In May, on Memorial Day Weekend, the campgrounds were full at Holden Beach and the Trump flags were flying. One guy had a large truck with a banner on it that read “The Silent Majority” and was selling pro-gun and neo-patriotic paraphernalia. The enthusiasm and defiance of the Trump years was still evident.
Just three months later, all of it was gone. Labor Day at Holden Beach was no less crowded. The beach was full of people and the campgrounds had few spaces left to park. The Trump flags, though, were gone. The Silent Majority Truck didn’t make a stop and we didn’t see any Trump yard signs on the way down. The enthusiasm for Trump and his movement seems to be waning.
For 2022, that’s big news. Prognosticators on Twitter have been predicting record turnout in the midterm election. Both sides, they say, will vote in record numbers, fueled by COVID, vaccines, masks, Biden, and the anger and division that just won’t seem to go away.
I’m not so sure—and I certainly wouldn’t bet on it. I suspect we’re slowly moving toward a more normal electorate. The pro-Trump crowd may not be any less enthusiastic about their leader, but I don’t get the sense that they are any more enthusiastic about politics in general. Back in 2018, while he was in the White House, they didn’t show up to vote. They are angry but they don’t see democracy as a way to address their grievances. They would much prefer to take over a school board meeting or raid the Capitol than go to a voting booth.
The question for Democrats is whether or not the people who showed up in 2018 come back again. They had record numbers of young people go to the polls to vote against Trump. These voters do see democracy as vehicle to solve their problems. They are more educated and more outraged than just angry. And they saw the power of their vote. They gave Democrats the majority in the House and set the party up for a majority in the Senate in 2020.
In 2022, these voters won’t have the Trump show to drive them to the polls, but they might not need it. They may be getting into the habit of voting earlier than previous generations. History tells us that once people start voting, they tend to stick with it. If 2018 was the beginning of a pattern and not just a reaction to Trump, then Democrats might be able to mitigate the impact of gerrymandering that will occur in this year’s redistricting process.
The Trumpers who drove up turnout numbers in both 2016 and 2020 when their man was on the ballot have no history of voting during midterm elections. Their enthusiasm for flying flags from RVs and boats has begun to wane. I don’t believe anger over vaccines or mask mandates will drive them to the polls a little over a year from now.
Midterms tend to be good for the party out of the White House and that may hold again. However, November 2022 is long way off. The inflation that Republicans have been predicting—and hoping for—is not materializing. While Afghanistan has driven Joe Biden’s numbers down, the war will likely be a distant memory by next summer. COVID is now largely a pandemic of the unvaccinated—people who are disproportionally Republican. I don’t see a lot of issues on the horizon to drive GOP turnout above normal numbers.
That said, with the redistricting pen, Republicans will probably have a good year. Democrats can offset the losses with turnout that looks more like 2018 than 2014, but they will likely lose their majority in Congress and find themselves still in the minority in the North Carolina legislature. Anything can happen, though, and a year is an eternity in politics. The only thing I know for certain is that I don’t trust Twitter.