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MOMENT OF TRUTH

There’s a Hidden Army of Voters Poised to Turn Back Trumpism on November 6

We’re in for three nerve-wracking weeks. Trump will dominate the media. But remember, a lot of stuff happens out of the media’s view.

Michael Tomasky10.15.18 5:09 AM ET

The voting is three weeks away, and the core question is the one we always knew it was going to be: Who’s gonna vote? Specifically, will Democratic groups—young people, people of color, unmarried women, urbanites—vote in higher numbers than they usually do in midterm elections?

You know the story. Upward of 130 million people usually vote in presidential elections. In midterm elections, that drops to below 100 million. The vast majority of the falloff is among Democrats.

If that happens this time, we’re cooked. I’ll not go into all that here as I’m planning to write another piece before the election on everything that’s at stake this Nov. 6. The point of this column is to offer a little bit of (I hope not premature) reassurance.

For the next three weeks, Donald Trump will dominate the headlines. He’s going out doing campaign event after event. Most presidents at 41 percent expecting to lose the House wouldn’t do this. Normally, it would be seen as risky because if the president campaigns for people and they lose, it’s on him.

On Saturday, Trump spoke in Kentucky for GOP House incumbent Andy Barr, facing a tough challenge from Democrat Amy McGrath. She’s the former Marine fighter pilot whose amazing bio ad in 2017 went so viral. The race is close. Most presidents would stay miles away from a contest like that.

But Trump doesn’t care. He loves the adoration, he probably actually can help some of these candidates, and if Barr ends up losing Trump will just tweet that Barr was a lousy candidate to begin with. So over these next three weeks, we’re going to hear a lot of Trump. Which means that we’re also going to be hearing a lot from his supporters. The New York Times gave us another prime example on Sunday with a story headlined “As Suburban Women Turn to Democrats, Many Suburban Men Stand with Trump.”

I’m not knocking the story, which was perfectly fine. I am saying, however, that major media outlets are always going to do more stories about men, and particularly about white men, and particularly about white men who take their showers after work. This, to editors, is “real America,” and there’s no escaping it for now.

If you look at the actual numbers, it’s preposterous. Here are some Department of Labor figures on employment by major industry. Manufacturing has about 14 million people, which is big (although manufacturing includes all kinds of jobs that aren’t rugged at all and that aren’t performed by predominately white men). But retail trade is bigger by 1.2 million. So when has a journalist ever gone out to interview two dozen retail store clerks about politics? Health care also has more than 15 million. Do journalists go out and interview health care workers about elections? State and government employees number more than 19 million. But how much do editors care about their opinions on politics?

A person might say “but Trump has aimed his pitch at these people, so it’s necessary to know what they think.” And sure, that’s true. But other groups think things, too, and they are horribly under-examined in the media.

It’s my hope—and my hunch, though 2016 taught me to be more cautious about my hunches—that those other groups are out there this fall in a big way. A vast, hidden army of anti-Trump voters who aren’t as interesting to journalists as the hard-hat men but who are every bit as galvanized today as those men were two years ago. They’re women, mostly. They’re school teachers and professors and government employees and social workers and nurses and counselors and administrators and HR managers. And they’re real Americans, too. They’re less picaresque than the Steeler-loving sheet-metal worker, and less voluble, and I guess don’t make for as lively copy. But if this country is going to be saved from this madness, they are the ones who going to do it.

Back in February, Theda Skocpol of Harvard and Lara Putnam of the University of Pittsburgh wrote an article for the journal I edit, Democracy, about how college-educated, middle-aged women were engaged in a way they never had been before. “Relying organically on what social movement theorists call ‘relational organizing,’ the newly active volunteers mobilized existing social networks to bring in newcomers and connect to expertise,” Skocpol and Putnam wrote.

On Sunday, I emailed Putnam, who looked deeply into activism in the crucial state where she lives and works, Pennsylvania, to ask where matters stood now. “Every grassroots group I am in touch with reports that in the last two weeks the number of volunteers showing up (to canvass, phonebook, and more) has doubled, tripled, or quadrupled,” Putnam told me. She said that as a result of the last 18 months of organizing, activists are reaching out beyond the usual base, and Democrats are competing for state legislative seats they’d not bothered to contest for years.  

The next three weeks are going to be nerve-wracking to say the least. Trump is going to be out there saying he loves insuring people with pre-existing conditions, even though his administration just argued in court that Obamacare’s protections for people with such conditions should be eliminated. He’ll say the Democrats are coming for your Medicare, and he and Fox will carry on about the “angry mob.” The polls that show bad news for Democrats will get more attention because they’ll be deemed more “newsworthy.”

Just remember that a lot happens that isn’t deemed newsworthy. The media just aren’t going to pay as much attention to middle-aged, college-educated women as they do to lunch-pail white guys. But those women are out there. And Democratic turnout was up 64 percent during this year’s primary season over 2014, while Republican turnout was up just 22 percent.

Oh, and Amy McGrath—I remember when that ad came out in August 2017, people were blown away by it, but everyone said, “Well, it’s great, but that’s an impossible district for a Democrat.” Today, the race is neck and neck.

This doesn’t mean you should be complacent, obviously. Complacency in 2016 is what put Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court. I’m just saying that while Trump will own the media narrative, there’s another narrative taking shape out there in living rooms across the country. They’re organizing against a lying authoritarian demagogue and for a fair and representative democracy. That sounds pretty “real American” to me.

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