NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
MODERATOR: Hi, good morning. Welcome to the latest briefing in the New York Foreign Press Center’s 2022 U.S Midterm Elections series, focused on race and voter mobilization. I would like to welcome the Foreign Press Center’s journalists as well as overseas journalists. My name is Mahvash Siddiqui and I’m the moderator. First I will go over the ground rules, and after that I will introduce our speaker. Following our speakers opening remarks, I will open the floor for questions. And now for the ground rules. This briefing is on the record. Our briefer is an independent expert, and the views expressed by the briefer are her own. Our briefer is not affiliated with the Department of State or the U.S. Government and does not reflect the views of the Department of State or U.S. Government. Participation in Foreign Press Center programming does not imply endorsement, approval, or recommendation of briefers’ views.
For today’s briefing we welcome Dr. Andra Gillespie. Dr. Gillespie is the associate professor of political science at Emory University. She’s an expert in African American politics. She’s the author of several books, including The New Black Politician: Cory Booker, Newark, and Post-Racial America and Whose Black Politics?: Cases in Post-Racial Black Leadership. In addition to her academic work, Dr. Gillespie provides regular commentary for local and national news outlets. She has appeared on CNN and NPR, and her editorials have been featured in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Washington Post, and Politico.
And with that, it is my great pleasure today to introduce Dr. Gillespie. Over to you, ma’am.
MS GILLESPIE: Thank you very much for that introduction and thank you for the invitation. I’m going to share my screen just so that I can provide a few brief slides to highlight some of the things that I want to say today. One of the things that we need to think about in this midterm election is that in some ways the dynamics are a little bit different than they are in presidential elections. The rules are slightly different. So we’re not looking at presidential election, we don’t have to worry about the Electoral College in this instance, but we do look at districts. And so – and for the House of Representatives all 435 seats are up for re-election. And this is actually a particularly important year because every 10 years, on the years that end in 0, in the United States, the U.S. conducts a census. And based on that census last year and early this year, state legislatures redrew district lines in their state.
So I’m putting up a map here from the website 270 to Win, which looks generally in presidential election years at Electoral College distribution, but here it’s looking at congressional districts. And so if we look at this particular outlook, we can look at which states or which congressional districts have been drawn, and which are perceived to be competitive, and which are perceived to be safe for Democrats and Republicans.
And so this map, I think, highlights and underscores the challenges that both parties face in terms of being able to win seats. There are large parts of the country, in part because of sparse population, where, if you have large Republican populations in the states that have very strong Republican populations, where they’re definitely going to win and there isn’t a question of that. There are fewer safe Democratic seats. And so even though Democrats have a five-seat majority right now, they predict that basically Republicans have enough seats to actually be able to get to somewhere in the vicinity of 218 seats, which is what they would need in order to have a clear majority, and that there are very few competitive seats.
So the competitive seats are the beige, or the taupe districts, and so these are the battleground races where we have to wait to see whether or not Democrats or Republicans are going to win. There were a number of high-profile Democratic retirements this year. Sometimes it was because age, people were ready to retire, but sometimes it was because people saw that their districts were likely going to flip, and so they got out before it was – before they actually lost a race.
And so what this shows is that when you hear people talking about some of the more pessimistic outlooks of Democrats being able to hold onto the House of Representatives, this is part of the reason why. Also, I think it’s important to talk about why people are talking about President Biden in respect to his party’s prospects of being able to hold onto power. When we look at or try to predict the popular vote in presidential elections, we do factor in issues like the economy, for instance, the President’s approval rating, how long the incumbent party has held onto the White House, to determine who is – to try to predict what share of the vote each party is going to get in a presidential election.
The model, the calculus looks a little bit different in House elections, and so a big number is the generic re-elect number. So in national public opinion surveys, voters are just asked, “Would you rather that Democrats or Republicans hold onto the seat?” And at the beginning of the year, Republicans were winning on that particular question, and it started to narrow in the summer after the Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe vs. Wade. And it’s – one of the things that’s really interesting about that is it doesn’t actually factor in economic growth. So presidential models factor in economic growth. Actually, House and Senate models don’t; they look at presidential approval. And so the fact that President Biden’s numbers have been underwater, where there are more people who disapprove of his job performance than approve of it, is actually somewhat concerning because that could actually be a drag on Democrats being able to hold onto seats.
And so some of the predictive models factor that in, so all of the concerns about the economy really kind of are modeled as an indirect effect – or an implicit effect, actually, in these models that typically exclude them. And that often doesn’t come up in lots of discussions.
So if we look at Georgia in particular, where I live, which is a somewhat competitive state, we can see the effects of districting. So Republicans control more state legislatures than Democrats do, so – and most states still allow partisans to draw states. There are some states that do have non-partisan redistricting. In Georgia, where partisans do control the districting lines, they have drawn lines to actually gain an additional seat for themselves. So on the left is the map of the current kind of districts that are based on the pre-2020 numbers, and then these are what the redrawn district numbers would look like or lines would look like on the right-hand side.
