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2016 non-voters, a key prize for Biden and Trump, participate in droves

GREENSBURG, Pa. – At 32, Ryan Walsh has never voted in a presidential election. He didn’t identify with any of the parties until this year. But in the spring, he registered as a Republican and plans to vote in person for President Trump on Tuesday.

“I am petrified that Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi will rise to power and do anything that will totally destroy the economy,” said Mr. Walsh, who works for a state government social service agency. .

He cited a series of troubling proposals – broad tax hikes, the Green New Deal, “Medicare for all” – which Mr Biden said he was opposed to. Mr. Walsh doesn’t believe it.

Voters who failed to show up in 2016 are Mr. Trump’s “secret weapon”, said Mr. Walsh, who lives outside Pittsburgh and works in Westmoreland County, a suburb where the Trump campaign is indeed hoping to widen his margin from 2016. Mr Walsh called polls showing the president lagging behind “a joke,” adding: “He will only win in areas he won last time around.”

With recent electoral history and current polls suggesting Democrats are likely to make gains in vote-rich suburbs almost anywhere, Mr. Trump’s path to re-election has always required expanding his support into rural counties. and suburban Pennsylvania, as well as other industrial states where it scored victories in 2016.

Now that early voting is underway, the question of whether it can increase that support is no longer moot. Mr. Trump attracts tens of thousands of voters like Mr. Walsh who sat in 2016 in Pennsylvania. About 24% of the 424,000 registered Republicans who voted by mail in the state did not vote four years ago, according to TargetSmart, a Democratic election data company.

But before the Trump campaign takes a victory lap, the same data analysis shows that in Pennsylvania – where at least 1.9 million voters turned in the ballots on Thursday – Democrats are keeping pace. About one in four of the 1.3 million registered Democrats who voted did not vote in 2016.

Both parties are achieving one of their main goals this year: motivating large numbers of infrequent voters or non-voters to withdraw from what supporters of both candidates call the most crucial election of their lives. It was a goal that eluded Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, but with the United Democrats, Mr. Biden achieves it. And Mr Trump is responding to critics who said his appeal was limited to those from his base who voted for him four years ago.

Trends in Pennsylvania are seen in 14 battlefield states, where more than 10 million people who did not vote in 2016 have already voted this year, representing 25% of early voting in those states.

“The fact that one in four people did not vote in 2016 suggests that there are a lot of these participation goals that haven’t come up before, that have been motivated to come out,” said Tom Bonier. , Managing Director of TargetSmart.

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So far, the data shows that Democratic-leaning voters who did not vote in 2016 are running more than Republican-leaning voters. “Nationally, Democrats have a modeled 14.5% advantage over non-voters in 2016,” Bonier said.

But that’s in part because Mr. Trump has made mail-in ballots toxic to many of his supporters because of his frequent (and unsubstantiated) claims that mail-in voting is ripe for fraud. Trump supporters are expected to dominate in-person voting on election day in some battlefield states. The current democratic advantage with non-2016 voters may stabilize by election day.

Remarkably, the sharp increase in voters who did not vote four years ago is not primarily driven by people who have turned 18 since 2016. Nationally, the number of early voters this year who are 50 and over and who did not surrender in 2016, which was 6.4 million on Thursday, was higher than those under 30, around 4.9 million. All age groups show great interest in voting.

Geraldine Folk, 82, of Fleetwood, Pa., Recently sent out a mail-in ballot for Mr Biden, her very first presidential vote. “I’ve never seen a president like this in my life, and I’ve been through a lot of presidents,” she said of Mr. Trump.

“He was with Stahl last night on ’60 Minutes’ and he was obnoxious and left – he’s not a decent person,” Ms Folk said of Mr Trump in an interview with the CBS reporter Lesley Stahl. “I hate the way he’s running this country. It’s just a shame.

Ms Folk worked as a sewing machine operator in a factory until she was injured in a car accident. Her husband, who died ten years ago, was an electrician in a cement factory. Today, she has a partial disability. “If my legs were good I would campaign, and they wouldn’t like what I had to say – I’m a very outspoken woman,” she says. “I think it’s a useless you-know-what.”

