Race, Demographics, & 2020 Presidential Election : The NPR Politics Podcast Protests continue after police in Kenosha, Wisconsin shot Jacob Blake repeatedly in the back on Sunday. A young white man is said to have murdered two demonstrators on Tuesday. What do continuing racial justice demonstrations and sporadic violence mean for Trump and Biden?

And, a new report shows how the demographics of eligible voters have changed since Trump's 2016 win. What does that mean for his path to re-election?

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Today's episode: congressional correspondent Susan Davis, White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez, campaign correspondent Asma Khalid, and senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro.

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Trump Is Following His 2016 Roadmap. Does It Matter That The Electorate Has Changed?

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Trump Is Following His 2016 Roadmap. Does It Matter That The Electorate Has Changed?

Trump Is Following His 2016 Roadmap. Does It Matter That The Electorate Has Changed?

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/907119741/907182214" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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IZ: Hi, this is Iz (ph).

KATIE: And this is Katie (ph). We're the managers of our university radio station, Simmons Radio, The Shark, up in Boston.

IZ: We just finished our virtual meeting for our station's annual budget. This podcast was recorded at...


11:56 a.m. on Friday, August 28.

KATIE: Things may have changed by the time you hear this, but we'll still be here doing virtual meetings and wishing we were at our school.

IZ: Enjoy the show (laughter).

KATIE: Enjoy the show (laughter).


DAVIS: We all want to not be in virtual meetings and see each other again. We feel you ladies.


DAVIS: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: I'm Franco Ordoñez. I cover the White House.

KHALID: And I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the presidential campaign.

DAVIS: And after two weeks of covering the political conventions, we wanted to start today's roundup with a catch-up on some of the news we haven't had a chance to talk about yet. But, Asma, first I think we got to note that you certainly sound like you are not in a virtual meeting outside.

KHALID: No. I am at the march in Washington, D.C., today, which is on the anniversary of the very famous march that took place in 1963. And I'm sure you're going to talk a bit more about that later. But so that may be what you're seeing behind me there is somebody on a loudspeaker and vendors selling T-shirts and whatnot.

DAVIS: OK. Well, we want to talk about why you're at the march in a minute. But first, I think we need to start in Kenosha, Wis., where on Sunday, a Black man named Jacob Blake was shot seven times at close range in the back by police. The shooting was caught on video, went viral, and has led to ongoing protests. On Tuesday night, a young white man allegedly shot and killed two protesters with a high-powered rifle. He was arrested and is charged with first degree intentional homicide.

Franco, I want to start with you because this is happening throughout the week of the Republican convention, where so much of the message from the president and his surrogates was about law and order and restoring peace in the streets. So how has the administration been responding to what's happening on the ground in Wisconsin?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. There was a lot of questions and thinking about what was going to happen, for example, at President Trump's speech last night and how was he going to address this. Tim Murtaugh, the campaign spokesman, actually told some reporters that the president would address this. So there was a lot of curiosity about that. But the president did not address it. They did not talk about police shooting another Black man. President Trump, in his words, said he condemns in the strongest possible terms...


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: In the strongest possible terms, the Republican Party condemns the rioting, looting, arson and violence we have seen in Democrat-run cities all like Kenosha, Minneapolis, Portland, Chicago and New York and many others - Democrat-run.

ORDOÑEZ: So he is really, in a way, doubling down on looking at this from the law and order aspect as opposed to kind of the racial hurt, the racial reckoning. It's been specifically about supporting law enforcement in this situation.

KHALID: Franco, it's interesting to hear you talk about how President Trump highlighted the fact that these things are happening in Democratic-run cities because the pushback I've been hearing from Democrats is that these things are happening in Donald Trump's America, and that he is the president, and he could presumably step in in some capacity. And it is a pushback I've been hearing quite a bit from Democrats.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah absolutely. I mean, it is something - the president is kind of - is the incumbent, and in a way, he's running as kind of, like, this insurgent. We remember in 2016 he talked about he being the only one who can fix it, that he was the one who was going to address all these issues. You know, he's been president for the last almost four years now. And the country is really, really suffering.

And I expect for the next several months that is going to be a question that is going to be asked of him a lot. I have certainly - showed he hold some responsibility for the divisions in the country. We know about his rhetoric. There's probably some blame to go in different areas. But certainly, President Trump is the one in charge at the moment.

DAVIS: But, Asma, Biden and all week at his convention - right? - his big theme was reunifying America, the soul of the nation. He's going to bring lightness to the dark. So this also seems like this is something that the Biden campaign should be, in some ways, weighing in on or trying to have a view of how they would do it differently.

