The changing South, the educational chasm and Latino backlash: 10 takeaways from a deep analysis of polling dataPosted: June 29, 2016
Every 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.
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):
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.