It is rare that I miss some big input parameter in my election models, but for the 2020 election, I did miss something big. And that is the increased Trump turnout. And it turns out I shouldn’t have missed it because there is plenty of historical precedent for it. If you look at the total vote data, Republican incumbents tend to see a huge increase in turnout in their re-election campaigns. And believe it or not that increased turnout tends to average around 12 million. I am calling this the “Autocrat Bandwagon Vote” – these are people who won’t vote for a Republican if he is not a President, but once that he is cloaked in the legitimacy of the Presidency, they vote for him. Note that Democrat Autocrat Bandwagon vote is almost non-existent. This Autocrat Bandwagon Vote is a unique phenomenon that only happens for Republicans. That is because Republican voters vote for personalities and for strongmen while Democratic voters vote for issues. Below are the numbers. Bush got 11.5 million more to vote for him from 2000 to 2004. Reagan got 10.5 million more from 1980 to 1984. Nixon got 15.3 million more from 1968 to 1972. By comparison, Obama lost -3.5 million voters while Clinton added only 2.4 million. On average, Republicans gain 12.5 million from the 1st term to the 2nd term while Democrats lose about half a million voters.
In that light, Trump increasing turnout by 10 million should NOT really be considered a surprise. Trump got 63 million in 2016 and is on track for about 73 million in 2020. That is actually slightly less than the GOP average. If anything, Trump’s turnout is worse than Bush, Reagan and Nixon at this point. Trump is the worst incumbent getter of them all. Not a surprise given his divisive and toxic personality. I am excluding George HW Bush from this study because he lost 20 million Republican votes to Ross Perot in 1992.
Unfortunately, this does not bode well for Republicans going forward. After Nixon and Reagan turned out their Autocrat Bandwagon Vote in 1972 and 1984, down ballot Republicans didn’t manage to galvanize it in following years and Democrats won in Senate and Congressional races. The Autocrat Bandwagon Vote only shows up for Republican Presidents because Republican voters like autocrats with absolute power. It doesn’t show up for Senators and it sure as heck doesn’t show up for Congressmen. Absent the strong autocratic personality (“Volcanic Protector Man”), Republican voters don’t care. That is a huge problem for Republicans over the next 4-5 years in Congressional and Senatorial races.