This week on The Downballot: Tom Bonier on record rates of women registering to vote


Lately, the situation for Republicans in the Arizona Senate race has appeared to get worse and worse. What’s going on now? Our cohosts broke down the myriad canceled ad buys and growing reliance on the support of a disinterested Peter Thiel.

The Senate Leadership Fund, which is the independent expenditure PAC that is connected with Mitch McConnell and Republicam Senate leadership, canceled the remainder of its nearly $10 million reservation in Arizona after previously canceling $8 million just before Labor Day and the NRSC canceling $3.5 million, all of which was supposed to go to help Blake Masters beat Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly. But now, none of that money is being spent by national Republicans, who seem to be relying on Peter Thiel (who Masters once worked for) who spent $15 million to get him through the primary. They continue to ask Peter Thiel to come in and spend that money again to back Blake Masters and get him through this Arizona general election, and Thiel doesn’t seem interested in it.

As Beard put it, “It’s really one of the stranger situations I’ve seen in following sort of ad buys in politics over many years at this point.”

This leaves them in a position where money keeps getting canceled,  and replacement advises are not being brought in by the Republican Party or by any sort of outside group, either. As Beard explained:

Thiel’s PAC has spent about $1.7 million since early September, including reserving a 30 minute infomercial that’s going to premiere October 1st. Which is quite a strange use of money, but according to multiple outlets, that money isn’t coming from Thiel himself, but from other donors. So he just seems totally uninterested at this point in spending any more money on Master’s behalf and with the national Republicans also no longer interested it seemingly in spending money on Master’s behalf, it’s very unclear how he’s not going to get absolutely destroyed in the ad buying arena with the amount of money that Kelly has and the outside Democrats are going to be putting in. So it’s going to be very hard for him to come back from this.

“So yeah, just really inexplicable. And if you sort of step back a little bit further, the GOP path to taking the majority in the Senate just seems really narrow now because if John Fetterman’s lead in the polls actually holds, that means Republicans would need to flip two seats. And if they are actually giving up on Arizona, that means there are only really three plausible other states that they can make flips in. That’s Georgia, Nevada, and New Hampshire, But we saw just how disastrous their New Hampshire nominee is, Don Bolduc, with his views on abortion. So it just seems that the GOP path is incredibly, incredibly tight at this point,” Nir added.

Moving over to Ohio’s 9th Congressional District, Republican J.R. Majewski was caught in a lie this week after a new report from the Associated Press said that, contrary to his claims of having served in combat as an Air Force veteran in Afghanistan, Majewski actually never even deployed to the country. Longtime Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur, his opponent, has been running really aggressive ads, targeting Majewski for all of the ways in which he is a threat to our Republic.

As Nir explained, this is a district that Republicans gerrymandered quite extensively. It used to stretch from Cleveland to Toledo. Now it’s just in the Toledo area and Northwestern Ohio, and it got significantly redder, going from being being a district that Joe Biden won by 20 points to one that Donald Trump would have won by about 4 points—an enormous swing. “Republicans obviously are salivating at the thought of taking on Kaptur, but Majewski has been about as terrible a candidate as they could possibly imagine,” he added.

One of the things Nir and Beard have seen at the Senate and gubernatorial level is that these bad Republican candidates have a real negative effect on their polling and presumably on their results in November. It is unclear if that will actually change the result, but it appears to be having an effect. “As you get further down the ballot, you wonder the degree to which these effects will break through. Because people just are less familiar, the lower and more localized you get with their congressperson or with their state legislature tend to just vote more for a party or how they’re feeling about something broader. But with stories like this, you can really imagine this breaking through and really genuinely benefiting Kaptur,” said Beard.

The cohosts then discussed new data that has come out about Latino voters: Among 2020 Biden voters who disapprove of the president’s job performance, young Latinos, Latino men, and self-identified conservatives are overrepresented among that set. So those are really the folks who are most persuadable. They don’t approve of Biden’s record, but they voted for him in 2020, and presumably are open to voting for Democrats, but have concerns right now.

The Spanish-dominant community also prefers to receive their news and media in Spanish—and that community had some of the highest undecided rates among Latinos, versus those who prefer to receive information in English. The cohosts noted this as an area of opportunity, as Democrats tend to spend a good amount of money on Spanish language television and radio. Now, it appears to be an even more important way to reach voters who have a tendency to be more undecided than English-language voters.

