A Resolution for Participation
America Votes President Greg Speed challenges the progressive community to keep the energy, engagement, passion and dedication of the past two years alive in 2019.
The new year is upon us, and with it, plenty of exciting moments and reasons for hope. The 116th Congress is underway, with the most diverse set of lawmakers ever to fill the halls of Capitol Hill already hard at work. State legislatures across the country that flipped from red to blue in November are already putting forth legislation that will have major impacts on Americans’ daily lives. And from Michigan to Nevada and beyond, progressive changemakers are jumping into action setting policy as new governors, secret aries of state, attorneys general and more.
But before we dive headfirst into what’s to come during this critical year for continuing to grow progressive power, I think it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on how we got here and what we must do moving forward to build upon the reengagement of the citizenry and electorate that yielded these wins in 2018.
From the millions who took to the streets on the first full day of the Trump administration to demand justice and accountability, all the way through the record-smashing turnout on Election Day 2018, folks across the country have stood up and spoken out to say: enough is enough. The progress made in November was hard-earned through protests to protect vulnerable communities and the participation of tens of millions of Americans.
What culminated last November could be seen in special and off-year elections throughout 2017 and 2018, with the opposition to Trump and his Republican enablers seeking every opportunity to register our disapproval in historic numbers — from Virginia and Miami to Alabama and western Pennsylvania.
And as the midterm elections approached, action from everyday folks wanting to see their hopes of progress made a reality only increased. Those who were able made an unprecedented amount of small-dollar contributions to push progressive candidates over the finish line. As of late October, for instance, the New York Times reported that across the 69 most competitive races for the U.S. House, Democrats had raised a whopping $46 million from small donors, while their Republican opponents had raised only one-third of that. This massive disparity in grassroots support accounted for nearly half of Democrats’ overall funding advantage leading up to Election Day.
Folks ready to elect candidates to move our country forward were willing to dedicate not just their money but also their time towards making change happen. A Pew Research poll from last August found, for example, that among registered voters who favored the Democratic House candidate in their district, 22 percent had attended a political event sch as a rally, while just eight percent of those who supported the Republican did the same. Democratic voters were also nearly twice as likely as their Republican counterparts to have volunteered for a campaign.
When Election Day finally arrived last November, the engagement that had been building across America over the past almost two years was on full display. In states and nationwide, this year’s turnout numbers shattered records going back more than a century, with about 118 million Americans — more than half of the voting-eligible population — casting ballots in midterm races. For perspective, no more than 42 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in any other midterm over the past three decades.
The Democratic House takeover was achieved in an entirely different context and may perhaps be more durable than recent post-midterm wave majorities.
The increase in turnout from just four years ago — when the number of voters casting ballots in a midterm hit a 70-year low — is truly remarkable. With the national average for turnout jumping nearly 15 points between 2014 and 2018, some states saw even larger increases. In Georgia, for instance, turnout went from 38.6 percent in 2014 to 55 percent in 2018. In Nevada, turnout increased from 29.6 percent in 2014 to 47.5 percent in 2018. Across the country, voters carried the energy that had long been building over to their presence at the polls.
The staggering increase in midterm turnout yielded sweeping victories for progressives across the country and at nearly all levels of the ballot. In the fight for control of the U.S. House alone, Democrats’ 8.4-point advantage in the national vote was the largest margin for either party since the post-Watergate landslide in 1974. While the 2006 and 2010 midterm landslides each came close to 2018’s lopsided margin, the prior waves came amid far lower turnout. The fact that 2018 saw both historically high midterm turnout — with Democrats, Republicans and independents all voting at higher levels — and the widest victory margin since Watergate shows the Democratic House takeover was achieved in an entirely different context and may perhaps be more durable than recent post-midterm wave majorities.
At the start of 2019, as we wind down the celebrations of the newly-elected progressive champions in Congress and across the states and get about the hard work of making change, we must remember the single greatest factor in our progress: participation. Rarely has such substantial progress been so clearly the result of a recommitment to participation — participation in protesting, in organizing, in volunteering, in giving and in voting. And now, continuing to grow our participation is the key to winning further progress.
I strongly believe that growing the participation metrics cited above will be far more central to our success in 2020 and beyond than any candidate, party or campaign strategy.
So let’s make progressives’ 2019 resolution to sustain and grow this energy, engagement, passion and dedication our community has demonstrated over the past two years (it’s not too late, of course, for a new year’s resolution).
The Trump era has brought many real threats and tremendous challenges to our communities and values. But it has also revealed that participation can be the key to a new era of progress.