And so up here is really interesting. So there are two congressional districts up here, the sixth and the seventh district. These represent the suburbs that are north of the city of Atlanta, so the main bases of these counties would be Cobb County here in the sixth district and then Gwinnett County in the seventh district. For reasons that I’ll explain in the next couple of minutes, the demographics in these communities have changed. They’ve become more racially and ethnically diverse with voters of color who are more likely to vote Democratic in elections. So starting in 2016, Hillary Clinton won these counties. Stacey Abrams won them in 2018. Joe Biden won them in 2020, and so along with that in 2018 Lucy McBath was able to win in the sixth district. I’m looking for my cursor, which is right – it’s the light blue district on the left-hand side – and then in 2020 Carolyn Bourdeaux was able to win in the seventh district.
After this year’s redistricting process, lines were redrawn, and so Democratic voters in the sixth district – some of them, anyway – were moved into the seventh district so that the sixth – the adjoining sixth district becomes more Republican and the seventh district becomes more comfortably Democratic. That actually ended up putting Lucy McBath, the incumbent in the sixth district, in a precarious position. She looked at the map, realized she would likely lose her seat if she ran in the sixth district, so she ran in the seventh district against her fellow Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux. In Georgia, constitutionally speaking you can run for a House of Representatives district that you don’t actually live in so long as you live in the state, and so that’s what happened in this instance, and in this instance McBath beat Bourdeaux. So we anticipate, barring any surprises which are unlikely to happen, that Georgia is going to have one fewer Democratic House member than they have currently.
Senate seats are also up this year, and in part because some states are more reliably Democratic or Republican than others, some of these races are not particularly competitive this year. But there are a few that people are paying attention to, and the stakes are really important. Right now the Senate is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, and so Democrats have the majority because the Vice President, Kamala Harris, is a Democrat and can play a tiebreaking vote. However, that could shift if one of these competitive states – and you’ll notice that most of them are held by Democratic senators – flip and a Republican ends up winning those seats.
So people went into the 2020 cycle concerned about whether or not Raphael Warnock in Georgia could hold onto his seat, whether or not Mark Kelly in Arizona could hold onto his seat, and whether Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire in particular would be able to hold onto her seat. The one possible pickup for Democrats could possibly be in Pennsylvania, where Mehmet Oz ended up being the Republican nominee against John Fetterman. And so that race has become increasingly competitive – more competitive, actually, than the gubernatorial race that’s going on in the state because of John Fetterman’s health issues being matched against Mehmet Oz being perceived as a somewhat weak candidate because he’s an outsider to the state who did make some gaffs early on in his campaign.
So basically people are just going to be paying attention to whether or not any seats flip and whether or not more Democratic seats flip than Republicans flip. But Democrats are in the more vulnerable position just based on the fact that there were more vulnerable Democrats who were up for re-election this cycle than there were Republicans.
So I want to flip and talk about Georgia a little bit and explain why Georgia is important and that’s going to help to set up the discussion about voter turnout. So one of the things that we can look at is that people sometimes ask is it a surprise that Joe Biden was able to beat Donald Trump in 2020, and the short answer is no. It wasn’t clear that it was going to happen in 2020 or whether it could happen in 2024 or in a future race sometime within the next decade or so, but Georgia races have become tightened over time. And so by tightening, I mean that it wasn’t clear that Republicans were going to handily win Georgia, and that hasn’t actually been the case for a long time.
So if you look at this – if you look at this map right here, if we go to the 2000s, what you’ll see is that Republicans – George W. Bush in particular – was able to win the state by really, really comfortable margins in the early 2000s. So he’s winning by margins of 10 percentage points or more. Those margins started to narrow even during Barack Obama’s candidacies, even though he wasn’t expected to win the State of Georgia. They narrow further – if we look at the contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, she only loses by five percentage points in Georgia. And then we have the 2020 elections, where Joe Biden beats Donald Trump by a margin of less than half a percentage point or somewhere thereabouts.
This has actually also been true in Senate races in Georgia. So in the 1980s when Georgia was undergoing an electoral realignment where white Democrats were starting to shift their support to the Republican Party, there was a period where Senate contests were very, very competitive. And you’re seeing really close margins, your seeing the need to go to runoffs, and so Georgia has a runoff system, where if a candidate doesn’t get 50 percent of the vote on the first ballot, you have to come back and vote again, usually about a month later, in order to be able to win.
Republicans started to have really high margins in the late ’90s and 2000s – the aberration would be the 2008 runoff. And so a lot of that – like that very close contest in 2008 kind of happened in part after Barack Obama was on the ballot, and so there was higher African American turnout, which actually – and a third party candidate, which actually forced the Democratic candidate to be more competitive than they normally would have been during that particular time period. But we see this narrowing kind of the gap that’s starting to happen.