KHALID: That is a fair point. And I should say both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris yesterday, on the same day that President Trump accepted the Republican nomination, did make a point of saying that they are defending the peaceful protests but said that there really shouldn't be violence and that violence would not, you know, help the situation in any way. And they did speak up about that.

They also both pointed out that they've been on a call with Jacob Blake's mother, with Jacob Blake's family. And so, you know, their view is that they are trying to strike a balance between calling for, you know, sort of an end to police brutality, an end to what they see as racial injustice in the police system, and at the same time call for an end to the violence that some places have seen, most notably Kenosha in the last couple of days.


JOE BIDEN: Protesting brutality is a right and absolutely necessary. But burning down communities is not protest; it's needless violence, violence that endangers lives, violence that guts businesses and shutters businesses that serve the community. That's wrong. In the midst of this pain, the wisest words that I've heard spoken so far have come from Julia Jackson, Jacob's mother. She looked at the damage done in her community, and she said this, quote - "this doesn't reflect my son or my family." So let's unite and heal, do justice, end the violence and end systemic racism in this country now.

DAVIS: Is what's happening in Kenosha right now shifting the political ground in what is potentially the most critical swing state for Donald Trump of Wisconsin?

KHALID: Gosh, I mean, I think that is such an important question that I don't know that anybody really knows the answer to. I was in Kenosha earlier this summer, and part of the reason why I went there is the margin of victory - Donald Trump won Kenosha County in 2016, but it was the first time that a Republican had won that county in decades, and it was a really slim, marginal victory that he had. And when I was there, Democrats sounded really optimistic. You know, they felt like the trends had been going in their direction. And I'd been messaging a bit, just for a couple of people, to hear how things are, and I do think there is a sense that there is a lot of nervousness.

I mean, look - at the end of the day, I think there is nervousness around the safety and security of their community, both from Republicans and Democrats. But there is this sense that this county, as it was, was kind of a microcosm of how close the state of Wisconsin was. And now you have this police shooting, but coupled with the fact that there has been rioting and looting and burning of buildings. And Donald Trump has tried to suggest that that is the fault of democratic lawlessness.

DAVIS: Yeah. And as the protests roll on, do people get tired of them, right? Is the support waning as it goes on and on? Because it's not just Wisconsin, right? We've seen Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., and even maybe there's a through line to where you are right now, to the march in Washington.

KHALID: I mean, there are definitely a lot more people here, Sue, than I had envisioned. I was thinking because of the pandemic, because, you know, people are not necessarily traveling loads and they wanted everyone here to wear masks and they were doing temperature checks...

DAVIS: Yeah.

KHALID: ...I honestly did not expect that big of a crowd. But, you know, they're - I'm horrible at crowd estimates, so I'm not going to go there. But the streets have been cordoned off, pedestrian-only, and there are easily thousands of people here. And I met people who came in from, say, Florida and Chicago, New Jersey, other places, to be here for this march. But, you know, some of them talk about the very polarizing nature, they feel, of politics right now. There are many, many African Americans here. But I think what's notable is, amongst the younger crowd in particular, it's a pretty multiracial group. There are many white people, Latino people, Asian people, Black people here.

ORDOÑEZ: Are the people on the ground - I mean, what are they saying about Trump? Did any of them watch the convention?

KHALID: You know, one through line is that people here are not fans of President Trump. I wouldn't say that they were necessarily glued to the TV watching the Republican convention, but they're very aware of the fact that this is happening the day after that convention wrapped up. You know, what I think is important, though, is that there were a couple of people that I talked to who are not fans of Joe Biden - or maybe I should say more than a couple of people. There were, you know, some people who are not fans of him. They were not enthusiastic about his candidacy. But there's this, like, level of pragmatism that they feel in terms of needing to vote for him because, in their view, they can't handle another few years of President Trump.

DAVIS: All right, Asma, we're going to let you go because we know you have to cover the march. And I think I can tell you're wearing a mask while you were talking to us, so credit to you.

KHALID: (Laughter) Does it sound muffled?

DAVIS: Keep that mask on.

KHALID: Thanks. All right, take care.

DAVIS: We'll take a quick break, and when we come back, we're going to talk about how the electorate has changed since 2016.


DAVIS: And we're back. And we've got Domenico Montanaro with us. Hey, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, hey. How's it going?

DAVIS: Good. So you just did an analysis of how the electorate has changed since 2016. So what are sort of the top takeaways for what the pool of voters is looking like this time around?

