Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The One Demographic That Is Hurting Hillary Clinton

Nate Cohn

JULY 25, 2016

The New York Times

The list of voting groups generally alienated by Donald J. Trump is long: Hispanics, women, the young, the college educated and more. How is it that he’s in such a close race with Hillary Clinton?

The answer lies with a group that still represented nearly half of all voters in 2012: white voters without a college degree, and particularly white men without a degree.

Mrs. Clinton is showing enormous weakness with this group. And these voters are supporting Mr. Trump in larger numbers than they supported Mitt Romney four years ago. It’s enough to keep the election close. It could even be enough for him to win.

In six polls conducted this month, Mr. Trump leads among white registered voters without a degree by a margin of 58 percent to 30 percent. This has been true, to varying degrees, for the entire year. It’s a significant improvement over Mr. Romney in 2012, who led in pre-election polls by a 55-to-37 margin among this group.

In some new polls that are showing Mr. Trump with an overall lead, he has even larger leads among white working-class voters. A Monday CNN poll, for instance, had him ahead by three percentage points nationwide with a 66-to-29 edge among this group. The last live interview poll to show Mr. Trump ahead before the convention, an ABC/Washington Post poll, showed Mr. Trump with a 65-to-29 lead among the group. Conversely, Mrs. Clinton leads when she holds down her losses among these voters.

These voters tend to be men. According to our estimates, Mrs. Clinton is doing better among basically every group of voters except for white men without a degree.

The notion that Mr. Trump could remain competitive through gains among one group may counter expectations. The prevailing story line of recent elections held that Democrats overcame weakness among white working-class voters with sweeping demographic shifts to a more diverse electorate. This framework implied that white working-class voters had been reduced to just a fraction of the electorate, and that the Republicans had little room for gains among them.

But white working-class voters represented about 44 percent of 2012 voters, and President Obama was not especially weak among them. Across the North, he ran even with, or ahead of, John Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000 with that group. In raw numbers, there were more white-working class voters who supported Mr. Obama than nonwhite voters or college-educated white voters.

Mr. Trump has adopted a message all but perfectly devised to attract these voters. He has a populist message on trade and immigration. He has abandoned key elements of the Republican agenda that hurt the party among white working-class Democrats, like support for cutting the social safety net.

Mr. Trump may also be benefiting from gender. Analysts have tended to treat the “gender gap” as if it always helps Democrats; Democrats are usually said to have an advantage among women, not a disadvantage among men. In truth, there’s no way to distinguish between the two. Mrs. Clinton’s big drop-off among less-educated white men at least raises the possibility that she faces a significant gender penalty among this group.

It is also possible that less-educated white men are reacting to rapid changes in cultural and economic status, completely independent of Mrs. Clinton’s gender. No liberal arts college class on “power, privilege and hierarchy” will tell you that white working-class men have become a disadvantaged group.

But many white working-class men do not feel privileged — not in a society where power and status are often vested in well-educated elites along the coasts. From their standpoint, the Democratic Party might look like an identity politics patronage system — affirmative action, immigration, “political correctness,” gender or whatever else.

Regardless of the exact sources of Mr. Trump’s strength, his narrow but deep appeal has the potential to shake up the electoral map. The extent that Democrats are dependent on white working-class voters varies considerably by state. So, too, does the extent to which Republicans depend on college-educated white voters.

A result could be growing strength for Mr. Trump in the Midwestern states with many working-class Democrats, like Iowa or Ohio. Mrs. Clinton, meanwhile, could excel in the states where there are fewer less-educated white voters for her to lose, and plenty of well-educated white voters or Hispanics for her to gain, like Virginia, Colorado, North Carolina and Florida. More traditionally Democratic states, like Pennsylvania and Iowa, might be in jeopardy.

These patterns are only beginning to emerge in the sparse public data. But the Clinton campaign’s view is clearer. Joel Benenson, the campaign’s pollster, said on Monday that Mrs. Clinton was “stronger in the Sun Belt states” than Mr. Obama was in 2012.

On the same day, the campaign pulled its advertisements in Colorado on the belief that it had built a large and durable lead — an astonishing turn for a state where Democrats never reached 50 percent of the vote between 1964 and 2004. Yet last week, the Clinton campaign began airing advertisements in Pennsylvania — a state where Democrats have won an above-average share of the vote in every election since 1952.

In the end, Mrs. Clinton could win enough well-educated white voters and nonwhite voters to swamp Mr. Trump’s white working-class gains. It’s also possible that she could narrow Mr. Trump’s edge among white working-class voters, perhaps as soon as the Democratic convention.

But conservative populist messages are succeeding in the bastions of the old industrial-era left across the West, whether with pro-Brexit voters in northern England, or in Austria, where right-wing populists won areas carried by Social Democrats a decade earlier. Mr. Trump had similar strength in the white working-class South, Appalachia and the industrial East in the Republican primary. He could have it again.

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