Voter Turnout at its Highest in Decades
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GWEN IFILL: Record numbers of voters were expected to turn out today across the country; 105 million people cast ballots four years ago. Predictions this year call for ten million to twenty million more this time around.
But will big turnout equal big impact? To discuss that and other Election Day matters, we turn to Tony Fabrizio, partner at Fabrizio McLaughlin & Associates, a Republican polling firm in Virginia; and Ethel Klein, president of EDK Associates, a Democratic polling firm in New York. Let’s talk about this turnout, Tony Fabrizio.
If it’s true, as they say, that this would be the biggest turnout in a presidential election since 1968, who does that help?
TONY FABRIZIO: Well, I think it depends on what the turnout number is, Gwen. I think if the turnout number is north of 1 a million people, I think that gives the edge to Sen. Kerry. If it’s within the 110 to 115 range, I think it’s still very competitive.
I’ve heard some estimates go as high as 120 million people voting in this election. That would be not only historic but it would be mind-boggling in terms of the impact that it could have in a number of these states. I think that this time around the Republicans have put a considerable effort into turnout operations, into identifying voters.
We recently did a study in the 12 battleground states and found almost one in every five households said they had been visited by either the Bush or Kerry campaign. That’s a huge amount of doors to be knocked on. So I think that story is yet to be written as to what the turnout is going to mean and where it falls and who it helps.
GWEN IFILL: Ethel Klein, who benefits, do you think?
ETHEL KLEIN: I think the American people benefit. This is an exciting day for democracy. We have just seen the reversal of a 30-year trend of declining voter registration and participation.
And the fact that people are showing up and standing up and being counted and saying “I believe in the system” is wonderful for all of us, whoever wins. I think we need to look at why this is working, and I think thank God there’s no widespread malicious action. I mean, there are problems, but those problems are really due to systemic failures.
And I want to reinforce something that Tony said. This election has brought out huge numbers of people in addition to door knocking and volunteering, putting on bumper stickers, they’re talking about politics much more than they ever have.
GWEN IFILL: But is this happening because people are knocking on these doors and bringing people to the polls or is it because the issues the, the candidates are making people get up out of their couches?
TONY FABRIZIO: You know, it’s the issues and it’s the candidates. What the candidates represent. The candidates are symbolic of issues in this country. I think one of the overlooked things is that for years, you know, the media has talked about how negative campaigns and how campaigns that focus on the differences and not the positives, how they drive down turnout et cetera, et cetera.
Well, I have to tell you, I can’t think of a presidential campaign that has been more sharply defined than this one in recent history and this may be the presidential campaign that draws the highest turnout by percentage.
So I think sharp differences here serve both men and may, in fact, have served democracy because it motivated people who ordinarily wouldn’t have voted to the polls. And, like Ethel says, I echo what she says, that’s great for the country.
GWEN IFILL: Now of course the polls haven’t closed in large swaths of the country yet, but does it make a difference who shows up in these extraordinary new numbers?
ELLEN MICKIEWICZ: Well, it’s going to make a difference to the Kerry campaign if those are young people, if those are union members, if those are people making under $50,000 a year. That’s his constituency. And it’s going to make a difference in politics in the future if young people are turning out in the numbers that they said they would.
GWEN IFILL: Who does the turnout have to be to help the Bush campaign?
TONY FABRIZIO: I think the turnout for the Bush campaign has to be homeowners, middle-class families, people with children, younger children, religious conservatives. I think that there are a number of voters… if you look at just drive down any street in most places, you can see what type of neighborhood you’re in.
You’re either in a Kerry neighborhood or you’re in a Bush neighborhood and I think people… you see people actually going to the headquarters to get lawn signs to put on their yards. That’s amazing.
GWEN IFILL: And then complaining when they’re stolen.
TONY FABRIZIO: Exactly, exactly. Exactly.
GWEN IFILL: We have seen much talk about whether this was an election which was a referendum on the incumbent or not and all of the president’s approval numbers as they’ve stayed a little bit under 50 percent, at least for the last couple weeks.
