Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
How 'unlikely voters' could be the key to the 2024 presidential election

How 'unlikely voters' could be the key to the 2024 presidential election

90 million eligible people say they have no interest in voting, Suffolk University is asking them what they want from leaders

It's election season again, which means that public opinion surveys are constantly in the news. Trying to figure out what likely voters want is on the minds of everyone who works in politics or journalism. But what about the unlikely voters? What do they want?

At first glance, it may seem a bit absurd to ask about the political views of people who aren't registered to vote, or who are registered but rarely do turn out to the polls. But the reality of American politics as it stands right now is that elections are often decided by such small margins that mobilizing non voters could be and likely has been crucial to winning elections, Barack Obama roused some of them in 2008 and 2012. Donald Trump appealed to them in 2016.

When it comes to figuring out what unlikely voters think, there is no one more expert on the subject than David Paleologos. He's the director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, which is known for its public opinion surveys, particularly a poll series they conduct of people who say they have no interest in voting.

Audio Chapters

02:01 — What is an "unlikely voter?"

09:02 — Unlikely voters have moved toward Trump after preferring Obama

11:45 — The difficulty of determining a correct poll sample is harder with unlikely voters

15:23 — Non-voters seem to know less about politics than voters

24:00 — Unlikely voters more negative toward Biden today than Trump in 2017

26:38 — How Republicans better utilize non-policy arguments than Democrats

32:24 — Unlikely voters overwhelmingly uninterested in alternatives to Biden or Trump

34:17 — Voting isn't too difficult, unlikely voters say

42:12 — Could alternative voting methods increase public interest in voting?z

46:50 — Trump's simpler messaging helps him with lower-knowledge citizens

52:06 — Wrap-up


This text is automatically generated from the audio and may not be entirely accurate. It is provided for convenience purposes only.

MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: Thanks for being here today, David. Welcome to Theory of Change.

DAVID PALEOLOGOS: Thank you. Great to be in Flux.

SHEFFIELD: All right. [00:02:00] Excellent. Well, all right. So, let's before we get too deep into the subject here, let's define what is an unlikely voter. As you have done in these surveys here.

PALEOLOGOS: So, an unlikely voter really falls into two categories: 1) People who are not registered to vote, obviously, they're not a vote if they're not registered to vote, and 2) people who are registered to vote, but who indicate on surveys that they're not likely to cast the ballot.

So, normally posters will begin a survey and they'll say, how likely are you to vote in the upcoming election?

Very likely somewhat, not very, not at all. If respondents indicate not at all or not likely, they get screened out. And in this survey, we did the exact opposite. If they said they were very or somewhat likely, we screened them out. And we proceeded with people who said that they were not likely or not at all likely to vote.

SHEFFIELD: And how reliable are those indicators when people claim that they're not likely to vote? Tell us about the research about that particular [00:03:00] self-identification.

PALEOLOGOS: So some people actually say it so that they will be disqualified from the survey and that they can hang up in a civil way.

Some people genuinely are not likely to vote. And when we probe a little bit further in the survey, we get an idea about whether or not they voted in the past or whether or not they have a Democrat or Republican leaning preference. But when you look at the data that's from the U. S. Elections project. They do calculations based on voter eligible population for every state and nationally. And what we found is that it's not just a few million people that don't vote.

It's a lot of people. We're expecting 90 million people who are eligible to vote in the United States in 2024 will not vote either because they're not registered to vote or they’re simply fed up and they won't vote. [00:04:00]

And that's, that's a, an ominous number when you think about it, 90 million people.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. What's the percentage?

PALEOLOGOS: Well, it's more votes than were cast for Joe Biden and Joe Biden set the record for most votes received by any presidential candidate in 2020. He was in the 80 million plus range and 90 million people exceeds that.

90 million people are saying they're not going to vote even though they're eligible to vote. And that's a huge problem.


PALEOLOGOS: So pollsters do these niche surveys, Democratic voters only, Republican voters only, caucus voters only. And these are very small subsets compared to the 90 million people who are Americans, they're citizens and they, they're just not going to vote. They're fed up.

And so we thought back in 2012, why not pull them and figure out what's going on and then track [00:05:00] it. And we followed up with a survey in 2018 and now here in 2023, and there are some common threads in the data, but also some red flags and also some opportunities for candidates in terms of trying to convert those nonvoters into likely voters.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, and I mean, again, we're talking about such a large pool of people here that there's no question that not even 20 percent of them could easily make the difference for any presidential candidate. And certainly for a lot of congressional, or gubernatorial or, whatever down the ballot. I think there's no question about that.

And there has been some research that indicates that Donald Trump was able to do that to some degree in 2016 and that that was a big thing he was interested in doing in 2020 as well, trying to identify nonvoters, disengaged people who were sympathetic to him.

So it's, yeah, like this is something that's already happening, and you guys kind of were [00:06:00] ahead of the curve in that regard.

PALEOLOGOS: So, yeah, I, I think so. And I'm surprised that people didn't copy. Usually people copy some of the work. Pollsters scoop questions and poach questions and different things from each other. It really hasn't been done.