Beard thinks that Democrats’ approach to courting Latino voters could be crucial, especially in states like Arizona and Nevada:

We saw Republican gains in South Texas, in South Florida, less so in these really key swing states of Arizona and Nevada, and Democrats really need those margins to hold up, to hold those Senate seats and to either hold the governor’s seat in Nevada and pick up the governor’s seat in Arizona. And then despite being smaller communities, they can have a real impact in states where there’s going to be really, really close races in states like North Carolina, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, where we’ve seen close races in the past and the Latino community can make a real difference. So I found that to be a really interesting summary of where the Latino community is, where their votes are and what we should look for as we move towards November.

Daily Kos Elections also released a new map earlier this week: a congressional district hex map, which can be found on our Twitter account, @DKElections, or at dailykosdata.com, where the hex map is in the repository of all of Daily Kos’ data sources.

Next, the cohosts welcomed Bonier on to the show. Nir asked Bonier to offer listeners a primer of the work TargetSmart does: “So, we describe TargetSmart as a political data firm, but I’m not sure if folks necessarily have a particular idea of what that means … could [you] start by breaking down what TargetSmart actually does for Democrats?”

At its core, TargetSmart is a data firm, which means collecting as much information as possible about the American electorate, Bonier elaborated:

We work with democratic campaigns, progressive orgs, labor unions. And when they’re out there doing their field organizing, when they’re doing voter contact, they have some very basic needs, which means we need to have an accurate address for someone so we can go knock on the right door, which doesn’t sound super sexy, but is actually important, especially when people move around a lot. Having the right phone number, having a cell phone number.

So, we build starting with the publicly available voter registration data that states put out. And then we append as much information on top of that from as many sources as we can to get a more accurate reflection of who this voter is, and really most importantly, what motivates them. So, we’ll build models. We want to understand their partisanship. We want to understand what issues might motivate them.

It’s so difficult these days to get anyone’s attention for more than a few moments because the media landscape is so fragmented. So, we specialize on trying to find that needle in a haystack to better understand the voter so hopefully you can have a relevant conversation with them in the moment that you might have their attention for.

TargetSmart has also found some striking data emerging from these voter registration numbers, specifically about women in that election. As Bonier noted, even he was surprised by this new data:

I have to admit, even though I’m a numbers guy, so to speak, and spend most of my time digging into election data, that I was surprised by [the] outcome [of the Kansas vote on abortion rights] … What I did is looked at the voter registration data to see, well, who was registering to vote in Kansas leading up to that election. And so, what I did is I set June 24th, the date of the Dobbs decision being handed down by the Supreme Court, as that inflection point, and looked at voter registration in Kansas before and after that date.

[I] found that before June 24th, it was basically what you would expect. The new registrations were basically evenly split between men and women. And then after, women were accounting for 70% of new voter registrations in the state. And I promise you, I was convinced that was wrong. I was convinced I did… I’m not the most technical person even though I work with data. I’m lucky enough to work with people who are far smarter than me and far more adept with those things.

So I’m thinking, I just messed something up. Let me do it again. I did it several times. Finally did it enough times on a few different approaches, it’s right. And I’ve never seen anything like it, but what it was showing is something that actually made sense. But I think we’ve seen enough things over the last six years, especially, that haven’t made sense where you would expect, well, this is going to create outrage. Kids in cages. You could go through the list, and we’re all painfully aware of them, where you see these things that should have a big impact and they don’t. And this was one case where it should have had a big impact and it did, in this one narrow case. So it was just seeing women engaged at this very high level.

The voter registration data is just one indicator, Bonier emphasized, not a promise that those women actually went out and voted, or got more involved. But regardless, it was an indicator that women were far more engaged after Dobbs than they were before, and it specifically seemed to be centered around that vote on protecting choice in the state constitution.

“That’s an extremely dramatic shift from essentially 50/50 male, female voter registration to 70/30. How did that break down in terms of raw numbers though? Are we talking about significant numbers that could actually move a race?” Nir inquired.

