The changing South, the educational chasm and Latino backlash: 10 takeaways from a deep analysis of polling data

The index logoEvery recent national poll agrees: Hillary Clinton is leading Donald Trump as the 2016 presidential campaign enters the sizzling summer convention season.

But, as we all know, because of America’s antiquated Electoral College, the national “horserace” numbers don’t tell us much about what’s happening at the grassroots level, where there are 50 state-by-state contests going on. That’s one of the reasons I launched “The Index” this week. Through a deep analysis of demographic subgroups, we can get a very good idea about the way the race is shaping up in certain regions (or even states) from the ground up.

There are some important findings, and some that may surprise you, about military families, empty-nesters, young white Southerners and prosperous Latinos. I identified big shifts among Latinos, northern working-class whites, and Mormons … not always in the same direction.

>>>A look at 100 key demographic blocs, and how Trump and Clinton are faring among them

Here are ten key takeaways from my analysis of the first round of data (taken from Reuters Polling’s five-day rolling average, June 20-24):

  1. Education is a key defining demographic in the 2016 election. American presidential election analysis was governed by economic determinism: the higher your income, the more likely you were to vote Republican. That’s not the case this year, when the poorest and the richest are most likely to favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. The divide isn’t one of income in 2016, it’s educational attainment — for white people, at least. College graduates favor Clinton by 32.2 points. That soars to a 45-point lead among Americans with advanced university degrees. Among whites without a degree, Trump leads by 14.3 points, while minority voters without college degrees favor Clinton by 41 points. Trump’s lead among less-educated whites is largest in the industrial Midwest, where millions of manufacturing jobs once filled by Americans without college diplomas have been lost over the past four decades.
  2. The South is changing, and the way we think about Southern politics should change. There have been far too many stories about the Republicans’ “Solid South,” which is no more solid now than the Democrats’ Dixie was in the middle of the last century. President Barack Obama won Florida and Virginia twice and North Carolina once. Because of racial, educational and generational factors, the South could become even more competitive — and very soon. Yes, Trump is strong with less-educated and older white voters, particularly southern women without college degrees (+26 points). But young white southerners are a swing voting group. White southerners with college degrees, a growing vote bloc, are nearly evenly divided, with women slightly favoring Clinton. Even with Florida’s Cuban-American’s traditional ties to the GOP, Latino voters in the Southeast are strongly Democratic in 2016 (+24 points). With the growth of the Hispanic vote in Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia, the trend lines in all of these states are likely to move toward Democrats unless Latinos or young voters reverse course. States with smaller minority populations (Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia) will remain out of reach for the party of Obama and Clinton. But Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina are slowly trending Democratic as a new generation replaces the Confederate flag wavers, and whites from the North migrate to the warmer climes of the Southeast.
  3. America’s industrial heartland is deeply divided by race, religion and education. As strange as it sounds, Donald Trump might have a better chance to win Pennsylvania this year than Florida. The reason is the changing demographics of the American heartland states running west from Pennsylvania to Iowa. These areas have large, traditionally Democratic Catholic populations, a higher proportion of older voters, and more whites without college degrees. All of those factors play into Trump’s current strengths. He leads among midwestern men without college degrees by 26 points, among white Catholics over the age of 40 by 12 points, and among white Catholic women by 5. Shifts among these groups put the Clinton campaign in the danger zone: She leads in the Midwest by just 4.9 points and in the Great Lakes states by 3 points, well below her national polling numbers. If current trends hold, Trump might “bet the ranch” on winning historically Democratic states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, along with Democratic-leaning swing states such as Ohio and Iowa. States with lower minority populations (Pennsylvania, Iowa and Wisconsin) may be particularly attractive to Team Trump. Clinton easily beats Trump among mainstream Protestant denominations here, but older white Catholics are a tougher sell.
