Good catch by Dave Weigel from this weekend’s “Romney defeats Obama!” CNN troll poll. One of the mysteries of Election 2016 is whether the Democratic nominee can keep the “Obama coalition” of liberals, young adults, and minorities together. After all, it’s a fact of political life that the Republican nominee will crush the Democrat among white voters.
Or is it?
Obama, who won only 39 percent of the white vote in 2012, is swooning because he’s lost even more of it. But Clinton’s grabbing 46 percent of the white vote. That’s better than Obama did in 2008 (43 percent), better than John Kerry did in 2004 (41 percent), better than Al Gore did in 2000 (42 percent). It’s even better than her husband did in 1996 (43 percent), though that result—like the 1992 result—is skewed by the presence of Ross Perot. You have to go back to 1976 to find a Democrat who polled better than 46 percent with whites. And when Jimmy Carter narrowly defeated Gerald Ford, the electorate was 89 percent white overall. In 2016 it’s likely to be closer to 70 percent white. In 2016 a Democrat who wins only 40 percent of the white vote and holds close to Barack Obama’s totals with nonwhites can win easily.
Special bonus reason for Democratic gloating: In the theoretical Romney race, Clinton wins 62 percent of voters who make less than $50,000. Yes, even after the scandal of her speaking fees.
Democrats are in the same position vis-a-vis whites that Republicans are vis-a-vis minorities, especially Latinos. You don’t need to win the group outright to win the election; all you need to do is lose less badly than you’ve been losing. (That’s surely Rand Paul’s strategy in reaching out to black voters. Losing 75/25 would be a major achievement.) If Hillary pulls 46 percent of whites, the GOP would need to find a ton of non-white votes to make up the difference. Which, of course, is why liberals will suck it up and go along with nominating her despite their doubts: Someone who can leverage the Bill Clinton brand to reach working-class whites and her own narrative as the first woman nominee to reach white women is a no-brainer.
One obvious counterpoint to the CNN data is that she won’t be facing Romney but a (hopefully!) superior candidate, which makes the numbers even less useful than other 2016 polls at this stage. Another counterpoint is that some people here may be choosing Hillary the Idea, not Hillary the Candidate. For instance, here’s how she does head to head with Romney among different age groups:
See that 63 percent figure among young voters, one of O’s core constituencies? That’s 11 points better than Obama does right now head to head with Mitt. She also outperforms O by double digits among the next two older age groups; among the “under 50” crowd, he loses to Romney 50/47 while she crushes him 60/37. Similar story among ideological groups:
She does 12 points better than Obama among liberals, moderates, and conservatives. (She’s 14 points better among independents.) Maybe all of this is simply overlap from white voters: If she’s winning more whites than O, obviously she’s also winning more white young adults, white conservatives, etc. But maybe it’s also, if only in part, a function of voters viewing Hillary right now as Not Obama, a Democratic replacement who can be idealized while The One flounders in office. If you look back to Weigel’s data, you’ll find that while it’s true that Hillary does considerably better than O among whites, she’s also 10 points better among nonwhites: 77 percent prefer her to Romney versus just 67 percent who prefer Obama to Mitt. Clearly, disaffection with Hopenchange is driving some of her support as an alternative. What happens as Obama fades into the background and she starts being judged as a candidate in her own right? Or is that, maybe, the deeper significance of this data — despite repeated bumbling during her campaign preview/”book tour” last month, her numbers still look strong?
Exit question: Is the white/non-white metric the key number in the next election? Or is it something else? Hint: It’s not a coincidence that Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, and Paul Ryan are all focused on ways to help blue-collar voters.