I think I understand why it hasn't been done, because it's really expensive. I mean, we do live caller surveys and you can get in and out of a live caller survey in three nights, three days, four days max. Getting nonvoters is tougher. Because these are people who aren't used to being polled, they're tougher to reach, they're disproportionate minority, they're disproportionate young, lower educated they're also disproportionate disabled.

There's a much higher population of disabled people who have just given up on politics, they're just trying to survive because of their own issue or disability or family disability. So they're a tougher population to reach, but we think [00:07:00] it is essential.

And I do think that it helped Donald Trump in 2016. It also helped Barack Obama in 2012, if you remember. Back in 2012 we did the survey, I think in August, which is kind of the low point of Barack Obama's numbers. He was really suffering a lag effect after the big 2008 win, hope and change. And then a lot of people hadn't really seen it on him, but they didn't have the same intensity.

And he figured out that if it was just a persuasion campaign, he was probably going to have a real challenge. And so I think he, the, the DNC, from what I understand, just like Trump did in 2016, used the data to go out and find non-persuadables, people they didn't even have to persuade to vote for Barack Obama.

They felt that if they could get them just out to vote that a high percentage of them would vote for Barack Obama. And that's exactly what happened. [00:08:00]

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And in the 2012 poll that you guys did Obama was the-- I mean, he wasn't the majority candidate, but he was definitely the preferred candidate of these unlikely voters in the survey that you conducted at that point.

Now, you guys found a kind of a partisan reversal, if you will. That Donald Trump got more support than Joe Biden did.

PALEOLOGOS: 2023. Absolutely. Yes, absolutely. And the exact opposite dynamic if you look at people who weren't registered to vote. It's about a two to one break for Donald Trump over Joe Biden.

If you looked at people who were registered, but not likely to vote, it was a two and a half to one spread of Donald Trump over Joe Biden. And so what that suggests is the same advantage that Barack Obama had in 2012. Technically statistically Donald Trump has as an advantage, he needs to find those people and, having pulled it 3 times, it's tough to find the people, but if you do find the people, [00:09:00] again, he would not have to persuade as much.

Unlikely voters have moved toward Trump after preferring Obama

SHEFFIELD: Now there were some other kind of interesting little splits when you looked at the numbers. So like women who were registered to vote in this sample, 32% of them said that they were in favor of Donald Trump. But only 11% said that they were in favor of Biden. But it was split evenly basically among men who were registered.

But then by contrast, among unregistered men, they were much more likely to go to Trump. Whereas that dichotomy didn't exist so much for women who were unregistered.

So these are small sample sizes though. So I don't know how much we can delve into it. But on the other hand, the disparity between these two different groups, is certainly higher than the margin of error, even for the smaller subsets. What's your take on all that is there anything to be gained from looking at these numbers?

PALEOLOGOS: That's exactly the case. I mean, with smaller subsets, you're absolutely right. And your viewers should know that they take on a higher margin of error because they are [00:10:00] smaller sample sizes. So once you get to a subsample of 70, 80, 100 people, it's significantly higher margin of error than it is a subsample of 400 or 500.

400 or 500 subsample, you're in the plus or minus. 4 percent range, or thereabouts 4, 4, 4 and a half percent range, but then when you get down to 100 subsample, you're plus or minus like 9%. So, yeah, I mean, you want to be careful looking at some of the subsets, but the common thread male or female registered or unregistered is a disappointment with both choices.

I mean, to be fair, the polls generally show that a third-party candidate is the top choice, not Trump, not Biden. And in 2012, it was really all about a third-party candidate. And you've seen that not only in this poll, but in other polling data where people just don't want it to be a Trump-Biden matchup again.

Whether [00:11:00] you're a Democrat, Republican, or independent voter or nonvoter, and you're seeing the same kind of dynamic here. Most people were opting for something else, a better choice than, than those. But if they had to choose between Biden or Trump. Trump was getting the plurality of support over Biden.

And that speaks to a number of issues that are important to men and women registered or not registered. Be it the economy, immigration, parenting. You mentioned some of the female respondents for Trump. That's a big issue for a lot of people, independent as well, independent women. So a lot of these dynamics are in play here in 2023, as they were in the two previous surveys.

The difficulty of determining a correct poll sample is harder with unlikely voters

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, now with the sample, I mean, you had mentioned that it did take a lot longer to be in the field as the term goes in polling, how confident are you that this-- I mean, because statistically speaking, there is, there is the [00:12:00] concept of margin of error, but it's possible that the sample could be not quite accurate.

I mean, like people have raised concerns about that with election polling that the percentage of people who answer the phone might be more inclined to have certain opinions or whatnot. And that's why the Pew Research Center and some others, and maybe you can talk about your own organization in that regard, has tried to make some adjustments to try to find people who might not be wanting to answer the phone or take a phone poll. I mean, let's maybe talk about methodology here, if we could.