So you see wide margins for – and candidates with long-term incumbency advantage, so you see that very wide margin in 2016. That was for a very popular beloved Senator Johnny Isakson, whose retirement in 2019 actually led the way for Raphael Warnock to get elected to the Senate. So Raphael Warnock holds that old seat from Johnny Isakson. But when we’re looking at open seat contests – for instance, like 2014 between David Perdue and Michelle Nunn – we’re talking about a margin of less than 10 percentage points. And so we see the very, very narrow margins here. And I’m averaging sort of the votes in the runoff election between John Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, and they are able to beat their candidates by a margin of about one and a half to two percentage points.
So this is because Georgia is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. And so if we look at the proportion of voters of color over time, there hasn’t been a whole lot of change in terms of the number of African American voters in the state. And my colors here are wrong, so just track sort of like the 30 percent numbers. So blacks make up about 29, 30 percent of the percentage of registered voters in the state. Where we have seen a change is actually in the increase in the number of Asian American and Hispanic voters. And so they made up about 3 percent of voters – registered voters in 2012. That number is actually closer to 8 or 9 percent today.
And so with 30 percent of the electorate being African American and the vast majority of them – 90 percent of them – voting Democratic in elections – we have Asian American and Hispanic voters who are voting at rates more in the neighborhood of 60 to 70 percent Democratic. And when we realize that not all white voters are Republicans in the state, that actually does put Democrats within target distance of being able to win close elections.
And so in general, the takeaway from that is that elections are going to be close. They – they’re just – there are more Democrats in the state now than there used to be. And so because there are more Democrats in the state now then there used to be, that means that Republicans – even when they retain a numerical advantage – can’t rest on the fact that they can win by comfortable margins. Everybody is going to have to work, and Democrats under the right conditions can actually be able to pull off an electoral victory.
So to just put this in context, part of the reason why John Ossoff and Raphael Warnock were able to win in 2020 was Democrats stepped up their voter mobilization outreach efforts during the runoff election, and Donald Trump told some of his supporters not to vote because the election was rigged. So you see increased interest in voter mobilization amongst Democrats, you see a depressing of voter mobilization or depressing of voter turnout amongst the Republican side, and Democrats were able to win under these circumstances.
In the presidential election, really it came down to Democrats, even under really adverse circumstances around COVID, mobilizing black voters and other voters who were angry to turn out in this particular election. And there were people who had lost confidence in Donald Trump’s ability to lead, especially during the COVID crisis. And so they – that was reflected not just in terms of the vote share, but also in terms of ballots cast.
So you usually expect the marquee race, the most prestigious office, the one that you vote on first on a ballot, to get the most votes. On the Republican side, David Perdue actually got more votes than Donald Trump did, and we suspect that it’s because there were a lot of people who chose not to vote in the presidential election, like if they were Republicans who couldn’t vote Democratic but could vote Republican in the other down-ballot contests, they did. And so that ended up hurting Donald Trump.
And so that actually speaks to this larger question about candidate quality. So when an incumbent, regardless of party, is embattled, yeah, that’s probably going to weaken their prospects and make races more competitive. But I have to note that that’s not going to completely offset polarization.
So in this particular election cycle in Georgia, Raphael Warnock, the incumbent senator, is now running against Herschel Walker for a full term. Herschel Walker is a beloved football player in the state. He won a Heisman Trophy. He led the University of Georgia Bulldogs to a national championship 40 years ago. He had a very successful career in the NFL. He has no political experience. There have been allegations about domestic violence in his past, and there are other allegations about a very messy personal life. These are things that could undermine the candidate, but it’s not going to completely offset the fact that there are Republicans who will vote for any Republican candidate, especially in a context where control of the Senate is up for grabs.
So candidate quality does matter. Walker’s candidate quality is probably making this race more competitive than it should be, and if Walker doesn’t look like a weak candidate in comparison, it is because we’re in a moment of partisan polarization, where Democrats don’t vote for Republicans and Republicans don’t vote for Democrats.
So at the end of the day, when we’re looking at something that approaches parity, where we’re looking at comparable numbers of Democrats and Republicans, what wins races is voter turnout. And so it is really important, particularly at this stage in an election cycle, for candidates, for parties, for nonpartisan interested groups to go out and reach voters. They need to be knocking on doors. That’s actually the best way to increase a person’s likelihood of turning out to vote. If you can’t reach them on the doors, then you call them in person, on their phone. If you can’t reach them on the phones, then you send them a text message.
All of these things have been demonstrated empirically to increase voter turnout, and if they don’t happen, then you may be able to expect lower turnout. And it’s actually really important. Historically, minority groups, blacks, Asian Americans, Hispanic voters have been less likely to report being contacted by any type of campaign or group to turnout in an elections. So in part for that reason, it is not surprising that we’ve seen lower voter turnout amongst these groups, particularly Asian American and Hispanic voters.
And so what my colleagues and I are going to be paying attention to is the quality and the extent of outreach efforts in communities and to see whether or not they actually match and approach what white voters report that they receive.