MONTANARO: Well, I mean, the first thing is that I really wanted to do this because I feel like everyone continues to talk about 2020 as if it's the same pool of people from 2016, and it's just not. President Trump's base, the headline is, has gotten smaller. You know, he's - he really was able to win, propelled to win, in 2016 because of whites without a college degree, and they have gone down as a share of eligible voters by four points. So they were 45% of the electorate in 2016; now they're 41%. And when you look at all other groups - whites with a college degree, Latinos and Asians - they've all gone up. So you can see how that pool is getting a little shallower for President Trump. And if he was able to eke it out last time, this is a little bit of a vice grip.

DAVIS: But, you know, it's not a national election in that state by state matters.


DAVIS: And it still seems like in the states that matter the most in this election, certainly for Donald Trump, working-class white voters still are very much the key, if I'm thinking Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan.

MONTANARO: Right. I wanted to look at white noncollege voters in particular and see where they're strongest or the biggest share of the populations. Let's run down the list of the seven battleground states that have a population of 50% or more of white noncollege graduates still. That's Iowa, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania - all of those sort of working class, Rust Belt, Midwestern hardscrabble, New England with New Hampshire. What we are seeing, though, in each of those states is a decline in whites without a college degree and an increase in whites with a college degree.

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, this is a key demographic for President Trump. I mean, we all remember back in 2012 with Mitt Romney, the Republicans had that GOP autopsy where they said that the Republicans need to kind of widen their base. They need to be more approachable to people of color. Well, President Trump came in and he wiped that all away, and he basically said, no, we don't need to reach out to the people of color, to the immigrant communities, to the Latino voters; instead, he said, yes, we should expand our reach, but he did so towards the group that Domenico's talking about, these white, you know, noncollege studied voters, and he did that very successfully.

MONTANARO: He did. And I think that to the detriment a little bit of what the Republican Party had been talking about in that autopsy and to the detriment of the Republican Party is that what's happened underneath all of this is you're seeing a diversifying Sunbelt in particular. Arizona, Georgia and Texas are states that we would not be normally talking about in past election cycles, except for the fact that demography has kind of become destiny in those places. You know, Arizona in particular - whites without a college degree are down five points. They make up about 33% of the electorate in Arizona.

But what's happened just since 2016, Latinos up six points in Arizona. So, you know, when you're looking at that, now they're up to 31% of the electorate, almost on par with whites without a college degree. That's why you see Joe Biden leading narrowly in a place like Arizona. It's why Georgia - you're seeing continued demographic shift and Biden being able to be competitive there. And Texas, which, you know, look - I'll believe Texas when I see it.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, I'm with you.

MONTANARO: But it's competitive, and Trump's going to have to spend money there.

DAVIS: But when you talk about electorate, you're talking about people who are just eligible voters. This isn't necessarily people that we know are going to show up and actually vote.

MONTANARO: Exactly. And I think that's - look; those likely voter models are things we're going to start to see from pollsters. They can be fraught with all kinds of problems because you just never know who's really going to show up. You try to measure enthusiasm. You try to measure past voting performance. And look - that's always the sort of roll of the dice that these campaigns make with who they think are their highest-propensity voters.

And when it comes to these white voters without college degrees, they are still high-propensity Trump voters, and the Trump campaign believes that they can get more of them to turn out. In 2016, they turned out at a rate of 58%. That's lower than in 2004, when they turned out at a rate of 61% for George W. Bush. Trump may have one massive record margins with those voters, but they believe that they can get more of them out to the polls. And right now with his approval ratings going down on coronavirus and race relations, you know, that looks like his best, if not only, path.

ORDOÑEZ: And I'll just add that, you know, when I talk to Republicans - Republican strategists, Republicans in the administration - and I say, look at these polls, what do they mean? A lot of times, the pushback to me is, as kind of Domenico is talking about, you know, they did so well with this group of voters in the past, and they're saying, look - we can do so much better this time. Don't forget that back in 2016, we were this tiny, handful-sized operation with a candidate in the back of a plane calling cable news channels. They are much more well-funded. They are much more organized now. They have been fundraising since the beginning of the administration. And they also have the backing of the establishment behind them in ways that they didn't necessarily have certainly in the beginning of 2016.

DAVIS: So if the median voter or the typical Trump voter in 2020 is going to be a white person without a college degree, probably a man - right? - a white man without a college degree, if that's his sweet spot, what's the Biden sweet spot? What is the electorate that is sort of Biden's really core supporter?

MONTANARO: Well, the huge changing thing from 2016 that's just the big red alarm, you know, fire for the Trump campaign is suburban voters, in particular, suburban women, you know? I mean, people can talk about what their size is or how strong they're going to be at the polls or whatever. The shift from 2016 to 2020 in poll after poll after poll after poll just shows suburban women overwhelmingly on Joe Biden's side, when President Trump did pretty well with them in 2016.