PALEOLOGOS: Yeah, sure. So for us, we wanted to go state by state and look at how many eligible voters didn't vote in the last two presidential elections. So we have real data on that. It's not subjective.

We have data on how many vote-eligible adults in each state did not [00:13:00] vote. And what we did was we grouped those state by state into regions and made sure that those quotas reflected what the quotas reflected were actually for the last two presidential elections. So, in some states, obviously California has a lot of people who are transient, who are not registered.

Some of them are just inhabitants. They're not legal citizens. Therefore they're not eligible. But we were only looking at people who were eligible to vote state by state that did not show historically high probability of voting. And you're right, it is tough to find those people, because people who are voters, people who take surveys, especially the super voters, the good voters, they're used to taking surveys. They're familiar with the question formats.

People who aren't voters or who aren't registered. It's [00:14:00] really difficult, especially if you have a 15- to 20-minute study to keep them on the line and ask why they're not voting in many different ways or what would motivate them to vote. And it's very difficult to get all the way through to the end with respondents like that.

So it does take a lot of time. It really is expensive when you're doing live calling. But one thing you asked about confidence. The one thing for sure is that we feel quite confident that the people that we reported in the survey were not voting, said to us that they were not voting either because they weren't registered or that they were not voting because they were done with the political system as it were.

Some people could be motivated to vote and that's kind of what we talked about earlier. And the onus is on the campaigns to find those [00:15:00] people who might be on the fence who might be telling us in a survey. Yes, I'm registered, but no, I'm not voting next year.

Those people might be persuadable to vote. But at this point, polls being a snapshot in time at the time that we did the field, they were not voting next year.

Non-voters seem to know less about politics than voters

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. All right. Well, so let's get further into the tables here and we'll have a link in the show notes for people who want to check out the complete results. So this is a population overall that seems to not know as much about politics as regular voters. You have a question in here about who is the vice president, and 70 percent of the respondents correctly gave the name Kamala Harris or some semblance of her identifying her, who she was.

[00:16:00] And that was probably, that was higher than when, when you asked this poll in 2018, it was around 50 percent said Mike Pence.

Now they also they also, there were, there were some interesting breakdowns, I thought, with their, with their ideologies. When you go through and you asked them to sort of place themselves on the ideological spectrum, 32 percent said they were moderate, 18 percent said liberal, and 16 percent said conservative. How do those match up with the voter samples you guys conduct?

PALEOLOGOS: Yeah, so it's more of a perfect Bell Curve, right, in terms of sentiment with moderate being in the middle. And you would guess that, right?

You would guess that of a people who don't have a leaning, don't have an interest in voting, they probably self-defined as being moderate. It's at it actually runs a little bit left of center for most polls. Most polls skew slightly conservative. Most national polls skew slightly conservative [00:17:00] where there will be a big chunk of moderate but slightly higher amount of people say conservative or very conservative than they do liberal or very liberal.

So this poll is slightly left of that. And that kind of makes sense when you think about people who don't vote, who tend to be younger persons of color, lower income. And even a disproportionate amount of disabled Americans who have given up on the political system as well.

SHEFFIELD: Okay. And then, but at the same time, you also did ask if you did vote in 2020, who did you vote for in it? And there was a slight plurality of the respondents said that they had voted for Donald Trump. Do you see a dichotomy there between people who are identifying themselves as left leaning, but are more likely to be supporting Donald Trump. Like what's, what's the deal with that?

PALEOLOGOS: Yeah. So I think there were two separate questions and it's a great [00:18:00] question. And number one, and this was really one of the takeaways for me is that Trump's narrative that the system is rigged, it's not fair, government doesn't work, government is frozen, has actually turned off some of his own base. Which explains why slightly more people had said, not a lot, but slightly more people had said that they had previously voted for him and that's worked counter to his narrative, he's used it to motivate people to vote to say, you need to get out and vote.

For me, because the system is rigged, because Washington D. C. doesn't work, because your vote is being thrown away by these corrupt Democrats or whatever his narrative is, but it's had the opposite effect according to this data. This data is suggesting that those people have actually listened to him and they aren't voting because they [00:19:00] don't think that He'll be allowed to be elected or that the system is rigged and that their vote really doesn't matter.

And that they're very disillusioned about the system. And they have been convinced by Donald Trump and others that it's just a waste of time. And so people who may have previously supported him thinking the system was going to work when he got elected now believe there's no point.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, at the same time, I think you could also say that it is showing that Biden's message, that there may be some similarities that he's facing with that Hillary Clinton faced in 2016, in that the message of, things are fine, don't worry about it, the Democrats have got it under control, that's not persuasive to a lot of people. They feel like whether it's their own lives or, however they're coming to this opinion, they feel like [00:20:00] that the system has failed, and they're not interested in somebody telling them everything's fine, don't worry about it.

PALEOLOGOS: They do believe that. And the reason really Biden prevailed was he was viewed as a calm, steady hand to lead the country from the omnipotent tweets of Donald Trump. Someone who was clean politically, and someone who could reach across the aisle.