Bonier replied:

That’s an interesting thing. And I’m glad you bring that up, because it’s a question that, when I share this data, usually on Twitter, I’ll get that question a lot. And the fact was the overwhelming majority of voters, in any election, are not going to be first time voters. They’re not going to be new registrants, but why the new registrants are relevant… And in Kansas it was, I don’t remember the exact number, but you were talking about, to be clear, tens of thousands of new registrants in an election where almost 900,000 people cast a ballot. The relevance there was that surges and intensity, enthusiasm, among segments of the electorate generally are first apparent in voter registration data. We saw that in 2018. We asked a similar question in 2018, the Parkland Massacre happens on February 14th, 2018. The March for Our Lives happens two months after. And you see this surge of youth engagement and activism.

And what we found, and this was analysis that we started back in August, and have continued since then, that we found almost entirely, the consistency of this is shocking. I think at this point we’ve looked at 46 states. In all, but four, of those states have seen women account for a larger share of new registrants after Dobbs than they did before. And in fact, in many of these states, the gender gap that you’re seeing is double digits. Huge gender gaps. And these are key states.

“The pattern’s actually interesting because I think maybe some people initially thought of Dobbs as something, well, that’s going to motivate blue state voters. That’s a fringe liberal thing. Those are the only people who are really going to get fired up. The real voters are just concerned about the economy and inflation. And what we saw is the opposite. This was something that was firing up voters in red states, that you were seeing women registering at much high rates. And in fact, when you look at the states of the base gender gaps, Alaska, Idaho, Louisiana are all in the top five. And then you also have states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, that all had double digit gender caps. In fact, the smallest gender gaps, which were still representing increases among women registering to vote, were in blue states, which in the end, it makes sense when you look at that,” Bonier added.

Bonier’s firm is also seeing a comparable surge in registrations for people who are actually signing up and registering as Democrats. He explained, using Pennsylvania as an example:

When you look at party registration, Pennsylvania is one of those states that has party registration. And you look at the difference where before the Dobbs decision, Democrats were actually slightly out registering Republicans by a few points prior to Dobbs. Since Dobbs, Democrats are outregistering Republicans by closer to 15 points. So there’s actually been a huge surge in Democrats. So it’s not just that it’s women registering to vote at a higher rate, it’s Democratic women, it’s younger women.

Younger men are also beginning to catch up at this point: In a number of states, TargetSmart has found that men are also beginning to register at higher rates. In Kansas, they even turned out at a higher rate.

Before closing out, Beard posed the big question hanging overhead: How this is going to translate to the midterm elections? “We all have our hopes, but obviously we won’t know until election night. But what do you think we can take pretty confidently from all of this data and these results that we’ve seen? And what do you think is more, we’ll have to wait and see in terms of interpretations of all this put together?” he asked.

Bonier noted that while he cannot predict the outcome, there are cues that are beginning to paint a picture:

I do have some things that I’m confident about. I don’t think that’s a prognostication of an outcome, but rather a prognostication of a general context. Meaning we have these special elections that have happened in New York and Alaska. Especially NY-19 and [the] Alaska [gubernatorial], two big democratic wins, and we can look at the turnout data from those, and we can see that women drove those results as well. So you’re actually, again, when you talk about the Kansas results, people might add the caveat that well, but that was literally a vote on choice. How do we know those voters when choice isn’t literally on the ballot will come out? Well, NY-19 and Alaska were good indicators that that’s happening.

“I think the bigger question at this point is, if you take the dynamics that are really opposing each other on either side of this, on one hand, you have the fact that it’s a midterm election and everything we talked about that should have set this up to be a so-called red wave election. And you have inflation, still a factor,” he added. “You have the president’s popularity rating, still not being very high, but improving. You have those factors, and on the other hand, you have everything else. You have Dobbs leading the way, but this narrative of Republican extremism. The one thing I am confident in predicting is that the outcome, in terms of control of Congress, especially the House, is going to be very close.”

Overall, Bonier believes that this will not be a significant wave election in one direction or another. You’re not going to see either party picking up 20 seats in the House: “This is going to be something where control of the House will likely be decided by just a few seats, sort of thing where we probably won’t know the outcome until a week or two or three after we all recall how long it takes to count these mail ballots in some of these states that tend to take their time. And so I think that’s where we’re headed at this point. We still have a decent amount of time so that the caveat stands as always, that things could change, but that’s how things are looking at the moment.”

The Downballot comes out every Thursday everywhere you listen to podcasts! As a reminder, you can reach our hosts by email at thedownballot@dailykos.com. Please send in any questions you may have for next week’s mailbag. You can also reach out via Twitter at @DKElections.



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