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Demographics and voter behavior heading into the 2016 presidential election

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NPR Morning Edition and WGVU wrap up our week-long series focusing on the Five Big Themes influencing the upcoming presidential election. So far we’ve explored voter mood, the middle-class squeeze, the economy and how the President’s approval rating may - or may not - motivate voters at the polls.

Today, we break down the country’s demographics and voter behavior.  WGVU spoke with a Michigan pollster and political scientist along with a nationally known political observer.

“Most of us researchers and people who really care about analyzing elections are using the past, to at least to some degree, predict to the future.”

Erika King, a political science professor at Grand Valley State University, tells past history tells us -

“People who vote in primaries tend first of all to be more committed party supporters.”

That means fewer people voting in primaries than the general election – and - there are certain types of groups are more likely to vote in both primaries and general elections than other types of groups. And there are exceptions to these general rules.

And - there’s a big general rule that has many exceptions. As King tells us: young people age 18 to 24 tend to have lower turnout rates.

“However as we know from Obama…can get more of them to turn out.”

Will they turn out for the Democratic nominee in this election?

“There’s no doubt that at least some of the Obama coalition will be with whoever the Democratic nominee is.”

That’s Mark Halperin, managing editor with Bloomberg Politics, visiting the WGVU studios this week.

"The question is: how much and how energized they’ll be, and can the Republicans nominate someone to encroach there? Democrats have a hold on that coalition and it certainly tilts in their favor. But it is impossible for the Democrats to go into this election confident that they will hold enough of it to win depending on who the nominees are."

I asked what it will take for Republicans to peel away some of the members of the coalition?

“Republicans are going to have to find a way to come up with policies that appeal to their members of the coalition then that got President Obama elected and reelected. Also, they’re going to have to come up with a personality that appeals. Someone who - even if they’re not someone who’s young like Marco Rubio - someone who appeals to the aspirations and hopes and dreams of the Obama coalition.

"Because it is a younger group, it is a group that thinks more about adapting to a changing America. And the Republican party is going to have to find someone, in both policy and personality, who can appeal to that group."

Is Trump that personality that appeals best?

"Trump is a wildcard in so many ways and I think in one way, for sure, is this question of whether he might have appeal to at least certain elements of the Obama coalition. He boasts that he would for sure to African-Americans, Hispanics, younger people but it’s not certain. 

"But at the same time because he is such a wildcard and because - at least anecdotally, there is some indication that he has appeal there. I think Democrats would be foolish to assume that he couldn’t at least get some of that coalition, along with perhaps doing even better than Mitt Romney did against Barack Obama with the more traditional members of the Republican coalition."

Keep in mind general rules and exceptions. Appealing to voter groups and demographics and how they vote in numbers.

“There is a growing analysis showing that the white voters are probably going to be a minority in this presidential election, with about 54 percent being comprised of minorities, Hispanics, women and what Stan Greenberg has called the ‘Rising American Tide.’

Bernie Porn is founding president of Lansing-based Epic-MRA, a full service survey research firm.

“And so, if in fact he’s anywhere close to that, when you have Donald Trump, who may well be the Republican nominee, taking a position which is rather offensive to Hispanics and the minorities and African-Americans. To the extent that that can energize those voters to hit that magic number, 54 percent in terms of turnout, that can change the dynamics that we’ve seen in terms of the historic patterns.”

Again, we turn to Erika King, and using past voter history to try to predict the future.

“Younger people tend to vote less…Getting photo I.D.”

It’s that 54 percent of the electorate. How passionate are voters about the candidates and the issues. What will motivate Americans in this election to turn out and vote?

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