What We Believe

The election of Donald Trump in 2016 upended the expectations of countless pundits, analysis and forcasters. As our nation experiences polarization, rapid technological innovation, and a host of other factors, it has become clear that politics in the U.S. has fundamentally changed, leaving us with the following questions.

How does technology, social media, and fake news impact elections? Are moderates or ideologies more electable? What motivates people to get out the vote? What are lessons from previous campaigns and how does that impact the future of our democracy?

In 2018, Niskanen senior fellow Rachel Bitecofer accurately predicted the outcome of the midterm election where older, better-known models failed. Her theory: “swing voters”—in other words, voters who change their minds-—matter far less than most experts think. Instead, new groups of voters turning out to vote tend to drive election results. If she’s correct, she could upend the way we have traditionally understood politics.

Like it or not, the factors that drive elections reflect the health of our society and determine the climate in which public policy is made. The Niskanen Center is committed to examining these issues from a non-partisan, empirical perspective to understand how American democracy is functioning and evolving.

A key aspect of polarization has been somewhat overlooked: negative partisanship. Voters with this attitude are mobilized not by love of their own party so much as by hatred of the opposition party. Negative partisanship especially benefits the party that doesn’t hold the presidency, because out-party voters find themselves living in a world where their political preferences are under constant assault, or at least appear to be so.

- Rachel Bitecofer

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