you see the enthusiasm in the Hispanic and Latino community and especially among younger Latinos?

MARK HUGO LOPEZ: That’s a really good question.

When you take a look at the Hispanic electorate, there’s 27 million who are eligible to vote this year, but 44 percent of those are millennials. So the youth vote is more important for Latinos than it is for others.

And here’s where there has been some real interesting numbers. Many of those Latino millennials are going to be voting for the first time, but also many say that they’re choosing to support Hillary Clinton in order to vote against Donald Trump. That suggests that perhaps they aren’t as enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton.

But, all in all, with regards to turnout this year compared to the past, it remains to be seen where we will be, whether we will have a record 13 million or perhaps more, depending on how much outreach there is from the campaigns and various get-out-the-vote efforts. But I think that’s still an unknown question, exactly where we will be with Hispanic turnout.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mean 13 million particularly with regard to Latino vote?

MARK HUGO LOPEZ: That’s correct, 13 million Hispanic voters would be what — is what one would expect, given trends and turnout over the last few election cycles. And that would be a record turnout.

But it’s possible that we could see more than 13 million, which would start to make 2016 an unusual year for Hispanic turnout, compared to 2012, for example.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Michael McDonald, we know you have looked at early voting for a long time. A lot’s been written this year about how much better organized — and there’s evidence of this — the Clinton is than the Trump camp on the ground, the get-out — the actual physical get-out-the-vote effort.

At this stage in a campaign, how much difference can an organization like that make?

MICHAEL MCDONALD: So, you have to understand what happens with the way in which elections are administered.

When someone votes, the election officials are of course recording that to make sure that someone doesn’t vote more than once. And then the election officials share that with the campaigns. Sometimes, they’re also sharing it with the public, which is how we collect information.

And the campaigns then look at their support lists. They have got — they know who they want to turn out to vote. And if they see someone that has already voted, they scratch them off the list and then they start moving down the list.

And what early voting does for a well-organized campaign, it allows them to extend their mobilization efforts over more days. It allows them to go deeper down into their list and hit more people, some of those low- to moderate-propensity voters who need that extra nudge to get to the polls.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In other words, if you do have a good ground organization, you can benefit? It can make a difference?

MICHAEL MCDONALD: Absolutely. Yes.

But you have to realize, this is a bug, not a feature, of the Democratic coalition. The Democratic coalition is more likely made up of young people, persons of color, other people who have moderate — more often are moderate- to low-propensity voters than the Republicans.

So the Democrats, by their very nature of their coalition, need to have a much greater, larger mobilization organization than the Republicans.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We hear you.

Michael McDonald, Mark Hugo Lopez and Cornell Belcher, thank you, all three. We appreciate it.

MICHAEL MCDONALD: You’re welcome.

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