So I will stop there. And I’m happy to take your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much, Dr. Gillespie, for a very informative and enlightening presentation. Let me go ahead and open the floor for questions. If you have a question, please raise your virtual hand and wait for me to call on you, and when called on, please enable both your audio and your video, and please state your full media organization’s name. And you’re also welcome to type your question in the main chat room.
I’m going to go ahead and call on Pearl Matibe. Pearl, please go ahead and unmute yourself and state your full name and your media outlet. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you. Pearl Matibe, Power FM 98.7 South Africa. Thank you so much for your very interesting presentation. I have – I guess it’s a two, maybe three-part question for you real quick. I’ll try to be succinct.
So you – could just speak a little bit about some of the people from Congress who are on the ballot, like, for example, Pat Toomey, who has kind of, like, termed himself out. How do you see that panning out in Pennsylvania? And then in Georgia, do you predict that Kemp is going to win? We’re hearing reports that it seems that that is likely, but I just don’t know what the evidentiary evidence of that is. And then are we likely to see another run-off with Warnock, as we did in the presidential election? I wonder if you could speak to that. Thank you.
MS GILLESPIE: Thank you very much for your questions. In the Pennsylvania race, as in the Georgia Senate race, the polling margins are within the margin of error. So if we were to look at polling data, what we’ll see is that the margins are narrow. And in the Pennsylvania case, I believe – I haven’t looked at it in the last couple of days – they’re narrowing. And so the poll data isn’t going to be as precise to be able to definitively tell us that this person is going to win.
In contrast, if we look at the gubernatorial race between Doug Mastriano and Josh Shapiro, Josh Shapiro’s polling usually puts him at a comfortable lead. So I’ve seen polls where he’s been up by seven, polls where he’s been up by 11. If the margins of error in those races are plus or minus three, in particular, or even if that – if that 11-point gap plus or minus four, that means statistically speaking, Josh Shapiro is ahead of Doug Mastriano. So statistically speaking, I can more comfortably say that it looks like Shapiro is gonna win that gubernatorial race, but the margins on the Senate race are more narrow and it encompasses the margins of error of where both candidates could lie.
So it’s just – the numbers that spit out are the midpoint of a confidence interval of range of possible of votes that these candidates could get if the election were held at the moment that the survey was in the field. And so if those ranges overlap for the candidates, then I have to say that it’s a tie. And so that’s been the challenge in some of these very close races, and it’s always going to be the challenge. We’re never going to be able to talk to 10, 20,000 people in a state to be able to get those infinitesimal margins of error that would allow us to be very, very precise about where we think the vote is going to be. It’s too cost prohibitive. So we have to live with the fact that these are just really, really competitive races.
So that’s true for the Pennsylvania Senate race, that’s true for the Georgia Senate race. I think that’s always going to be the case. And because there is a third-party candidate, there is concern that this one might go to a runoff, and what I would say is of all of the races that are on the ballot, the one that is most likely to go to a runoff election would actually be the Senate race. It doesn’t have to. We will have to wait and see kind of what the turnout operation looks like. I think most people are expecting that the Warnock-Walker margins are going to be really, really narrow and that neither of them is actually going to make it to 50 percent, which is why we think that a runoff is very possible.
And I will have to say that the Libertarian candidate in the Senate race, Chase Oliver, acquitted himself favorably in the – in his debate with Raphael Warnock, the one that Herschel Walker did not participate in. So I think some of the factors that might be sort of influencing sort of concern that there will be a runoff is Herschel Walker exceeded expectations in his debate with Raphael Warnock, so people who might have been concerned about voting – Republicans in particular who might have been concerned about voting for Walker may have had their concerns allayed by his performance, and that if they’re more evenly matched up, then any defections to the Libertarian candidate could drive both of them under 50 percent.
As far as the Kemp-Abrams matchup, the margins between Kemp and Abrams are wider, sometimes outside of the margins of error. So there are surveys that have shown Brian Kemp to actually be statistically ahead of Stacey Abrams. So again, this – the margin of that race is still probably going to be close, so I am not expecting either candidate to win by double-digit margins by any stretch of the imagination. And so we have to see, but Brian Kemp has been more consistently ahead in the polls, and in some of the polls the margins have actually been large enough to statistically say that he is in the lead.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much for your response and thank you, Pearl, for the question. I’ll turn to Thiago Amancio. Can you please go ahead and unmute yourself, sir? And you’re welcome to open up your video. Please announce your full name and your media outlet. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Thank you, Professor. Thank you, Mahvash. I’m Thiago. I’m from the Brazilian journal – Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo. Could we talk, please, about Latino and Hispanic voters? This group’s historical – historically leaned towards Democrats, but this preference is not so strong anymore. What’s the importance of these groups in this election?