Now with this issue that we're dealing with where, we have a divided Congress. And we can't get consensus on a lot, even though, there was 1, 1, bipartisan bill that obviously that President Biden is talking about, those are all in question. Now, forget about his age and competency. That's been an overriding issue. It's worse now.

But if he is seen to not be [00:21:00] squeaky clean, honest, by virtue of either the Hunter Biden issue or these allegations against Hunter Biden, and whether there's a connection with President Biden remains to be seen, if that is tainted and his ability to reach across the aisle and to make things happen, if that is tainted, you're taking away a couple of important legs from the table.

That was a strong table for Joe Biden. And then you add into that, whether or not the immigration issue is going to become better or worse next year, and whether the economy is going to be better or worse next year, you've got a lot of variables in play that could potentially give him the kind of negatives that Hillary Clinton had in 2016.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And I guess one of the other things that's stands out for me in this sample in terms of their demographic differences from likely voters is where they look [00:22:00] for news from. In this sample, it was much more, they were much more internet driven. With social media websites 34 percent said that that's where they got their news from.

That was tied with television and cable news networks. And that's, and then newspapers and magazines are, were only 10%. And then radio down to 4%. So, I mean, that's that seems like another big difference. Maybe that's a function of age of this sample or what, what do you think?

PALEOLOGOS: Yeah, I think that's part of it, but I mean, it shows, tells me that you're in the right media doing podcasts because we're seeing a straight line down for TV.

In the old days, everybody wanted to be on TV. It was like a big deal. But I mean, I have my two boys are in their early twenties. They are not TV watchers. My son is at U. S. C. He doesn't even have a TV in his room. He projects on the wall from his laptop.

So if you're under [00:23:00] 35, TV is not your bag. You are watching podcasts and listening. You're getting your information from other sources and the, the whole TV presence is dying. It's not just among unlikely voters. It's among likely voters too. Viewership is dropping right across the board. Everybody's feeling it. MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, they're all dropping or trying to maintain that, that critical demographic that, the 25 to 54 demographic that everybody yearns for.

But, it's just like staying afloat. Nobody's really growing an audience because everything is rotating to social media and this is why it's so important to get good information to listen and watch podcasts and so on and click on some of the links that you can see and do your own research because television is really an old person's game right now.[00:24:00]

Unlikely voters more negative toward Biden today than Trump in 2017

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, no, definitely is. And to that point, one of the questions that you asked people in the pool here is what do you think of when you hear the name of the current president, Joe Biden?

And the first answer that people gave was old, it was about 19% said that about Biden. How did that sort of thing compare to when Trump was president? When you guys did this in 2018, what did people have to say back then?

PALEOLOGOS: Well, the, the, the words offered on Trump were more vulgar. But they weren't, they weren't as bad in, in terms of total, total responses.

So, it wasn't just old, it was just, cognitive skills and so on. People are a little bit more civil. With Biden than they were with Trump. But the total amount of negative sentiment was pretty high against Joe, for which one for, for Joe.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, well, I'm saying with the negative with Trump, like what was the percentage with that?[00:25:00]

PALEOLOGOS: It was about 10 or 15 percent total negative sentiment, lower. So I think it was like in the high 30s, if you, if you aggregated the negative comments, it was more like in the high 30s, then the negative sentiment towards Biden. So, and you can't do anything about age. I mean, you can do something about.

Maybe competency and, a good political team can, can at least create the perception that he is sharp and that he's getting better and that he's making better decisions. But it's tough, it's tough because the age situation just doesn't go away. And it puts more pressure on 2 In line for the presidency, which is Kamala Harris and her numbers are bad among likely voters.

And I think a lot of people, more people know who she is in this poll than Mike Pence was because Mike Pence really flew under the radar. Kamala Harris has been [00:26:00] thrust into the spotlight. In a positive way by left leaning media, but also been thrust into the spotlight by right leaning media, trying to show that she's not competent and not a good second choice.

And I think the, the combination of both of those media sides, if you will, have, impacted people, even who are not likely voters to recognize who she is. That may not necessarily be a positive thing that more people recognize who she is. It's just that they do recognize who she is and it could be a factor among likely voters next year.

How Republicans better utilize non-policy arguments than Democrats

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And I would say that that's a real difference between the way that Democrats and Republicans conduct politics. Because when you look at presidential campaigns over the years the messaging from Republicans, it tends, they offer both political and non political reasons to, to go against the opponent.

[00:27:00] Whereas Democrats tend to focus more on policy, generally speaking. So like for instance, you shouldn't vote for. Michael Dukakis because he looked funny in the tank, or you shouldn't vote for John Kerry because he went windsurfing and, he, he was French whereas the, on the, the Democrats generally, the only sort of non political thing they kind of offer is, well, they're stupid and they don't really focus on anything else, and the age thing actually is, really interesting as an attack line against Biden, because, I mean, as everybody knows, Trump is basically the same age as him.

And so for them, but so for Democrats, if they were to say, well, look, Trump's old too, that doesn't help Joe Biden at all. Because you're basically saying, look, our guy's old also. And. So that's, it's, it's actually a really interesting and vulnerability for Biden in that regard.

