We’re not even halfway through 2023 and there is already talk of the 2024 presidential campaign, specifically how it could be a rerun of the 2020 contest between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.
The 2020 campaign race stood out for a long list of reasons — from Covid-19 to false claims of a rigged vote by Trump — but massive voter turnout played a huge role in the results. The 2023 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps estimated that about 68% of eligible voters cast a ballot in 2020. That would be the highest number in several decades, according to data from the MIT Election and Data Science Lab.
But 68% is the national figure. The numbers varied considerably across the 15 American Communities Project types — from more than 74% in the Exurbs to about 54% in the Native American Lands.
You can examine those numbers yourself and compare them to others with the ACP’s new Data Clearinghouse tool using the Politics tab.
When you compare those turnout numbers with how those communities voted in 2020, you get a different view of the most pivotal places in the United States if we are indeed headed for a rerun race in 2024.
How Much Juice Is Left in the Trump Base?
Increasingly, American politics has become a game of bringing out one’s own voters. That wasn’t always the case. There was a time when centrist candidates would try to swing independents their way. But lately the mission has been to squeeze every drop of juice out of a party’s base. This was especially important to Donald Trump in 2020.
In 2020, six community types had eligible voter turnout numbers above that national average and five of them voted for Trump by double-digit margins: the Exurbs, Graying America, LDS Enclaves, Aging Farmlands, and Middle Suburbs. The only exception to the rule was the Urban Suburb type, where eligible voter turnout was close to 74% and where Joe Biden won handily.
There are a few ways of reading those numbers.
Considering how high the turnout is in those heavy Trump-voting communities, one reading could be that Trump has maximized his vote in them. There may not be a lot of juice left in those slices of the electorate.
But another reading could be that these places are full of die-hard Trump voters and maybe they could be inspired to turn out just a little more. There are a lot of Graying America and Middle Suburb counties in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and in a close race, that might make a difference.
The Exurbs hold a lot of voters in Georgia and Arizona. They obviously turned out well in 2020, but if Trump could up their turnout by just a few more points that could make a big difference in those close states.
Room to Grow for Biden?
On the other end of the spectrum, there were nine community types where eligible voter turnout was below the national average, and four of them voted for Biden — Big Cities, College Towns, African American South, and Hispanic Centers — including three by fairly large margins.
Again, this could be viewed a few different ways. Biden wasn’t able to meet national turnout levels in those places which were very supportive of him, and that could spell trouble in 2024. Those county types tend to be full of younger and BIPOC voters, who are reliably Democratic.
But the other way of viewing the numbers is even a small bump-up in turnout could make a very big difference in key states. That’s especially true for the Big Cities.
More than 81 million people live in the 48 Big City counties. They produced more than 36 million votes in 2020, and they are in all the big swing states. Just a slight bump of 1 or 2 percentage points in turnout — up to the 2020 national average — could pay big dividends for the Democrats in 2024.
It’s a similar story in the College Towns. Those counties hold some 24 million people, the fourth highest among the ACP types, and their eligible voter turnout was about six points below the national average. A slight increase there would be big for Democrats, and it's worth noting those counties turned out big in states where abortion was on the ballot in 2022.
To be sure, Trump has room to grow in some of these under-performing types as well, but it might be harder to generate real impacts from them. Many, including the Evangelical Hubs, hold a much smaller number of votes, while others, such as Rural Middle America, already have relative higher turnout numbers.
There’s Still Juice in the Partisan Bases
Americans often tell pollsters they long for politicians who can “reach across the aisle” and “get things done.” But after four years, surveys suggest the nation may be headed toward another divisive presidential race. Trump leads by solid margins in most Republican Primary polls, and Biden seems destined to win the Democratic nomination again.
If we get that replay in 2024, keep an eye on these base votes. In a country with a shrunken political center, both candidates and parties will be looking to get every drop of juice from their bases — and the data suggest there is room to add more on both sides.