MS GILLESPIE: Well, I’m going to share my screen again to show you some data just so that we can look at what voting behavior looks like. So Latino voters are important. One, they’re the largest ethnic – or racial group in the United States, and they make up large proportions of electorates in really important states like Florida and Arizona in this cycle. And so if Democrats are depending on strong Latino turnout and fewer Latinos are voting for Democratic candidates, then that isn’t necessarily going to bode well for them.
When we are thinking about Latino voting behavior, what I’m showing here is voting for Republican presidential candidates since 1996, and it goes through 2020. One of the things that happened is that Donald Trump improved his vote share amongst all racial and ethnic minority groups in the 2020 election. And for African Americans, we’re talking about a difference between 8 percent of blacks voting for Trump in 2016 to 12, and that was led largely by black men, but we also see increases. So Asian Americans were a little less likely to vote for Trump in 2020 compared to 2016, according to exit polls, but we see this four-percentage-point jump amongst Latino voters.
But if we sort of put this into perspective of and in comparison, Donald Trump’s 32 percent vote share pales in comparison to George W. Bush’s 44 percent vote share in 2004, which was the high watermark of Republican voting in the Latino community. And George W. Bush won that for a number of reasons. He reached out to Latino voters. He had been governor of Texas, where he had perfected his Latino outreach efforts. And so what I see is actually voting behavior actually being within the range of traditional Latino voting behavior.
As my colleague at Emory, Bernard Fraga, who studies, among other things, Latino voting behavior, would argue, right, people are getting shocked that Latinos are 30 percent Republican, but their 30 percent Republican which is why you see that high level of Republican voting. I think sometimes there’s a bit of a mistake. We talk about voters of color being more Democratic than Republican. That’s true. This data points this out, right. You can look at how – what proportion of whites are voting Republican versus what proportion of people of color are voting Republican, but there are differences in terms of African American and Latino and Asian voting behavior. And so Latinos and Asian Americans have always voted more Republican than their black counterparts have.
But I think when you look at sort of something in the neighborhood of 60 to 70 percent Democratic voting behavior and – right – that supermajority there doesn’t look like the overwhelming majority of African Americans who are voting Democratic. All of a sudden, it starts to – you start to say – make these kinds of relative comments that historically are true but don’t make sense and kind of need greater contextualization.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you for that question, Thiago, and thank you for your response, Dr. Gillespie. I’ll turn to Cecilia Khavar. Cecilia, please go ahead and unmute yourself and please announce your media outlet. And your audio or your video would be perfect. Thank you.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you so much, Dr. Gillespie. I am Cecilia Khavar, U.S. correspondent for the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation, and I have two questions: First, I think I’ve read that early voting turnout in Georgia has been really big, and I wanted to see what your thoughts on that is. What do you think that could point to when it comes to the results in the election? And also, with regards to the abortion issue, which obviously we saw a few weeks ago was a big driving force for Democrats. Now the issue of the inflation and the economy is bigger, and the Republicans in general have a small lead. And I was wondering also if you could talk a little bit about how you think the abortion issue will play out in two, three weeks when the election is being held, and if it will be the big boost for Democrats that they hope for. Thank you.
MS GILLESPIE: Thank you for your question. So at least in terms of early voting, there are a number of things. One, I have a question, and I think we have to wait to collect all the data to see, whether or not the 2020 COVID crisis actually ends up reshaping voting behavior in general. So we saw this huge uptick in terms of the number of people who used absentee voting because it was perceived as safer to do. Most people were sheltering in place through most of 2020, and so that could have been an outlier – an aberration that was just based on the necessity of kind of keeping away from other people during COVID, right. Or it could be the start of a new trend where people are just voting more by mail because they found that it was convenient to be able to do so.
Georgia has had early voting since the mid2000s, and so there we can look over time at how many people are participating in early voting, and so it is something that at this point looks like it has become kind of a standard practice for many people. And the Democratic Party has been really intentional in terms of encouraging Democratic voters to go and vote early. They’re doing so in part to bank votes.
It is billed as a way of ensuring that if there are any problems, you have time to fix them. So let’s just say you don’t have to worry about what precinct you’re in, just as long as you vote in the right county that you live in, so you don’t have to worry about actually going to the wrong precinct on Election Day and not being able to get to your correct polling location on election day. And it’s also a way for Democrats to kind of get certain people out of the – out of – off of their lists that they need to go remind voting, so it becomes an efficient way to be able to identify the voters who need more outreach. So if you’re not knocking on the doors of the people who would have always voted, right, that gives you more time to talk to the people who actually might not vote if you don’t remind them to be able to vote. So Democrats have definitely used this as a way of trying to make sure that they’re banking votes and they can assess whether or not they need to go reach out to more people as a result of it.
When I looked at the numbers from the first day, in particular, one of the things I looked at – and so all of these haven’t come in – is a I paid attention to the percentage of African American voters. So in early voting in 2020, for instance, black voters made up about 27 percent of early votes, and black voters make up about 29.5 percent of the electorate. And so at that rate that means blacks were turning out at numbers that were actually proportionally lower to like what their numbers were in the electorate. That, just on the merits, would be something that would be concerning to me. So when I saw on the first day that 35 percent of absentee ballot requests came from African American voters, I saw that as a really sort of heartening, healthy sign of black voter participation. Now the question is do they all turn in their ballots, right. So it’s one thing to ask for the ballot; you’ve still got to turn it in. And so I’m going to be monitoring that number.