What is the significance of that? Is this, in fact, as we are watching the numbers show up, is it… do we have any way of knowing whether these are people who are coming to vote for and against the president or for and against a set of issues?
ETHEL KLEIN: We know pretty much they’re voting against the president if they vote for Kerry. Most of Kerry’s supporters say they that’s their first reason. As they’ve known the candidate and he’s grown in his personal persona, he’s become more popular.
But for Kerry voters first and foremost it is a referendum against the president. Any time you have an incumbent that is this close at the end, that’s all it can be. Usually incumbents if they’ve done a good job, they run on their record and they win.
GWEN IFILL: Do you agree with that?
TONY FABRIZIO: Yeah. You know, one of the things I’ve said is the leading barometer or indicator of how the president will do is where his job approval rating is. It’s very difficult for an incumbent to run much ahead of what his job approval number is. And as you pointed out, the president’s job approval has stayed right in that 49 range. That’s nationally. That’s not in the battleground states.
So it will be interesting to see how it plays out. But as Ethel said, you can’t find two people that have polarized their bases more than these two men have. You know, John Kerry is reviled by the Republican base, and President Bush is reviled by most of the Democrat base. So it’s very polarizing.
GWEN IFILL: And in the surveys you’ve taken leading up to the election, have either of you identified wild cards? Last time it was the Nader factor no one took into account that we should be watching for tonight? Ethel Klein?
ETHEL KLEIN: Well, I’d be… for the other side I’d be watching for the evangelical vote. That’s the vote that promised to deliver the election for the president. If f they turn out in large numbers then we’ll see very interesting results.
GWEN IFILL: What do you think?
TONY FABRIZIO: I’m looking at younger voters and minority turnout. One of the things I have been concerned about for the past couple weeks is that all of the “likely voter” models are actually under representing what turnout among 18 to 29-year-olds will be and what turnout among his picks and African Americans will be and if that is, in fact, the case, they are underplaying Sen. Kerry’s potential upside support.
GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about Ralph Nader for a minute. Does anybody think he’ll be factor tonight? Any sign of that?
TONY FABRIZIO: He is the incredible shrinking candidate. He has gone from, in most states in 2000 he probably got 3 or 4 percent. I’d be amazed if he breaks a percent in many of these hotly contested battleground states.
GWEN IFILL: If that’s so, why is that so?
ETHEL KLEIN: I think a lot of people who voted for aid in sore no difference between Gore and Bush. And so they were voting for a candidate that sent a message. I think many of them learned that while there was more of a difference than you thought and they don’t believe that message anymore.
TONY FABRIZIO: There’s one other group and that will be interesting to see how this plays out tonight. That is — we do it our surveys – I’m sure you do it in yours, Ethel – is we look at the people who have a negative opinion of both candidates. In my last survey they were breaking to Sen. Kerry, they were not breaking to the president. So that means if you dislike both candidates, you have voted for Sen. Kerry.
GWEN IFILL: The pox on both houses vote?
TONY FABRIZIO: Right. But it was better the devil we know than the devil we do know in that case. And it’s going to be very unusual because Sen. Kerry’s image has actually been… he’s been viewed less favorably overall than President Bush and so you’re going to after the fact say “well, how could the president have lost when he has a better net image than Sen. Kerry?”
Well, those voters who dislike both of them, if they break to Sen. Kerry in the end, that will be one of the factors — small group, but very decisive.
ETHEL KLEIN: Also, that group usually when they’re cross pressured they don’t vote. They’re telling every one of us, every pollster “we’re going to vote, we don’t know for whom but we’re going to vote.”
TONY FABRIZIO: And it’s not Nader.
ETHEL KLEIN: No, it’s not Nader.
GWEN IFILL: Okay. Well, we’ll have a lot to talk about when we have numbers to work with. Ethel Klein and Tony Fabrizio, we’ll talk to you later.
TONY FABRIZIO: Thank you.
ETHEL KLEIN: Thank you.