  4. The Latino vote could bury Trump. I have suspected from the day Trump announced — when he called Mexicans criminals and rapists — that he was going to do worse than the 27 percent Mitt Romney received in 2012. After all of his talk of a wall on the U.S. southern border, the electoral reality is sinking in. Trump is losing every kind of Latino voter: young, old, liberal, conservative, Mexican-American, Puerto Rican, Dominican — even Cuban-American, which hasn’t ever happened before. He’s doing worst among Latinos in the Pacific region (California, Nevada), where Clinton has a 60-point edge. Say goodbye to Nevada, Donald. He’s 49 points behind among Latinos in the Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, Texas) — more than twice the deficit GOP presidential candidates have faced in the past two decades. That takes New Mexico off the table for Trump and puts Arizona into play. Even in the Southeast, with a large bloc of Cuban-Americans in Florida, Trump is down by 24 points. Unless he improves his standing, that’ll make Florida all but impossible for him to win, it’ll complicate his efforts to hold the swing state of North Carolina, and it could even help put Georgia into play. How badly is Trump doing among Hispanic Americans? Latinos earning more than $100,000 per year — a swing voter bloc — now favor Clinton by 24 points. For Latinos, Trump may have done in 2016 what “America First” anti-Semites did for Jewish voters in the 1930s and Barry Goldwater did for African Americans in 1964: unite a voting bloc of disparate national origins and varying political philosophies. If this shift is lasting, it could be profound.
  5. The Generation Gap is back. There is a chasm between America’s oldest (white) voters and younger voters (of all races and ethnicities). But younger voters are far more anti-Trump than older voters are pro-Trump (or anti-Clinton). Whites over age 50 favor Trump by 5.9 points, while whites under the age of 40 favor Clinton by 1.2 points. The younger the voter, the more Democratic. White men under 30 give Clinton a 10-point edge. Among students of all races, Clinton tops Trump by 33 points. This is a problem for Trump in 2016. It is a problem for Republicans for a generation.
  6. A wide-open battle for the white middle class. Almost everyone in America claims to be a member of the “middle class.” But when you divide U.S. incomes into numerical ranges, the plurality of voters is between $50,000 and $100,000 a year. The candidate who wins most of these votes usually wins the election. Today, that candidate is Hillary Clinton, leading by 9.3 points (almost the same as her national lead). But among white voters earning $50-100K, Trump’s up by 2.7 points. The reason is his support from the lower half of the middle class, the group earning between $50K and $75K, where he leads by 5. As middle-class incomes rise, so does support for Clinton. Trump’s appeal is stronger to lower-income whites struggling with rising costs and stagnant wages. So it should be no surprise that Trump does better in areas with more lower-middle-class whites and fewer minorities.
  7. The new “soccer moms”? How about “the empty-nesters”? Political reporters love to humanize swing voter blocs. The soccer moms were the rage at the turn of this century. We haven’t come up with a new one yet, but for 2016, I’ll nominate “empty-nesters.” That’s mothers who don’t have any of their kids living with them. Because all minority moms are overwhelmingly Democratic, we’ll concentrate on white empty-nest moms. They are a swing group because young moms skew Democratic like all young voters. Middle-aged and older white women tend to be a bit more Republican than the entire universe of women voters. According to the late-June Reuters polling, Clinton leads among these “empty-nesters” by 2.8 points, less than her lead among all voters but better than Barack Obama did in his successful 2012 re-election race.
  8. Democratic dissatisfaction with Clinton and Republican concerns about Trump are canceling themselves out at this point.  There have been lots of stories about conservatives angered by Donald Trump’s coarse behavior, his repeated denunciations of Bush-Cheney foreign policy, and his long-enunciated liberal beliefs on issues ranging from abortion to gay rights. There have been stories about moderate Republicans scared off by his xenophobia and racially tinged campaign rhetoric. There have been stories about Bernie Sanders supporters pledging never, ever to vote for Hillary Clinton. But the polling numbers don’t match the stories, at least at this point. Very few hard-core partisans have switched sides. Clinton leads by 68.2 points among Obama voters, and Trump leads by 67.6 points among Romney voters. Almost identical. There appears to be at least a small enthusiasm gap on the ideological extreme: Clinton leads by 59.4 points among very liberal Democrats; Trump’s lead among very conservative Republicans is “just” 45 points, with a large number parking in the undecided column.
  9. Military families are shifting toward Democrats. This is one trend story that has eluded the American political media. But it makes perfect sense. As more and more of the U.S. military is made up of women and minorities, the share of presidential votes won by Democrats is going up. Trump may have accelerated the shift by his unproven allegations that U.S. troops in Iraq had pocketed stolen loot after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Trump hasn’t helped with his repeated assertion that the U.S. military has been incompetent under Presidents Bush and Obama. The Reuters polling shows that active duty military personnel favor Clinton by 9.4 points, and the families of active duty military and veterans lean to Clinton by  9.6 percent. Trump still leads among veterans, a predominantly white group, by 5.7 percent.
  10. Trump indeed has a Mormon problem. Trump’s ongoing war of words with Romney, a leading Mormon politician, and his demonization of a religion (Islam) clearly contribute to his troubles with one of the most Republican voting blocs in the country. Romney beat Obama among Mormons by some 50 points. Trump’s lead, according to a month of Reuters numbers, is 13 points — and just 8 among Mormon women. This is unlikely to cause Trump to lose heavily Mormon (and very heavily Republican) Utah, but it could prove costly in nearby states with significant Mormon presences like Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.