The higher the African American share of the electorate also bodes more positively for Democratic candidates in the state. There was one survey that came out about two weeks ago now from the NBC affiliate where I actually do a lot of my television commentary, and in their poll they had the African American kind of share at 31 percent, sort of, of all of the likely voters that they were interviewing. In that poll, actually Raphael Warnock got to 50 percent, and so – right, if it turns out that blacks only make up 27, 28 percent, Raphael Warnock’s numbers go down. So I think for Democrats in particular, they would look at those numbers as being robust and as pretty heartening.
I think the larger question is – in this election, I do not expect Donald Trump to like go to a rally the day before the election and tell people that your vote doesn’t count and imply that you shouldn’t vote. So that mistake isn’t going to happen again, and so I expect that Republicans are going to do everything that they possibly can to get their supporters to turn out and vote. And I would not be surprised if they are quietly encouraging some people to vote early, because it’s convenient, and you are – and many people already know who they’re voting for because they’ve got really hardened partisan preferences.
But – so I expect that there’s going to be a pretty even matchup, and whichever party has the best turnout operation is going to probably win more seats than others.
QUESTION: And I also – so I had a question about the abortion issue.
MS GILLESPIE: Oh, that’s right.
QUESTION: Would you —
MS GILLESPIE: Sorry, sorry. I completely forgot about that.
So we saw the generic ballot question improve for Democrats over the course of the summer after the Dobbs decision. And so there are Democratic voters who – or Democratic operatives who certainly want to use abortion to mobilize voters, in particular low propensity voters like younger people, young women in particular. So we know younger people vote at lower rates than their elders do. It’s a life cycle issue more so than anything else. But I think the question is: Could you actually increase youth voter turnout on the basis of an abortion issue, which is what Democratic operatives are trying to do?
One of my critiques of kind of the discussion and public parlance about abortion versus the economy – I think it’s important, and I think we glean a lot of information from survey data that asks what is your most important issue, right. And so – and I’m not surprised there that the economy and inflation are the top issues among voters. I think – and actually a better question, and I don’t know the answer to the question, is: Are there people who will not vote for certain candidates because of their stance on abortion? And that doesn’t get asked as often as other questions do.
So this was in June, but the Public Religion and Research Institute did polling where they saw an increase in the number of Democrats who said that they would not vote for a candidate whose views on abortion differed from theirs. So I think that that question is the one that one should be asked more and one that might actually have some really important predictive value in terms of actually being able to explain vote choice. And so we won’t have access to that kind of data, if it does get asked, until after the election. So unfortunately, I would only be explain that retrospectively.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you so much. And thank you so much, Dr. Gillespie, for the response. Just for time management purposes, I know you have an 11 o’clock and we have about five questions, three in chat and two hands raised, so we’ll try to get through all of them if possible.
Alex, over to you, sir. If you could please unmute yourself and announce your full name and your media outlet. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, Mahvash. Great to see you. This is Alex Raufoglu from Turan News Agency of Azerbaijan. I’ll try to be very quick. Dr. Gillespie, first of all, thank you so much for a very compelling presentation, lots of useful information. There’s a lot to digest here.
I was just curious if you could please name some key battlefields that you will be watching to understand the behavior of swing voters. I’m trying to profile them, and there’s conventional wisdom that they are switching side and that’s not the end yet. Is that your impression too? What are the key factors do you think that we should watch for in the next two weeks to understand their behavior?
There’s also a concern that some of the factors that you named are not necessarily reflecting the actual, let’s say, picture, real picture. Some of them are artificial, artificially, let’s say, created by the parties to win over swing voters. Is that your impression as well? Thank you so much.
MS GILLESPIE: Thank you. I just – so in terms of – nationally speaking, I’m going to pay a lot of attention to some of the Senate races, so I’m going to looking at statewide contests. If I were going to try to pick swing districts, there are just fewer of them then there used to be, but one place to look is – I would look at seats that flipped Democratic, from Republican to Democratic, in the 2018 election or the – in 2018 and in the 2020 election. And then I would look at how the district lines changed, and then I would from there look at whether – how many of those people actually are still in Congress after this election.
So the types of seats that I would be looking at, members of Congress that I would probably be looking at, would be people like Abigail Spanberger in Virginia. Her district – it was interesting – it got redrawn in a way that could be more favorable to Democrats. We’ll see if that actually works out. But we’ll also look at Elaine Luria in – also in Tidewater, Virginia. So Abigail Spanberger used to represent Richmond, now she’s headed kind of north of Richmond, kind of headed into the southern D.C. suburbs. And then Elaine Luria is on the eastern side of the state in Tidewater.
