Voter enthusiasm. It’s a term we often hear, but what exactly does it mean and how exactly can we quantify it? Hidden in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary results is a bit of data that helps us to answer both questions. While the Democrats were deepening their primary quandary and embarrassing poor Joe Biden, 118,774 voters cast ballots for President Trump in a race where he was essentially running unopposed.
To put this in perspective, in 2012 incumbent Barack Obama received 49,080 votes in the New Hampshire primary. The all-time record for an incumbent was achieved by Bill Clinton with 76,797. Trump didn’t just break this record; he broke it like Tipper Gore coming home to find her kids listening to the Beastie Boys. It’s an absolutely astounding number.
A brutal reminder of Trump’s capacity to turn out his voters – even when he runs unopposed. pic.twitter.com/UgBcxnjI5G
— Gray Connolly (@GrayConnolly) February 12, 2020
From Trump’s raucous arena rally in New Hampshire on Monday, it was clear that his core supporters are fired up for 2020 and ready to win. But a rally is one thing. It’s an event, there’s music, speeches, chicken fingers for sale, and of course, The Donald himself. For 118,000 people to take the time on a cold rainy New Hampshire day to vote in a race that is already decided is something else entirely.
Over the past year it has been assumed by many that Democrats are going to be eager to vote Trump out of office. Voter enthusiasm. But that’s not really what voter enthusiasm means. What gets people to the polls? A sense of civic duty? Maybe. Nice weather? It plays a roll. Getting one of those stickers? Probably not. What really gets people to vote is a candidate they feel strongly about, one that makes them feel good when they pull the lever for him.
Disliking the other guy is nowhere near as powerful a motivating factor in voting as loving your own guy. And this is a problem the Democrats are facing. Trump’s turnout makes it perfectly clear that his voters are not only motivated to get him reelected, they are motivated to vote for him even in a meaningless primary.
Is there a Democrat in the field who can boast this kind of enthusiasm? Perhaps Bernie Sanders can, but there’s a ceiling. Sure some progressives and socialists are excited to upend American values and feel a tingle in their leg voting for Bernie, but that wasn’t even enough to beat Hillary Clinton in 2016 and let’s just say it, he underperformed in New Hampshire. He went from 60% of the vote last time to under 30%, that doesn’t scream loyal excitement.
Buttigieg? As my colleague Inez Feltscher Stepman quipped on Twitter, he sounds like he’s talking at a corporate retreat. Amy Klobuchar? Is anyone really stoked to vote for a “moderate” Midwest mom? Bloomberg? “He’s very sensible but kind of bossy, I’m really excited to vote for him.”
Maybe one of these Democrats in the confusing primary muddle will catch fire and electrify the nation with their presence and rhetoric, but it’s hard to see how. Donald Trump already has that. His voters don’t just want to defeat the Democrats, although they want that too, they want to elect him.
Donald Trump not only won Iowa, he won New Hampshire, too. In both cases the predicted record turnouts for the Democrats just didn’t happen. But one record was broken by Donald Trump, and it tells us a lot about the nature of the 2020 presidential race.