These polling numbers reflect a snapshot in time, and they could change (again and again) between now and Election Day, November 8. But this kind of data analysis can help us understand what often is oversimplified in the “who’s up, who’s down” world of daily political coverage.

This analysis is part of a series that will continue through the election season.

Click here to see the data for all 100 blocs and demographic subgroups.


A look at 100 key demographic blocs, and how Trump and Clinton are faring among them

Polls, polls, polls. Every day, it seems there is a new poll. She’s up. She’s down. He’s up. He’s really down.

What does it mean?

To many media outlets, polls are cheap click bait to drive web traffic. To cable news networks, they are the score in the latest inning of an endless political baseball game. There are some smart polling analysts, but most stories about polls are politically shallow and journalistically useless.The index logo

As a political reporter who has covered every presidential race since 1980, I hope I can offer you a respite from pedestrian polling analysis. Welcome to “The Index,” a new analytical feature that will run periodically through Election Day 2016. I hope I can bring you something new, different and interesting.

Here’s my angle: I will analyze the 2016 presidential election through the voting preferences of 100 different demographic blocs. Thirty-three of them are part of Donald Trump’s Republican base. Thirty-three of them are part of Hillary Clinton’s Democratic base. And 34 of them are battleground groups — keys to both candidates’ paths to the White House.

A few of the groups are the basic demographic groups you are accustomed to hearing about: Republicans and Democrats, very liberal and very conservative voters, African Americans and born-again whites. I included these as tests of the loyalty of core voting groups for each party.

But I’m also looking at some groups you don’t read much about, the kinds of groups that will tip you off about the way the election is going. Among them: Latinos making more than $100,000 a year, white men under age 30, families with active duty military or veterans, white southerners with college degrees, homeowners, moms with kids at home, Midwestern white men, white Catholic women, even Mormon women.

I’ll analyze the different support levels of Latino voters in the Southeastern United States (where Cubans have some influence in Florida), the Southwest (from Texas to Arizona), and the Pacific coast. Differing levels of support in each region could be a tipoff as to whether states like Arizona or Georgia are in play, or whether Trump has any chance in Florida or New Mexico.

In each update, I will describe which candidate is leading among each group, and you can easily see how much better or worse than the national norm that is. The reason is simple: As the “horserace” changes from week to week, a key is whether a certain voting bloc is skewing more heavily toward Clinton or Trump. Clinton currently leads every recent national poll, but if the race ends up close, that variation from the norm will be important.

The information for the feature comes from Reuters’ polling data, which is available, open source, on the internet. I am using Reuters’ rolling five-day averages for most of my analysis. I chose Reuters’ numbers because the poll is respected, but, most of all, because the global news service makes the information available to anyone. You can check behind me to examine my methodology — or to create new searches of your own.

One small asterisk (*): Certain subgroups are too small to have a statistically significant counts on the five-day average. In the cases marked with an asterisk (*), I have included data for these groups from the past 30 days of polling. One warning: Subgroups are, by definition, smaller than the entire survey, so they have a larger margin of error and more volatility from survey to survey.

With no further introduction, here is the first set of data:

Overall (6/20-24)

Clinton 40.3%, Trump 31.3%

Clinton +9

Note: (C) means that Clinton leads by more than the 9 point national difference. (T) means that her lead with the group is less than her national lead.

Battleground groups

  • Latinos earning >$100K    Clinton +24* (C)
  • White Catholic men    Clinton +11 (C)
  • Great Plains states   Clinton+11 (C)
  • Voters earning $75K+    Clinton +11.1 (C)
  • White men under 30    Clinton +10 (C)
  • Men    Clinton +9.7 (C)
  • Families with active duty military or veteran    Clinton +9.6* (C)
  • Active duty military    Clinton +9.4* (C)
  • Voters earning between $50K-100K    Clinton +9.3 (C)
  • Midwestern white men    Clinton +9
  • Women    Clinton +8.7 (T)
  • Whites earning >$150K    Clinton +8 (T)
  • Unmarried white women    Clinton +7.9 (T)
  • White single, never married    Clinton +6 (T)
  • White divorced    Clinton +6 (T)
  • Whites earning between $50-75K    Clinton +5 (T)
  • Midwest    Clinton +4.9 (T)
  • Great Lakes    Clinton +3 (T)
  • White Catholic    Clinton +3 (T)
  • White women, no children at home    Clinton +2.8 (T)
  • Whites earning between $50-$100K     Clinton  2.7 (T)
  • Whites under age 40    Clinton +1.2 (T)
  • Homeowners    Clinton +1.9 (T)
  • Whites earning between $75K-$100K    Clinton +1 (T)
  • White southern women with college degree    Clinton +0.4* (T)
  • Independent     Tie (T)
  • Married voters     Trump +1 (T)
  • White southerners with college degree     Trump +2.1* (T)
  • Southern white men with college degree     Trump +3.9* (T)
  • Whites 50-65    Trump +4 (T)
  • Lean conservative     Trump +4 (T)
  • Midwestern white women     Trump +5 (T)
  • White Catholic women     Trump +5 (T)
  • Mormon women     Trump +8* (T)