PALEOLOGOS: It's going to be an interesting year next year because and this is just a [00:28:00] sort of a sidebar to, to your original question, but I think it's important, when you look at Dianne Feinstein, Mitch McConnell, and they're all leaders in, in, in Congress as well, in addition to, to Joe Biden, and then you're going to see.

The graphs of the average age of the U S senators and, and how few people are, under 40 years of age and so on. So, the, the aging competency is being weaved together against Joe Biden, whether it's fair or not fair. It it's it, it, and less so against Donald Trump. People acknowledge the years, that the, the age of Donald Trump, but It's a question of, do you think he can do the job?

Do you think he, whether you like the job or not, the question of, do you think he can do the job is a different question and that's what, why I think it doesn't, it doesn't work to Biden's advantage to go down that road. I mean, Mick [00:29:00] Jagger is Joe Biden's age and people don't think Mick Jagger, falls short on, on, on a lot of different things singing, dancing or anything else at his age.

And, so it's not strictly about his age. It's, it's about whether or not he's confident. I mean, the foes of Joe Biden are going too far in my opinion. They're basically, all they do is just point out gaps and his stuttered speech, or he turns the wrong way or whatever it is. And that's just, I mean, that's just cherry picking video to create a narrative.

And it's just not fair. I mean, it's not fair to him. It's not fair to older people. Even though a lot of older people in the polling would prefer a younger candidate. Just on it's fair. It's just not fair.

SHEFFIELD: Well, and that's an [00:30:00] interesting point you make there because, the, the Republican electorate is overwhelmingly over 50.

Like the majority of them are, I, I think it was what in the last election, what was it? Like 57% I believe, of their electorate, maybe closer to 60 was over the age of 50.

And so yeah, it's paradoxical because you're having people who perhaps might be younger than Joe Biden who are saying: 'Well, I feel like I am not what I used to be. So he can't be either.'

And they really can't know that. I mean, people age in different ways. But you know, politics isn't fair, and it never has been, right?

PALEOLOGOS: Yes. So I think Democrats, they, they have to, exactly kind of step back from what you said about policy only, and they can't run a policy campaign against Trump and or whoever the Republican nominee is.

They have got to do some really in depth [00:31:00] polling focus groups and test a number of different, not only issues, but characteristics and try and piece together the coalitions that they need to piece together because right now, Joe Biden is pulling, I mean, his disapproval is in the fifties, high fifties, and even higher when it comes to immigration and The economy, and just based on those numbers, whether or not a 3rd party candidate runs or not doesn't really matter.

If your disapproval is at 55. I think you almost want a 3rd party candidate in there to split up that disapproval of 55 because if it's a binary choice, the disapproval of 55 is going to go to. Whoever Biden's opponent is and if there's a third party candidate, maybe there's a buffer where they won't vote for the Republican, they can't vote for Biden who, based on how they feel, but they have a third party alternative.

I mean, we've been [00:32:00] talking, the polling community has been talking about how a third party candidate could hurt the Democrats, but there could be an argument to be made that it. Third party candidate might, might hurt the Republicans if you give people two options among the people who disapprove of Biden instead of one.

Unlikely voters overwhelmingly uninterested in alternatives to Biden or Trump

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, no, that's true. Although it was interesting that you guys did offer some various. potential candidates to the, to these people and, not, not Trump, not Biden but they weren't particularly interested in any of them. I mean, Bernie Sanders was 2%, Michelle Obama, 2% RFK, like 2 percent was the highest.

Candidate choice. And, and overwhelmingly the answer was, so the question was, is there anyone you can think of who you would be certain to go to the polls for? If that person was running and [00:33:00] 48 percent said no. So, I mean, what does that, what does that say?

PALEOLOGOS: Well, it, it says that there's a hardened group of people who aren't going to vote despite anybody. I mean, so they're telling us I'm not going to vote. I'm not going to vote. The system is rigged, all throughout the poll. Then we finally say, okay, look, is there anybody who would motivate you to go vote? And like, like you said, I mean, 2 percent here, 2 percent there, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama.

I think we're on to Santa's got a point. Bernie Sanders, but not enough really to matter among people who aren't candidates. So that tells us that, nearly half of them, you could put. Maybe we should have named somebody else or maybe they should have thought of somebody else.

I don't know who that might be. Maybe Taylor Swift or something. [00:34:00] I really don't know. But, but obviously the people that would immediately come to mind didn't come to mind.

And that just gives you a, an idea of why this kind of polling is so important.

Voting isn't too difficult, unlikely voters say

SHEFFIELD: And, and of how alienated people feel yeah, and so, one of the other, one of the other questions that you guys ask that I think undermines a lot of the. A lot of, a lot of Democrats have this idea that people don't vote because it's too difficult for them to vote that voter registration requirements or photo ID or whatever, that they just are too scary to people.

