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Swing voters are blurring traditional Republican and Democratic political coalitions

ROCKY RIVER, Ohio — Weeks before the Ohio Senate primaries, Kristen Bentz stood outside a grocery store in suburban Cleveland, feeling torn from the race.

Ms Bentz, 46, didn’t like the idea of ​​one-party Democratic control in Washington, and she thought President Biden had been “slow to react” to pressing challenges like inflation and high commodity prices. gasoline. But she was also alarmed by the hard-right tilt of the Republican primary contest in her state — and horrified by how much influence Donald J. Trump still seemed to wield.

“I’m getting more and more disgusted with the Republican Party,” Ms. Bentz, an X-ray technician from North Olmsted, Ohio, said in a follow-up interview this month, explaining why she was inclined to support the Democratic Party. Senate candidate, Tim Ryan. “It just breaks my heart.”

Persuasive voters like Ms. Bentz are rare in today’s intensely polarized political environment. But interviews with dozens of voters, elected officials and party strategists over the past few months make it clear that in this unstable moment, a narrow but racially diverse group of voters still stands to gain for both parties. These Americans are upending traditional assumptions about shifting voters and blurring longstanding political coalitions in highly unpredictable ways.

Some are white suburban voters like Ms. Bentz who have historically leaned to the right but hate Mr. Trump and election denial, back down from sweeping abortion bans and often support more gun restrictions, in especially after the recent wave of mass shootings. And they could play a powerful role in states like Pennsylvania, where Republicans have nominated far-right Holocaust denier Doug Mastriano as governor, and Georgia, where Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker has stumbled. Many times. A similar dynamic could play out in states such as Michigan and Arizona, where voters head into primary day next week.

At the same time – amid high inflation, ever-expensive gas, abysmal Biden approval ratings and fears of a recession – there are urgent warning signs for Democrats of the entire electorate, including with basic constituencies. Some voters of color now seem, to varying degrees, increasingly open to support from Republicans, while Democrats are warning that others may not contest the election.

“When we see a better economy in the hands of a Republican, that’s why we tend to vote for someone from the Republican Party,” said Audrey Gonzalez, 20, of Glendale, Arizona, explaining why the Republicans are gaining ground with some Latino voters.

Ms. Gonzalez is the daughter of immigrants from El Salvador and Mexico, she said, and the first in her family to attend college. She voted for Mr Biden two years ago in protest against Mr Trump and what she saw as his racist invective. But she was leaning toward Republicans this year, she said, citing several issues, including economic concerns.

For the first time in a New York Times/Siena College national survey, released this month, Democrats had a higher share of support among white college graduates than among nonwhite voters. And a survey, conducted this month for AARP by a bipartisan polling team from Fabrizio Ward and Impact Research, found that in congressional battleground districts, Democrats were underperforming with black voters, Hispanic and Asian Americans over the age of 50 from previous elections — with ominous signs in particular for Democrats in the bottom two precincts.

Among Hispanic and Asian American voters over 50, Democrats were ahead of the generic Congressional ballot by just five and three percentage points, with Democrats doing significantly better with Hispanic and Asian American college graduates than with those who didn’t have a four-year college degree. , the investigation revealed.

In the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats won 69% of Latino voters and 77% of Asian American voters, according to exit polls. This data is not an apples-to-apples comparison, but it does suggest significant shifts among various groups of voters that Democrats hoped to cement as part of their base.

“No one sticks their head in the sand and recognizes that there is softness with African American voters and Latinos and Asian Americans,” said John Anzalone, the founder of Impact. Research and a prominent Democratic pollster. “You have to fight for every voter, and we have work to do to persuade.”

For years, Democrats have argued over whether to prioritize persuading elusive voters or trying to excite grassroots constituencies, like black and Hispanic voters, and young people at all levels. But while the first political imperative for both parties is to energize and transform their bases, some Democrats are increasingly arguing that in many races this year there is no choice but to pursue both. ways. The very question of who is a swing voter in 2022 is fluid, with large swaths of Americans channeling their frustrations over complex economic issues toward the ruling party.