DAVIS: Yeah.

ORDOÑEZ: And that's why you're seeing so much of the Trump campaign kind of reaching out to them and talking directly to suburban voters, suburban women voters, you know, having events at the White House in the last few weeks, and also pushing this, you know, narrative that Democrats want to bring in low-cost housing and they're going to destroy suburbs, which, you know, a lot of people see as a racist kind of issue that they feel is being brought in here.

DAVIS: Well, it certainly makes sense if we think about who these voters are that they need to reach and juice for turnout if you put that up against what we just saw play out over the last two weeks at the conventions, right? I mean, like, the Democratic convention had so many messages that seemed geared towards a suburban-female-type voter, and the Republican convention seemed rich in themes that would appeal to a working-class white guy.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you heard just over and over again during the Democrats' convention about, you know, it's like, what type of character do you want your president to be? And they painted Joe Biden obviously as this very empathetic person who cares about his family, cares about Americans, cares about the elevator worker in a, you know, New York building. And the president is talking about America that would be in danger if Biden was elected. And it's, you know, two very contrasting narratives there.

DAVIS: The thing that's so interesting to me, though, is that there's so much volatility, but at the same time, so much of this election is already baked in. I mean, so many people have already made up their minds. They know who they're going to vote for. And there's such a tiny swath of the electorate that is truly persuadable, and they are the voters that are going to decide this election. But we tend to know that these are the voters that also pay the least amount of attention to day-to-day politics.

MONTANARO: Right. Yeah, they're the least engaged voters for the most part. You know, depending on the estimate, anywhere from 6% to 12% of the country are truly persuadable. That's, you know, that's - 88% of the country at least has already made up their minds and are not persuadable. So you're talking...

DAVIS: And some will start voting in a matter of weeks.

MONTANARO: Yeah. And, you know, I think that because of the coronavirus, because of the prevalence of early voting, because of the fact that so many people aren't going to want to go to the polls, you're going to see at least half of the votes, probably more than that, be cast before Election Day.

DAVIS: All right. Well, let's take a quick break. And when we come back, it's time for Can't Let It Go.


DAVIS: And we're back. And let's end the show like we do every week with Can't Let It Go, the part of the show where we talk about the things we can't stop thinking about, politics or otherwise. I'm going to go first because mine is related to the conventions, which I have basically spent the last two weeks of my life consumed by, as have both of you. The thing I can't let go this week is Melania Trump's fashion choices, which I'm sure you two fashionistas have a lot of thoughts about.

MONTANARO: This a dangerous topic, Sue, dangerous topic.

ORDOÑEZ: (Laughter).

DAVIS: I'm not going to weigh in on like or dislike. I just can't let it go because I feel like both choices were statements, right? Like, these are events where you know you're going to be getting national coverage. You're going to be - your picture is going to be on every newspaper. You're going to be in every television shot. And you think a lot about what you wear. Women think a lot about what they wear. First ladies think a lot about what they wear.

And her - I think it was - I don't remember which night of the week she spoke. She spoke Tuesday or Wednesday. Time is a blur right now. But she wore this sort of militaristic, you know, sharp-cut top and skirt that just looked very intense for Melania, who tends to dress much more softly, much more traditional first lady. I just thought it was a very, like, provocative look. And then for the big acceptance speech night, she comes out of the White House in this, like, neon green...

MONTANARO: She had a cape, right?

DAVIS: It had a cape. Totally untraditional first lady look. I mean, she looked fantastic. She always looks good. But just the color, the statement, it was just, like, wow. It was just an eye-popper. And also, someone posted a picture of it, which I think speaks to it. But it said, if you wonder why Melania wore this dress, like, here's an aerial view. And you just see this sort of, like, sea of dark suits and this, like, bright pop of color in the audience. And I just think it was Melania Trump being like, you can't miss me.

MONTANARO: No doubt about that. And she was not missed. I mean, just - you know, here I am sitting in a back room in my house, and I'm, you know, watching the convention on TV. I've got my Twitter feed going. Melania Trump walks out of the White House, starts walking along with President Trump, and my Twitter feed just, like, jumps with, like, dress, dress, dress, green, green, green, cape, cape, cape. I mean, it was like - it was like - it was a big moment.

MONTANARO: And yet there will be plenty of people who say, why do you continue to talk about what women wear, right? (Laughter).

DAVIS: Well, I - you know, I always push back on that because I think fashion is very political. I don't think it's sort of capricious and doesn't matter. I think fashion is a very effective way, especially for politicians, to make statements. And people use fashion all the time to make different political values. So I say fashion matters, and I'm not afraid to talk about it.