You can look at people like Elissa Slotkin in Michigan. So I would be paying a lot of attention to the ideological moderates who were winning the districts that were swingier than others to look to see how they’re faring. In these elections, people like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez have very safe seats. They’re going to win their races pretty handily. Those aren’t the people who are up for re-election; it’s the ones where the margins were a lot closer, and those were won in states that have partisan redistricting, were the ones that where you might have seen many – a lot more redrawings, depending on who was in control, to either protect them or to move them out of their seats. And so that’s probably, like, what I would focus on.
The other part of your question – I think I forgot it. I apologize.
MODERATOR: Do you want it repeat it, Alex?
QUESTION: It just – yeah, of course, yeah. The other key factors that some of them are – there’s an impression that some of them are artificially created. For instance, the problem around immigration does not necessarily reflect actually, let’s say, size of the – I mean, actual scope of the problem. Is that your impression as well? And if that’s the case, what is the narrative behind that? I mean, you did respond part of the question that swing voters still are making up their minds. Is that the reason? Thank you so much again.
MS GILLESPIE: Ah. I – okay. So I mean, I think because we are in a moment of hyperpartisan polarization, it is reflected by in part there are fewer conservative Democrats, fewer liberal Republicans in the party, people defected, and if you’re liberal, you’re more likely to be a Democrat, particularly if you’re white. And if you’re conservative, you’re more likely to be a Republican. This is a little less true for people of color, particularly African Americans, but for white voters who still make up the majority of the electorate, this is the case.
And so in this era of polarization where there are fewer moderates to kind of be bridges to people and where the parties don’t look like big tents the way they did in the 1950s and ‘60s, it’s also created environments where people don’t just look to the opposing parties as people that they had disagreements with; they look at them as actual enemies. And that makes it harder for people to work together, but that also means that people will not vote for particular candidates if they’ve got the wrong letter behind their name.
And so we think that that may be manifesting itself in certain voting behavior, where you vote for your party even if the party nominee is somebody that you would personally object to. And what that also means is that issues have become very nationalized. So a generation or two ago, people could run on local issues on things that were important, and you’re going to go to Washington to advocate for those. Now you hear everybody using the same talking points. And so it’s how somebody in Michigan could be running on immigration even though that doesn’t directly affect their day-to-day lives. So they have been influenced by certain media channels that focus a lot on this all the time, but these issues have become national issues. And so everybody kind of sounds the same. And so when everybody is sounding the same on the issues, you do get this kind of homogeneity in terms of the issues that are being discussed across multiple districts.
And the polarization is real, and I think most people have already made up their minds, and there probably isn’t much that you could say or do in a lot of these instances, except on the margins. And on the margins is where these close races are going to be fought.
So a lot of the persuasion has already happened. At this point, the campaigns are shifting to just making sure that they get their folks out to vote. And if one side does a better job than others in the close races, in terms of being able to do voter outreach and mobilization, they’re probably in a better position to be able to win.
QUESTION: Extremely helpful. Thank you so much.
MS GILLESPIE: Mm-hmm.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Alex, for your question, and thank you, Dr. Gillespie, for your response to that. I am going to go ahead and turn it over to Aline Bronzati. Please go ahead and unmute yourself, and you are welcome to put your video on, and please announce your media outlet. Thank you.
QUESTION: Hi. Can you hear me?
MS GILLESPIE: Yes.
MODERATOR: Loud and clear. Thank you.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. Good morning, everyone. I am Alini Bronzati from Agencia Estado, Brazilian news agents. Thanks for accepting my question and for your explanation. I would like to know, how do you see a possible chance in the control of Congress impacting the Biden administration considering the current macroeconomic scenery, with high inflation and interest rating growing up? Government got to approve many things recently, but I would like to know in your perspective what do you see forward after the midterm elections. Thank you.
MS GILLESPIE: Thank you. Well, assuming that Republicans take over the House of Representatives, what you can expect is that the House of Representatives is going to become more resistant to parts of President Biden’s agenda. Even with complete partisan control of Congress, the Biden administration had a hard time getting parts of its legislative agenda passed, right. Because even within these polarized camps, like, there’s a lot of diversity within their – within the Democratic coalition, and a lot of disagreement on sort of what are acceptable compromises are, and sort of what the direction of certain pieces of legislation would be.
But with a legislative minority, it’s going to mean that the – a president’s going to have a harder time getting some of his things through. And I think if Kevin McCarthy were to become speaker, he would make it his point to try to be a veto point, to try to block certain things that could maybe make it through the Senate but wouldn’t actually make it through the House of Representatives.
The other thing that I think is likely to happen if Republicans take over the House of Representatives is we’re going to see the oversight capability of Congress change in terms of what they’re going to be focusing on. And so the January 6th Committee, for instance, will go away, and we could expect greater oversight and scrutiny of issues that are of importance to Republicans. And so in particular there has been discussion of greater scrutiny into various members of the President’s Cabinet. We could see some re-litigation of issues from the Trump administration in an attempt to try to vindicate Trump-era politicians of allegations that have been alleged against them.