And, your poll overwhelmingly finds that that's not the case. So you ask them, the question of, do you think, That voting is easy to complete and can be done quickly. And the answer, 67 percent [00:35:00] said yes, and only 11 percent said it takes too much time. And then there was some unknown, don't know and not decided.

But I mean, it's pretty overwhelming in this regard that people. They don't feel like it's too hard to participate. They just choose not to.

PALEOLOGOS: Not to participate. And that's their choice. I mean, I heard, I, as I say, I monitored some of the calls the first couple of nights and people were actually saying, it's my right not to vote.

 So what do you say to that? I mean, hey, it's my right not to vote. So what are you going to say about that? And, and, and, and it wasn't about ease of registration. I mean, and by the way, that 67, that two thirds number has run through all three polls that we've done going back to 2012. Majority, a clear majority of people know that it's not that difficult to register and they just don't want to, they want to have nothing to do with it.

Some people didn't want to vote because they didn't want to be on a jury list. They didn't want their name to pop [00:36:00] up. Some people, there were some people who were felons or who had criminal records. They didn't want to be on anybody's radar. I mean, there were a bunch of different reasons, but the overwhelming reasons were, they just don't believe the system works anymore.

They don't believe the vote counts. It has nothing to do with registering to vote. It has to do with them just giving up on the system. And some of those people were Trump voters and they've given up.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. When that is the irony that so while Democrats believe that, more voting, like people are not voting, they're, they're wrong to think that people aren't voting because they, they don't know how to, or it's too hard.

The Republicans are also wrong to think that non-voters. Are not interested in them. I, I think, your survey shows that, that they, at least on a certain level are willing to entertain them and maybe it is just Trump. I mean, like that's, I think that's kind of the wild card that, that we don't know yet [00:37:00] because the previous two surveys that you did, the, these non participant people, the unlikely voters, they didn't like the other Republicans before Trump.

And so. That, that remains to be seen. And you kind of see that with the difficulty that all these other Republicans have had gaining traction. And I keep seeing that, more kind of like Republican consultants or, or commentators. They have this idea in their head that Donald Trump is the weakest of our major candidates in the general election. And I think the opposite is true that, he's got a lot of people who would never vote for Ron DeSantis, who would never vote for Nikki Haley because they strike them as, corporate overlord types who are repulsive.

Whereas they see Trump as, kind of a vulgar guy that they can identify with on a certain level because he's not, he's not, he's not, he's not, hoity toity above it all kind of person. I mean, what [00:38:00] do you think?

PALEOLOGOS: Yeah, I think he, I think he connects on a granular level with. lower income, lower educated voters, union households those have a trade or a vocational education. You're absolutely right. He's hitting bases that a lot of these other candidates like DeSantis, Nikki Haley are not hitting.

You add to that the most recent polling that shows Donald Trump beating Joe Biden by nine points in the last, the latest ABC News, Washington Post poll. And even if it is an outlier, which they believe it is an outlier, but even it, if it is an outlier, the fact that he's leading or tied, he being Trump is leading or tied with Trump with all of his legal troubles in what's supposed to be a strong economy is going to be a concern and the polling does indicate you're absolutely right. The polling does indicate it's Trump or bust for a lot of these Trump voters. And we've asked the question, if Trump does not get the [00:39:00] nominate of among likely voters, if Trump doesn't get the nomination, what would you do?

A considerable amount of people wouldn't vote. A considerable amount of people would vote third party. Some would even vote for Cornell West. A few would even vote for Joe Biden. They would not vote for the Republican nominee.

So, I mean, in a way Trump has the Republican party hostage right now, because if he wins, he's going to be vulnerable in a general election on issues like abortion, which he's trying to moderate his position on and, and other issues. But if he loses his a piece of his following, it's just going to walk away. And that will set up a resounding victory for Biden or whoever the Democratic nominee is.

SHEFFIELD: Mm hmm. Yeah. And what happens after him? I mean, one way or the other, in 2028 he's not going to be running. And so what Republicans do after that point, it's anybody's guess.

But they're now at this [00:40:00] point where they've got probably, I mean, it depends on how you plumb the percentage, but you know, somewhere between 35 percent to 55 percent of the Trump voters don't like Republicans.

PALEOLOGOS: That's a big problem. That's a big problem. And that's why we've had this debate about the third party and the No Labels candidate, is someone going to, fly in, run as a third party candidate, whoever that might be. And what's the impact going to be in the swing states and in the 2024 election?

I mean, I guess the bench really for 2028 for the Republicans is Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, Scott Youngkin. Maybe governor Sununu. And that's it. It's kind of a short bench on the Republican side, you've got the people who have run before, Elizabeth Warren, she also got Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris.

And, some of the up and comers. Yeah. [00:41:00] Yeah, of course. And it, and there's a big void, but there's a big void on, on both sides. One of the, I. We haven't asked this question on, on our next I mean, on our previous polls, I'm considering asking it in the likely polls that we're going to be doing in the future, but you know, like who would Republicans like to see as a VP?