“I talk to families, especially of Asian and Hispanic descent — I find there’s this frustration especially pronounced with what’s going on right now,” said Lanhee J. Chen, Republican candidate for comptroller. the state of California and the son of Taiwanese immigrants. , in an interview the Saturday before Primary day last month. Gasoline prices in California had soared well above $6 a gallon (they have since fallen somewhat), and voters were furious.

“There is a desire, especially on economic issues, for change,” said Mr. Chen, who went on to beat several Democrats to become the top voter in the state primaries. “These voters, I think, are becoming swing voters, even though maybe 20 years ago they wouldn’t have been.”

Kim-Markella Franklin, 34, of Wichita, Kansas, already considers herself a swing voter. She supported Mr Biden in 2020 and she supports abortion rights after being sexually assaulted as a teenager, she said. But she added that she struggled to identify progress made on behalf of “low- and middle-income communities”.

“Look at the gas prices. Look at inflation on food. I mean, and I’m working — and I’m still struggling,” Ms. Franklin said, when asked how Mr. Biden’s tenure is going. “I just know times are tough right now.”

Abortion rights are “a serious matter,” she said, after being asked how it would affect her midterm decision, “but it’s just one of the many issues. happening in our lives.”

It is far too early to predict exactly how the simmering anger of voters in July, on each side, will translate into November, and there are still unknowns on the landscape – including whether Mr. Trump will announce another presidential candidacy before the midterm elections.

Republicans note that voters on all sides often focus the most on pocket issues, a huge disadvantage for Democrats in the current climate. Democrats argue that normally loyal voters, frustrated with Washington and the country’s direction, won’t suddenly turn Republican — especially if Democrats can make the election more of a choice than a referendum on which party is in power. There’s also still time for Democrats to clinch other major legislative achievements, including the potential for the most ambitious climate action ever undertaken by Congress.

Tim Persico, the executive director of the House Democratic campaign arm, acknowledged the need to clearly contrast “what is our record and what is their record, what are our plans, what are their plans.” And he stressed that Democrats don’t take electoral districts for granted.

But he also suggested that Republicans were seen as increasingly extreme and that the backlash from the overthrow of Roe v. Wade was evident in many constituencies, across a wide range of districts.

“Roe v. Wade was quite popular. And get rid of it? Not popular,” Mr Persico said, suggesting he had seen a significant political impact. “Wherever it was close before, it’s – everywhere – it’s moved in our direction.”

In recent weeks, there have been relatively encouraging signs for Democrats despite the difficult fundamentals of this year’s campaigns. Some incumbent Democrats in key races exceed Mr. Biden’s approval ratings. The online Democratic fundraising advantage grew by $100 million between the last quarter of 2021 and the most recent three-month period, as Republicans face online fundraising challenges. And especially the imperfect Republican candidates have made a number of marquee races look more competitive for Democrats.

“Those college-educated suburban voters who put Biden on the brink could have been really up for grabs by the Republicans,” said Sarah Longwell, a Republican anti-Trump strategist. Now, she added, in some cases, those voters should be considered “convincing because Republican candidates are so far from the mainstream.”

Some Democrats have eyed the 2020 ticket splitters – a small but sometimes politically influential group of voters who opposed Mr Trump but embraced Republicans in lower-tier races – arguing that the GOP has become much more extreme since the last presidential election. Election denial and abortion have dominated news cycles this summer, fueled by congressional hearings regarding the Jan. 6 attack and the overthrow of Roe.

In Ohio, Ms. Bentz said she was comfortable enough with Mr. Ryan, who did not call her “liberal-liberal.” By contrast, she said, she was fed up with the length to which some Republicans — including JD Vance, the Republican nominee — continued to kiss Mr. Trump. She wanted more action to fight gun violence. And she lamented the contortions some had adopted to excuse the Jan. 6 attack.

“It’s depressing that the Republican Party has gone crazy about this man who, I’m sorry, I think doesn’t care about us,” she said. “They just throw away their beliefs and stuff.”

Kirsten Noyes contributed research.


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