MONTANARO: You know, it's interesting. I don't know if she was thinking this. But, you know, both of the outfits were green. And green, you know, internationally is the color of revolution, for freedom, right? So I don't know. Maybe there was some message in that.

ORDOÑEZ: I like green.

MONTANARO: Well, I know my stay-at-home fashion was also well thought out.


DAVIS: Domenico, what can't you let go this week?

MONTANARO: What I can't let go of is what the NBA players did this week, you know, following the shooting in Kenosha, Wis., the protests there and, you know, Jacob Blake, who was shot in the back seven times by police. And they took a real stand in saying that they were not going to play Game 5 with the Milwaukee Bucks - was supposed to be playing against the Orlando Magic. And the Bucs are one of the top teams in the league. They have one of the best players in the league who just won defensive MVP. They were in the locker room, decided not to come out. They boycotted that game, said that there were things that were bigger than basketball. They talked to the attorney general, very much getting involved in politics. You know, I wrote about - in 2017 about Black athletes and some white allies who've stood up against racism and done so at significant risk to themselves, lots of pressure on their livelihood, ability to play sports. You know, it was the thing they've dedicated their lives to. So for athletes now to step out and feel like it's safe and try to make change is a huge, huge cultural moment that I just can't let go of.

DAVIS: Yeah. And it seems like it's in every sport, right?


DAVIS: Like, it's basketball this week, but it seems like sports culture overall. And I think sports have always been political, but always maybe more of a murmur. And it feels like much more of a shout right now.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. I interviewed John Lewis, you know, a few years ago - before I was at NPR, actually. And one of the things that he - this was during, you know, the Colin Kaepernick, you know, kneeling during the Star-Spangled Banner. And what John Lewis said back then in 2017 was that sports athletes are becoming the new civil rights leaders of the day. And it only has, you know, increased with that. And it's really wild to watch.

MONTANARO: And what I find really fascinating is that the White House and a lot of conservatives try to put the NBA in a box. You know, it's three-quarters Black - makeup of the players who play in the NBA. And President Trump, you heard him say that, you know, he's surprised the ratings haven't gone down. He's basically done with them. You heard Jared Kushner say it's nice that they have millions of dollars to be able to take a day off of work, unlike most people. You heard an aide to Mike Pence - Marc Short - say that he thinks it's absurd what they're doing.

And then what happened? Other sports also showed solidarity. You know, I'm a New York Mets fan. And I was surprised to see - I hadn't seen a visual representation of this in baseball - which is majority white, by the way - where the Mets and Marlins players came out of their dugout, had a 42-second moment of silence. Then they all walked off the field, and the only thing left on the field was a Black Lives Matter T-shirt over home plate.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. It was really powerful - soccer, WNBA, MLS.

DAVIS: Yeah, WNBA for real.


DAVIS: Franco, what can't you let go this week?

ORDOÑEZ: Oh, man. So what I can't let go this week is just another kind of, you know, another moment that just made 2020 feel like, come on, really?

MONTANARO: What else could that be?

DAVIS: What could it possibly be?


ORDOÑEZ: Do you guys remember Macaulay Culkin from...

MONTANARO: Oh, yeah.

ORDOÑEZ: ..."Home Alone"? He was 10 years old when he did that film. He tweets out this week. He writes. Hey, guys. Want to feel old? I'm 40. You're welcome. And that hurts.

DAVIS: Yeah.

MONTANARO: What I was surprised by with that is that I always thought I was older than Macaulay Culkin, like a lot older, you know, watching the movies growing up. And it's like, you know, I'm like, pretty close in age. I was, like, really surprised. I was like, how young was I when "Home Alone" came out?

DAVIS: He was a much more successful 10-year-old than you, apparently.


MONTANARO: Or I was just always a 30-year-old even when I was 10.

DAVIS: You don't want to peak too soon, though. You don't want to peak too soon.


DAVIS: All right. That's a wrap for today. But before we go, we have an announcement. Next Thursday, September 3 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, we're going to be hosting our first-ever trivia night. So if you want to flex your political history knowledge, this night is for you. Head to nprpresents.org to RSVP.

Our executive producer is Shirley Henry. Our editors are Muthoni Muturi and Eric McDaniel. Our producers are Barton Girdwood and Chloee Weiner. Thanks to Lexie Schapitl, Elena Moore, Dana Farrington and Brandon Carter.

I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

ORDOÑEZ: I'm Franco Ordoñez. I cover the White House.

DAVIS: And I'm Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent. And keep the change, you filthy animals.


DAVIS: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. Good "Home Alone" reference.

MONTANARO: There you go.

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