Trump base

  • Voted for Romney     Trump +67.6 (T)
  • Republicans     Trump  +52.4 (T)
  • Very conservative voters     Trump +45 (T)
  • Moderately conservative whites     Trump +35 (T)
  • White born-again men     Trump +35 (T)
  • Southern white men     Trump +33 (T)
  • White born-again voters     Trump +32.7 (T)
  • White Tea Partiers     Trump +30.5 (T)
  • White born-again women     Trump +30 (T)
  • Whites who attend church at least once a week     Trump +26 (T)
  • Southern white women without college degree     Trump +26 (T)
  • Midwestern men without college degree     Trump +26 (T)
  • White women, children at home     Trump +17 (T)
  • Southern white men without college degree     Trump +15 (T)
  • White non-college grads     Trump +14.3 (T)
  • Southern white women     Trump +13 (T)
  • Whites 65+     Trump +13 (T)
  • Mormons     Trump +13* (T)
  • White independents who voted for Romney     Trump +13 (T)
  • White Catholic over 40     Trump +12 (T)
  • White married voters     Trump +10.6 (T)
  • Whites $100K-$150K     Trump +9 (T)
  • Southeast     Trump +8.6 (T)
  • South     Trump +8.2 (T)
  • Southwest     Trump +7 (T)
  • Whites 50+     Trump +6.9 (T)
  • White voters     Trump +6.4 (T)
  • Veterans     Trump +5.7* (T)
  • White, children at home     Trump +5.2 (T)
  • White non-college grads earning <$50K     Trump +5 (T)
  • White voters earning less than $50K     Trump +2.8 (T)
  • Non-college grads     Trump +0.1 (T)
  • Rocky Mountain West    Clinton +4 (T)

Clinton base

  • African Americans who attend church at least once a week    Clinton +71.6 (C)
  • African Americans    Clinton +70.6 (C)
  • Voted for Obama    Clinton +68.2 (C)
  • Latino voters in West    Clinton +60* (C)
  • Very liberal voters    Clinton +59.4 (C)
  • Democrats   Clinton +50.1 (C)
  • Latino voters in Southwest    Clinton +49* (C)
  • Asian American voters    Clinton +45 (C)
  • Voters with advanced degrees    Clinton +45 (C)
  • Minority voters without college degrees    Clinton +41 (C)
  • White Catholic under 40    Clinton +35 (C)
  • Students    Clinton +33 (C)
  • Voters with college degrees    Clinton +32.2 (C)
  • College graduates    Clinton +32.2 (C)
  • Latina voters    Clinton +29.8* (C)
  • LGBT voters    Clinton +27 (C)
  • Latino voters in Southeast    Clinton +24* (C)
  • Latino voters nationally    Clinton +24* (C)
  • Unmarried women    Clinton +22.6 (C)
  • White voters with college degree    Clinton +21.1 (C)
  • White men with college degree    Clinton +21 (C)
  • White women with college degree    Clinton +20 (C)
  • Voters who never attend religious services    Clinton +19.3 (C)
  • White students    Clinton +19.5 (C)
  • Southerners with college degree    Clinton +19 (C)
  • Latino men    Clinton +18* (C)
  • Voters under 40    Clinton +16.4 (C)
  • Far West Clinton Clinton    Clinton +16 (C)
  • Mid-Atlantic    Clinton +15 (C)
  • Voters who attend religious services once a month or less    Clinton +15 (C)
  • New England    Clinton +14 (C)
  • Voters under 30    Clinton +13.9 (C)
  • Women with no children at home    Clinton +10.9 (C)

In the next few days, I will post some of the analytical highlights of this first data dump, explaining which subgroups’ results I think are the most important and surprising. I look forward to sharing the 2016 political roller coaster with you.