Evan Stern: The 2020 primary results you'll never hear about

Sunday, March 22, 2020 - 12:46pm

Since the 2020 presidential primary season kicked off almost two months ago with the Iowa caucuses, millions of Americans have carefully watched as the Democratic candidates fight for the chance to face off against President Donald Trump in November.

With an original field of 23 candidates, the race on the Democratic side has proven to be turbulent and unpredictable. While Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a self-proclaimed “Democratic socialist,” enjoyed a considerable lead early on, former Vice President Joe Biden has managed to emerge as the frontrunner after impressive performances across the country. And though Sanders remains in the race for now, Biden — who has marketed himself as a moderate well-positioned to defeat Trump in the general election — now has a clear, undeniable path to the nomination.

But amid all of the action playing out between the Democratic candidates, few have taken note of the trend on the Republican side that points to major problems for the Democratic standard-bearer in November. While Biden, Sanders and the rest of the field have constantly tried to trample each other and make their pitches to the American people, the most impressive candidate of all remains the current president.

Many Americans consider the Republican primaries to be dull and uninteresting. After all, for all practical purposes, the current president is running unopposed for the Republican nomination. However, the truth is that regardless of what happens on the Democratic side, Trump has consistently stunned political pundits who see his performance as a “red flag for Democrats.”

From the beginning of the wearisome primary process, the current president has racked up a tremendous, unprecedented amount of support from Republican voters in both red and blue states who are energized to reelect the president for a second term. Democrats have great reason to be concerned about how this enthusiasm will translate to the general election later this year.

The mainstream media wouldn’t bother to report on this, but Trump’s support at the polls this election season is unprecedented on multiple levels. We all know that former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama were relatively popular incumbents who went on to secure second terms. In particular, we have more recent memories of the level of support that Obama received from all corners of the country. What most of us don’t know, though, is that voters are turning out in higher numbers for Trump than Obama, Bush and other successful incumbents in their own primary races.

In the New Hampshire Republican primary this year, Trump received about 130,000 votes, more than double the number that both Obama and Bush captured in their respective reelection bids. In Vermont, a traditionally left-leaning state, Trump beat every past Republican and Democratic incumbent in the last 40 years. Additionally, in Tennessee, early indications revealed that voter turnout from the competitive 2016 Republican primary dipped only 3 percent, a clear display of the level of support the president has been able to maintain throughout his first term.

At the same time, while the president continues to perform exceptionally well compared to past incumbents, his total number of votes in inconsequential races threaten the levels of support that the current Democratic candidates have secured amid a divisive primary process. In the Texas primary, nearly 1.9 million voters cast their ballots for Trump, while Biden, who won that state’s Democratic competition, only captured about 700,000 votes. Texas may be a state that is typically friendly to Republican candidates, but nobody can deny the fact that the president, during a pointless primary, captured almost triple as many votes as the Democratic frontrunner did. What makes this even more significant is the fact that Texas is considered by many to be turning increasingly purple.

Trump has extended this impressive performance to other states as well. In Alabama, Trump won almost 700,000 votes, while Biden only managed to collect roughly 290,000. In fact, only about 450,000 turned out to cast a vote for any Democratic candidate at all in the state. The numbers tell a similar story in Arkansas.

In the end, it has never been so clear that Americans across the country want four more years of Trump. The remarkable energy and enthusiasm the president — who ran on a platform to “Make America Great Again” — has gathered is truly unrivaled in modern political history and should deeply worry the Democratic Party. 

Ultimately, we shouldn’t be paying attention to the daily movements of the Democratic race, because at this point, it couldn’t matter less whether Biden or Sanders emerges as the standard-bearer. The real story is the unprecedented political movement that Trump began when he first announced his candidacy, the movement that propelled him into the presidency in 2016 and the movement that will win him a second term this November.

Evan Stern can be reached at erstern@umich.edu.