Democrats aim to reach a new kind of swing voter

From Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Michelle Obama, Democrats are making a push simply to get people to show up at the polls.

A voter walks to a booth to fill in her ballot at a polling station in Brooklyn, New York, the United States, on Nov. 8, 2016. CREDIT: Xinhua/Wang Ying via Getty Images
A voter walks to a booth to fill in her ballot at a polling station in Brooklyn, New York, the United States, on Nov. 8, 2016. CREDIT: Xinhua/Wang Ying via Getty Images

The path to a progressive majority is not about convincing Republicans — or even independents — to vote for Democrats, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has recently argued. It’s about a different kind of swing voter.

“Our swing voter is not red-to-blue,” said Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old socialist who shot into the spotlight after beating 10-year party boss Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) in the May primary. “Our swing voter is the voter to the non-voter, the non-voter to the voter.”

It’s an idea she expanded on in an interview with CNN while campaigning for Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed recently.

“I don’t think that swing voters decide based on how much a candidate has run to the middle the most,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “I know people who are swing voters, and when I think about how they decide, they don’t say, ‘Oh I’m voting for this person because they became the most Republican out of the whole race to earn my vote’ … Expanding the electorate is the path.”


Ocasio-Cortez made similar remarks at progressive conference Netroots Nation over the weekend, and on Monday, former First Lady Michelle Obama announced that she plans to hit the road on a voter registration drive this fall.

“Sometimes it’s easy to forget all the work it took to get [the Voting Rights Act passed,” Obama said in a video posted to Twitter Monday. “All the organizing and marching. All the volunteers who registered voters. All the folks who, even if they knew they’d be turned away at the polls, stood up time and again for their right to vote.”

The former first lady continues, saying, “Today, we want to honor their legacy and continue their work to ensure that every eligible American casts their vote. Work that is far from finished.”


As The Atlantic noted Sunday, one big group Democrats hope to mobilize in 2018 and beyond is the four million voters who supported President Barack Obama in 2012 but didn’t vote in 2016. Additionally, Democrats have long argued that if they can increase minority voter turnout, they can win elections across the country and up and down the ticket.

In 2016 — as the Atlantic also noted — about 59 percent of African Americans and just 48 percent of Hispanic Americans, who skew more Democratic, voted in 2016 compared to 65 percent of white Americans, who skew more Republican.

On the whole, however, voter turnout has been up in 2018, especially in House primaries. According to Pew Research Center, 13.6 million people had voted in Democratic House primaries through June 2018. By the same time in 2014, the last midterm election, just 7.4 million people had voted.

But one thing that should concern Democrats is another poll from the Public Religion Research Institute and the Atlantic, which found that just 28 percent of young adults ages 18 to 29 say they are “absolutely certain” they’ll vote in midterms, compared to 74 percent of seniors.

To genuinely be competitive this fall and beyond, it’s that group Obama and other Democrats will need to reach.

As Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report told Vox, “Right now the ‘blue wave’ is being powered by suburban professional women, but to fully capitalize on 2018, Democrats need to energize young voters and voters of color.”


One other cause for concern is the fact that the more than 100,000 Puerto Ricans who fled to Florida — which has a number of highly contentious races this fall — in the wake of Hurricane Maria are not registered to vote in the state, as The Washington Post recently reported.

But as Democratic State Rep. Amy Mercado told the Post, getting that group to vote requires making sure they have access to other important resources first. Mercado said many of the Puerto Ricans who moved to Florida have been struggling to find affordable housing and jobs.

“Their main focus obviously is going to be survival,” she said. “They have to contend with trying to figure out their day-to-day lives. So, honestly, the last thing they’re thinking about is politics.”