And so it could be – what you’ll see is a change in direction, a change in emphasis, with different issues now kind of coming to the focus. And I can expect that there will be confrontations between the House of Representatives and the Executive Branch on a number of different facets. And so what that may mean is that, on big pieces of legislation, Congress will probably be able to come together and figure out some of them, but there will be parts of the President’s agenda that would be stalled.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Aline, for your question. And thank you, Dr. Gillespie. I’m going to go ahead and read out a question that was submitted on the chat. Macarena Vidal from El Pais, Spain: “I wonder if Dr. Gillespie could talk a bit about what the role of the female vote may have, particularly in the light of what she said about the importance of turnout.”
MS GILLESPIE: So – and that is a lot. In general women tend to turnout at higher rates than men, and in particular, the voter turnout of certain types of women could be decisive in some elections. So for instance, when we look at African American voters, African American voters are disproportionately female, even relative to all other groups. So in general, right, we’re – across race, gender groups, women are just generally more likely to turn out to vote than men. This is particularly acute in African American communities because more black men have been involved in the justice system, and in most parts of the country, with the exception of a couple of states, you can’t vote if you’re incarcerated. And then in some states, if you were still justice-involved even after getting out of prison, you still can’t vote.
And so with that, African American women ended up taking up a larger vote share of the electorate, which is why there’s often been so much emphasis on African American women’s voting behavior and their preferences. So if you have high turnout amongst African American women, that can bode well for Democratic candidates because they are the single most loyal Democratic voting bloc in the United States.
There’s also been a lot of emphasis and attention on the preferences of college-educated white women. So if we’re looking at race, gender, and education amongst white voters, it’s college-educated white women that are the most Democratic leaning of all white voters. That was the one group in the most recent presidential elections that voted slightly more Democratic than Republican. Other groups were more Republican in terms of their voting behavior. And this is a group that Democrats actually hope would be more likely to be pro-choice and more likely to perhaps now be becoming single issue pro-choice voters.
And so that’s the gamble that Democrat – Democratic activists who are mobilizing on issues related to choice are hoping, is that college-educated white women, even if they tend or have historically voted more Republican, may say that, like, this abortion issue is a nonstarter and I will vote for pro-choice candidates, who are more likely to be Democrats, now under these instances. So gender matters in terms of voting behavior and in terms of outreach efforts.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much for that. I’m going to go ahead and read out a question submitted by Robert Papa, Albanian media member from Fokus 1 Geo News (ph). He said: “There was an Albanian American trying to run for U.S. senate for the Republican Party, Mr. Mici. He did not make it to the ballot. Can you explain what you need to arrive to the ballot?” I guess he wants to basically know the mechanics of how to arrive to the ballot.
MS GILLESPIE: Thank you. I can’t speak directly to this particular case. But when a candidate wants to put their hat in the ring to be a vote for office, you have to meet a certain qualifying thing. So you have to apply by a certain period of time, there’s often a fee that you have to sort of pay in order to be able to vote, and it’s not unusual in some states that you have to get a certain number of signatures from registered voters within that jurisdiction in order to be able to make it on the ballot.
And so I don’t know the particulars of this case, but it may be likely that he didn’t meet some of those criteria. So maybe he turned in a certain number of signatures, and like when they go through – and they will go through and check to see if the signatures actually relate to people who are listed as registered voters on the rolls – enough of them got disqualified that he didn’t actually have the proper number of signatures in order to be able to make it to the ballot. But those are often the types of rules. And those – elections are governed by states, and so it’s whatever the state rules have been set in terms of what are the minimum qualifications to make it on the ballot that actually will govern who gets on versus who doesn’t get on.
MODERATOR: Great. Now we just have literally five or four minutes to closing because you do you have your appointment. Would you like to take the last question or —
MS GILLESPIE: Sure.
MODERATOR: Great. There’s a question submitted by Kirsi Jaeaeskelaeinen from Ilta-Sanomat, Finland: “How do the new strict voting laws in Georgia affect the turnout of voters of ethnic minorities?” I’m reading this verbatim.
MS GILLESPIE: Yeah. If – I – for other reasons, I would actually like to avoid answering that question. That’s something I definitely will be paying attention to and would have a better answer after the election.
MODERATOR: That makes great sense. Well, that’s perfect.
Well, thank you so much for your time, Dr. Gillespie, and thank you so much for enlightening us all today. On behalf of the U.S. Department of State, I would like to thank Dr. Gillespie for being with us today.
Today’s briefing was on the record. I will share a transcript with everyone who’s participating today, and we will also post it on the FPC website, fpc.state.gov. Also, please remember to RSVP for tomorrow’s elections briefing on election integrity. Look forward to seeing you all there. Thank you all and have a fabulous day. Thank you again, Dr. Gillespie.
MS GILLESPIE: Thank you.