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Could the GOP’s Obsession with Low Turnout Be a Harbinger of Trouble in 2024?

Pauline Kael, a former film critic for The New Yorker, acknowledged that she did not have a representative understanding of the American electorate. She famously stated that she did not know anyone who voted for Richard Nixon in the 1972 election, despite his overwhelming victory. However, she clarified in a speech to the Modern Library Association that she lived in a unique world and was not aware of where Nixon supporters were. Kael’s example serves as a reminder for the upcoming election, highlighting the surprise of Democrats and elite Republicans when Donald Trump won in 2016 because they did not personally know any Trump voters. Similarly, Trump supporters were shocked by the large turnout for Joe Biden in 2020, underestimating the support for the Democratic candidate in rural and post-industrial America. While urban voters came out in even greater numbers against Trump in 2020, House and Senate Republicans still performed well. This can be attributed to Trump’s ability to drive turnout for both parties. The mixed results of the 2020 election and the weaker showing for the GOP in the midterms can be explained by the absence of Trump on the ballot in 2022. Many of his supporters chose to stay home, making it difficult for the GOP to regain control of the House and losing seats in the Senate. Trump’s impact on urban turnout worked against him in states like Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. House Republicans are comfortable with Trump because they represent districts that won’t flip if urban voter turnout increases. However, Senate Republicans and those eyeing statewide contests are more concerned since a surge in urban areas can tip the election in competitive states. Republican strategists prefer to focus the election on Biden rather than Trump and keep turnout low. They hope that the prospect of removing Biden from office will drive GOP turnout, while Democrats may not be as motivated to support an aging and uncharismatic incumbent. However, this plan is flawed because the Republican base strongly supports Trump and is determined to nominate him. The rural-urban divide will continue to challenge both parties, as they fear that voters they do not know will show up in unexpected numbers. The GOP faces the challenge that cities are growing while rural and post-industrial America is declining, and they cannot solely rely on Trump’s base to win.

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