TargetSmart data is different from a survey. The company associates each advance vote with a person’s name in the databases of registered voters. While it’s impossible to know how a person voted, the voter register opens up a wealth of information, including a voter’s age, race, gender, and voting history. In states without partisan registration, the company models the likely party preference of voters based on other information.

Mr. Trump’s 44,000-vote victory in Pennsylvania four years ago, in which he won by less than a percentage point, rested on places like Westmoreland County, once a blue-collar Democratic stronghold, that the president wore 31 points, a wider margin. than in any of the other populated counties in the state.

The Trump campaign and its allies have injected resources to widen that margin. Route 30 to Greensburg, the county seat, features a pro-Trump billboard promising to “keep Nat gas and coal jobs” and another attacking Mr. Biden as “a totally corrupt politician.”

Brittney Robinson, state director of the Republican National Committee in Pennsylvania, said the party had made a “huge investment” in the data it used to “find those people who might support the president who may not have. not be voted for it in 2016 ”and try to turn them off.

Biden’s campaign said Mr. Trump’s voter share had not increased even though he was building new supporters.

He pointed to internal data that the first Democratic voters who did not participate in the last presidential election outnumber the Republican voters who did not run two to one.

“Our strategy in Pennsylvania has always been to energize, mobilize and transform our base in Democratic strongholds, expand Democratic gains into suburbs and pass counties, and win back voters who gave Trump a chance. in 2016 or who may not have participated in this election, ” said Brendan McPhillips, state director of the Biden campaign.

Without the state’s 20 electoral votes, Mr. Trump would have an extremely narrow path to re-election. Mr Biden has broader options, based on current polls in battlefield states.

Despite the president’s campaign efforts and outside groups to broaden his support for voters most likely to support him – white blue-collar workers – a poll shows him behind his 2016 benchmarks. In the latest New York Times / Siena poll College of Pennsylvania president led Mr Biden among white voters without a four-year college degree by 13 points – a significant drop from his 32-point advantage among those voters against Hillary Clinton in 2016, exit polls show .

Four years ago, polls of congressional districts with large numbers of white working-class voters were a little-noticed alarm signaling Ms. Clinton’s vulnerability in the state. Now public and private polls from those Pennsylvania districts suggest problems for Mr. Trump.

An investigation by Muhlenberg College in September in the Seventh Congressional District in the Lehigh Valley showed Mr Biden a seven-point lead over Mr Trump. The districts of Pennsylvania were redesigned two years ago; Mr. Trump lost the equivalent of the new Seventh District to Mrs. Clinton by one percentage point.

Rep. Mike Kelly, a Republican representing Northwestern Pennsylvania’s 16th District, which includes the town of Erie, boasted to reporters last week of record enthusiasm for the president, citing farmers who ” take the time to paint the sides of their barns “with Mr. Trump’s name, as well as the growing number of newly registered Republicans.

Mr Kelly pointed to internal polls showing “a 9.4 percent lead” for the district president.

The problem for Mr. Trump, however, is that he wore the 16th District equivalent of twice as much, 20 points, in 2016, according to a New York Times analysis.

In Erie County, where Mr Trump and Mr Biden recently campaigned, Marie Zamiska, 65, voted by mail this year for Mr Biden, the former vice president. She did not vote four years ago.

“To be honest, in 2016 I didn’t think either of the two candidates would have made a good president, so I chose to abstain,” said Ms. Zamiska, a retired healthcare consultant. “The past four years have been very painful. He certainly did not bring any unity to the country, ”she said of Mr. Trump. “He hasn’t solved any problem other than his own that he thinks he can make money on. I certainly don’t want to live on for another four years of Trump.

Across the state in Allentown, Salena Sanchez is a 2016 non-voter who still doesn’t know if she’ll vote this year.

Registered as a Democrat, Ms Sanchez, 37, who works the night shift in a warehouse, said she leans Republican these days.

She was ready to vote for Mr. Trump – until the first debate, with the President’s constant interruption and Mr. Biden’s reply, “Shut up, man.”

“About 20 minutes, I turned it off,” she says. “I was really leaning towards Trump, but with the debate, that’s what kept me from wanting to vote.”

Ms Sanchez had to work last week on the final debate, but she plans to make up for a recording. Depending on what she sees, she says, she will decide whether or not to vote.