Key 2020 voters: a look at who could sway the presidential election

Representative of an increasingly diverse country, the American electorate is far from being a monolithic vote, even when broken down by party. Not only are there stark differences amongst ideologies, but race, gender, age, and location shape how certain groups vote. In 2016, white voters were key to President Trump’s victory, while black voters were the strongest supporters of Hillary Clinton. While it is unclear which voting bloc will have the largest impact on this year’s election, there are a few key groups to keep in mind.

Black voters
Historically, black voters have had the second-highest voter turnout rate out of all racial groups and have significantly favored the Democratic party. After topping 65 percent in each of President Obama’s two victories, their turnout rate dropped under 60 percent in 2016.

However, the 2018 midterms showed a significant increase with a turnout rate of 51.3 percent compared to 36.4 percent in the 2014 midterm elections. That increase was significant for black political power, particularly in the House, where for the first time in history the share of black House members was equal to the share of blacks in the US population. Additionally, 90 percent of black voters cast a ballot for Democratic candidates and 18 percent voted in a midterm election for the first time, demonstrating that voter enthusiasm and desire to participate was high.

In 2016, only 8 percent of black voters supported President Trump. Among his efforts to appeal to this voting bloc is a weekly show called “Black Voices for Trump Real Talk,” centered around conversations often led by his advisors.

For former Vice President Biden, black voter support in the primaries has been strong, particularly in the southern part of the country. However, black voters across generations have differing views, with only 15 percent of black voters under 45 expressing support for Biden in a Morning Consult February poll. By contrast, black voters over 45 were twice as likely to name former Vice President Biden as their candidate of choice.

Many Democrats grew concerned after Biden’s comments on race late last month on the Breakfast Club radio show. But in the days and weeks since making those comments, Biden has widened his lead in every national poll. Even before the recent protests triggered by the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, a January Washington Post-Ipsos poll showed that more than 8 in 10 black Americans consider Trump a racist and 9 in 10 disapprove of his performance. Since then, a Morning Consult poll showed voters trust Biden more than Trump, by a margin of 47 to 30 percent, to address racial inequalities.

Older voters
Historically, one of the most reliable voting blocs has been older voters. They have consistently voted at high rates, and for the most part, have favored the Republican party. In 2016, President Trump’s strongest support came from voters over 65, although he generally had strong support from all voters over 45. Seniors remained strong supporters of Trump into 2020, but as the coronavirus pandemic hit, their approval of his performance has dropped 20 net points.

A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that former Vice President Biden leads President Trump among seniors by 9 points, 52 percent to 43 percent. Overall, an average of recent polls gives former Vice President Biden a 2-point lead among voters over 65, and a 7-point lead among voters aged 24 to 64.

Concerns regarding the coronavirus pandemic and health care options might be to blame given that older voters are among the groups at most risk. A recent Morning Consult poll found that 46 percent of voters trust that Biden will protect Medicare and Social Security, compared to only 41 percent trusting President Trump.

Trump campaign officials have shown little concern for this lack of support, although it is clear that older voters consider former Vice President Biden to be a viable alternative to President Trump.

Suburban women
Considered the middle ground between Democratic-leaning urban areas and Republican-leaning rural areas, suburban women could play a pivotal role in this year’s presidential election. Two-thirds of House seats that Democrats flipped in the 2018 midterms were in suburban districts, demonstrating this voting bloc’s political impact.

A recent Baldwin Wallace University poll found that women in key battleground states⁠—Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin⁠—are ten percentage points less likely to vote for President Trump than men. Additionally, a December Fox News poll found that 61 percent of suburban women disapproved of President Trump’s performance and only 37 percent approved of his job as president.

A November analysis from Open Secrets revealed that Senator Bernie Sanders received the highest amount of combined small and large dollar contributions from suburban women—a total of $15 million. As of November 2019, suburban women contributed $56 million to presidential candidates. Facing the reality that suburban women are increasingly becoming more Democratic, moderate Republicans have strategies to take back more than 3 dozen seats that Democrats flipped in 2018. As a party, the GOP is aiming to not only take back House seats, but to also re-elect President Trump; however, it is unclear whether suburban women will give them those votes.

First-time voters
Approximately 10 percent of eligible voters this November will be first-time voters. Born after 1996, an estimated 24 million members of Generation Z can cast a ballot for the first time during the 2020 presidential election. This group will represent the most racially and ethnically diverse generation, with 1 in 4 being Hispanic, and by 2026, the Census Bureau predicts that they will become the first non-white majority generation. As a demographic group, this year’s first-time voters are more likely to be college educated and favor the Democratic party. Additionally, there are distinct differences between Gen Z and older generations when it comes to social and political issues, even amongst individuals within the same party. As a result, Generation Z could have a significant political impact if they turn out to vote.

Historically, younger voters have had the lowest voter turnout rates in all elections, however the 2018 midterms saw a 21 percent increase in turnout rates for college students. If recent trends continue, and campaigns find ways to energize and mobilize this generation, they could significantly impact this election’s results. However, turnout rates from primary elections have shown a continued challenge to increase participation. Across all Super Tuesday states, youth turnout rates were lower than their share of the electorate in each state, despite being higher than previous election years.

Throughout this campaign cycle, Senator Bernie Sanders and former Mayor Mike Bloomberg spent the largest amount of their advertising budgets targeting younger voters. By contrast, President Trump and former Vice President Biden have focused on voters over 45.

Recently, the coronavirus pandemic has posed unique challenges, which could undermine targeted advertising and attempts to engage with younger voters. A recent Harvard poll found that 19 percent of young Americans consider the coronavirus pandemic the issue that concerns them the most. In order to maximize this generation’s impact on the election, campaigns might be forced to address how they will mitigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on this generation’s future prospects.

To learn more, download National Journal’s analyses on voting groups by demographic.