Would they like to see Nikki Haley or whether or not that's even feasible or DeSantis or Scott because he has so many, he has so many detractors right now. And within the ranks that you know, and that might be an important decision that we really haven't factored in. Because if he would have picked somebody from a state that is purple or even blue that could flip to, to Trump, that changes the calculus a little bit.

Or if he would have picked somebody like we haven't had anybody Hispanic on a ticket. If he, if he were to pick a Republican [00:42:00] who was Hispanic, what would the impact be, beyond what we know now in the likely voter pool? So still a lot of I mean, still a lot of variables that are out there.

Could alternative voting methods increase public interest in voting?

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah. Well now in terms of the I mean, like thinking about third party candidates here, obviously the American political system is heavily-- it wasn't deliberately done this way to minimize the impact of third party candidates, but that is the effect of it. And, some localities have experimented with some other ways of doing elections.

So like in California, where I live, there is a multi party primary election and everybody runs in the same primary. And then the top two candidates are in the general election. And then you got other states where they have multi party voting. So you can vote for more than one candidate if you want to.

And then they have a runoff after that. And I mean, like, it seems like that that's, people want [00:43:00] alternative electoral systems but it is interesting that, when you, you mentioned No Labels, and then you've got Andrew Yang, who's got his Forward party. And what's interesting with all these, non Republican, non Democratic advocates, they're not focusing on alternative election systems.

And the reality is you can't get anywhere as a third party unless the electoral system has changed. You're running a hopeless effort that maybe, you might get a particularly fantastic candidate or a rich candidate like a Ross Perot or something. But that's a flash in the pan. Like people he only knew who he was because he had a billion dollars and was throwing it all the, flushing it down the toilet on these TV specials that he was spending all this money on.

Like that's how people knew who he was. But you guys did find there's a strong appetite for third party candidates.

PALEOLOGOS: I actually remember the Perot election back, believe it or not, in, in 92, and he won two [00:44:00] of the three televised debates in post debate polling. So he had the money, but he also he simplified the country's problems in a way that mainstream Americans needed the issues to be articulated as.

And so, you talk about alternative methods of voting. Look at rank choice voting. I mean, if there was a third party candidate that ran in 2024, what do you think would happen with rank choice voting? You've got Trump voters who would never vote for Biden, Biden voters who would never vote for Trump. But they probably would vote for a third party candidate. And if you had rank choice voting, a third party candidate would do quite well in a national election.

And that's because it's the lesser of the two evils.

SHEFFIELD: You're no longer in that position. Yeah.

PALEOLOGOS: That's right. [00:45:00] I mean, and the evils are so polarized that, someone from the middle would have a better chance than either left or right. And if even if the no, I mean, in the column I wrote, I was talking about the comparable election in a poll.

This poll in 2018 showed that. Only 9% were voting third party, and now it's three times that. And the 9%, I think translated to like a few percent of people in the 2000 in the in the, the 2012 election. And now in 2024, it's three times that. So is that going to be 8 or 9% of people voting third-party.

If that's the case, it's going to really, really shift things in some of the states that matter like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, and Nevada.

So, I mean, you've got a lot to think about. I mean, look at [00:46:00] Nevada's ballot. You're from you're from being from California. You're familiar with Nevada's ballot. Nevada has a ballot option. None of These Candidates. That's an actual ballot option. You can go to the polls and vote None of These Candidates.

I think there were like 5 candidates or 4 or 5 candidates for president on the ballot in 2020 and still people were saying, imagine that you go to the polls, or you vote by absentee in Nevada and there are 5 candidates for president and you don't select any of them. You voted, but you voted None of These Candidates.

And these are people who are likely voters. Forget online. These are people who actually went to the polls in Nevada in 2020 and selected None of These Candidates. It's crazy. Yeah, that's the kind of thinking that's out there.

Trump's simpler messaging helps him with lower-knowledge citizens

SHEFFIELD: and I guess we have to acknowledge that a lot of these unlikely voters, they don't know as much about politics. And maybe that's why they might not like candidates, [00:47:00] that's possible, right?

And what it suggests, though, is that I think there's another possibility is that the major parties, they're not adequately explaining themselves or carrying the message to people who might actually like what they have to say. But they just think it's too difficult to understand them when they talk.

I mean, you constantly hear Democrats say that Biden did all these things, and nobody knows that he did them, like about student loan forgiveness, or spending on infrastructure projects. And they're correct to point that out, that people don't know that stuff, but ultimately, the blame for that lies on them, not anyone else is responsible for that. If you don't carry your own message, who's going to do it for you?

PALEOLOGOS: Absolutely. I mean, there is a messaging problem. There is a messaging problem. And part of it is, and Republicans do the same thing. There's a lot of infighting. There was a lot of infighting, in the Republican party, there still is. You'll see it, at the next Republican debate out in [00:48:00] California and there's infighting in the Democrat.

We should be doing this. No, we should be doing that. We have to do more of this. And so when you're spinning your wheels like that, time goes by and the message never gets out. It's not, it's not a reinforced message. But, even with all of the good news, and there is a lot of good news in the government statistics that are being released on employment numbers.

