The first week of the New Year is the perfect time for political predictions, trend-spotting and a whole host of other prognostications about the upcoming year, only half of which will likely come true. However, 2016 won’t be like most election years. It’s an open-seat election; we’re definitely getting a new president-elect by November, unless something really strange happens. It will be the most racially diverse electorate in American history, and to top it off, there has been such sustained activism, turnout may break new records. With these trends in mind, these are five things to look out for in the 2016 election season:
1. Black vs. Brown in California
Who could bring Jamie Foxx, John Legend, Seth McFarlane, Sean Penn and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg to work together? Kamala Harris. Running for the U.S. Senate, Harris has been dubbed the “female Obama” by supporters. And her diverse heritage, fast-track career and endorsements from celebrities, both political and otherwise, have made her a star in the state of California before one ballot has been cast.
Harris has shot to fame in California for being the embodiment of several political “firsts”—she’s the first woman, African American and Asian American (her mother was from India) to serve as attorney general in California.
The seat she’s going after is being vacated by long-serving, powerful Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, who chose not to run in 2016, leaving open a California Senate seat in a state that couldn’t be bluer and safer if it were surrounded by Smurfs. However, Harris faces competition from Loretta Sanchez, a long-term Democratic congresswoman from Southern California. The primary in June could test what kinds of coalitions still exist with African-American and Latino voters in California and, if it gets ugly, could complicate Democratic chances down the ballot.
2. The Republican Primary
The Republican presidential primary began with enough people to field a very old, very rich and mostly white college basketball team. But as the months have gone on, the field has begun to winnow (five Republicans have actually dropped out already). The primaries will likely have a much more reasonably sized group of men and women running for president. We have no idea what to expect in these primaries, which is partially why the role of women, minorities and other groups may be incredibly important. Perhaps Donald Trump—the front-runner—runs away with the race, all political hell breaks loose, the Republicans are reduced to a party of angry racists and xenophobes, and Hillary Clinton is dabbing toward the White House in November. The more likely scenario, however, is that the race is a long slog between Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and perhaps a surprise candidate. This presents an interesting situation for African-American primary voters.
Over the last two election cycles, Republicans have been willing to court black voters in open-party primaries when the white voters are split, and we may see similar strategies in 2016. Ben Carson’s campaign has been actively encouraging African-American voters to vote in the GOP South Carolina primary to bolster his chances. If the primary race drags on, we could see similar moves in swing states like Georgia, Virginia and Michigan.