But even with all of that, I mean, the poll we released last week, which was a kitchen table poll on the economy we found that it, we gave people seven categories that people spend money on seven out of seven categories. People will make it under 50, 000 of cutting back. On basic stuff, food, groceries, clothing, their electricity, they're cutting back on 7 out of 7.

Now, people make under 50, 000 is a good chunk of them that a Democratic voters. They're either students who are just starting out 1st job. They're not making 50, 000 right out of their [00:49:00] college, whether it's a. Good college, community college, or whatever, or older people who are on fixed incomes. They're getting social security, whatever they may be, taking in 30 grand or 40 grand.

They may not have any debt, but that's all their income is 30, 40, 000. And they can't put food on their table. So, you could put out all the positive messaging you want policy wise. And that's great, but if people are stressed out at the end of the week because their credit card bills are through the roof or they can't pay their bills, how are people supposed to feel?

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, yeah, no, it's true. And I think Democrats, they missed the boat on gas prices and inflation with that. They didn't pay attention to it as early as they could have. And then Republicans, again, like Trump is, he is very different from a regular Republican in that he is so much better at, touting his own [00:50:00] accomplishments or at least claiming some, right?

And so he's able to get a lot more people aware of him. And again, these are people that are, that would have probably been predisposed to him in any way. So, but he really understands communications a lot better than any other politician in the game right now, I feel like.

PALEOLOGOS: Yeah, he does. And the good news for Democrats is they have time, they acknowledge they have a messaging problem. They acknowledge there's a vacuum there. And this is in October of 2024. It's a year, a year away plus, and they have time to figure that out. If Trump is the nominee, they're going to make the election about democracy.

Here's a guy that tried to overthrow the country, the country and change an election. And they're going to do due diligence to try and make that happen.

If Trump has any legal victories between now and then, even if it's-- not just court delays, but any legal victories, he's going to tell that as you see, I was innocent. They were coming after me and, [00:51:00] and all of that.

So it's going to be a fabulous story month to month to see which of the forces prevail.

On the one hand, if the economy rebounds and immigration, the immigration problem begins to have a delta that's going in the right direction, it's going to be hard to vote Biden out of office. If the economy continues to be on a tailspin and our poll, our kitchen table poll shows that people are really stressed out and spending less, which is going to impact corporate earnings, which is going to impact layoffs, interest rates are high. Capital is going to be tough. If that spiral continues into next year, it's going to be tough for people to vote for Joe Biden.

Especially if the border issues aren't going in the right direction. So all of the cultural issues that you hear about and teaching, parental rights in schools and guns and opioids are all important issues, climate change abortion rights. But if people can't survive from week to week [00:52:00] in terms of their own kitchen tables, it's going to be a really difficult election.


SHEFFIELD: Yeah, the other stuff doesn't matter nearly so much.

Yeah, so let's maybe wrap on one topic that was not in the poll here, and hasn't been in the previous ones is religion. You did not ask people's religious opinions on that.

And I think that that's, and I'll say as somebody who used to do polling when I was at The Hill, I've always tried to make it religious questions more of an issue because I think that people have wrongly used education as a proxy for worldview, and religion probably gets closer to that in terms of how often they're attending or what their beliefs are about religious fundamentalist viewpoints.

So like, asking them, do you believe in evolution, humans evolved? Or do you believe the earth is 7, 000 years old? Like those, I believe are[00:53:00] probably the biggest predictors of what your vote's going to be on how you answer those questions. And so just want to put that in your, put that in your, in your ear, if I could at this juncture here. Do you have any thoughts on that?

PALEOLOGOS: No, we did, we did ask questions about religion in earlier election cycles. We haven't. And I don't think it's just Suffolk. I think a lot of pollsters have kind of put those questions aside. I'd be happy to sort of revive that you have put it in my head and because I think it's something that hasn't been done a lot.

Part of the reason is because people just it's like everything else, especially people who are not likely voters, they're certainly not devout anything. Especially those people who are at the end of their lives or disabled or, I mean, I believe that a lot of people have organized religion is [00:54:00] another one of those institutions that is really failing. And maybe it takes times like these and times of crisis to bring people back into that.

SHEFFIELD: All right. Well, so, we've been talking today with David Paleologos. Your name literally means old word.

PALEOLOGOS: That's right, "ancient word." Ancient word, right?

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yep. Okay. Well, thanks for being here, David. It's been a great discussion.

PALEOLOGOS: Absolutely.

SHEFFIELD: And so that is the program for today. I appreciate everybody for joining us for the conversation. And of course, you can get more of this show at theoryofchange.show. You can get access to the video, audio, and transcripts of all the episodes. And we have both free and paid subscriptions to the show.

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And if you're on YouTube please be sure to like and subscribe to the show so you can get it sent to you whenever we come out with a new one. Thank you very much for that. And I will see you next time. [00:56:00]

Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
Lots of people want to change the world. But how does change happen? Join Matthew Sheffield and his guests as they explore larger trends and intersections in politics, religion, technology, and media.