Bernie Sanders won Latinos in Nevada … and no one can quite believe it. The bigger news was that Hillary Clinton managed to eke out a surprising win the state’s caucuses on Saturday, after spending the time between the New Hampshire primary blowout and Saturday’s straw poll minimizing the importance of Nevada. Ironically, one of the arguments deployed by Team Hillary for discounting results in Nevada was a lack of diversity in the traditional caucusing electorate.
Instead, as the Washington Post’s Philip Bump reports, Latinos went more strongly for Sanders than white voters did, at least according to exit polls. And that has the media scratching its heads:
We expected to see about an even split among white voters, leaning toward Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. We expected to see a heavy result for Hillary Clinton from black voters. But had you asked how the Hispanic vote would go even a few weeks ago, most observers would have suggested that it would look a lot more like the bar for black voters than the one for white voters. Probably no one would have said that the vote would be heavier for Sanders from Hispanic voters than for other groups.
So what’s going on here? Are the polls simply wrong? Is there some margin of error something or other?
NBC News is similarly bemused:
Did Latinos really break for Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in Nevada today? “La Hillary” defeated “El Bernie” in today’s Nevada Democratic Caucus, and Hillary will now head to friendlier grounds in the south where she is expected to have a string of victories on through Super Tuesday on March 1st. But the Nevada Caucus poll may reveal a weakness in the Hillary voting machine- Latino voters.
The exit polls show that Bernie beat Hillary among Latinos by 53 percent to 46 percent, but some experts are calling that into question. Francisco Pedraza, an assistant professor of political science at Texas A&M University said it’s likely that the exit polls are overstating the vote for Bernie Sanders. “This is a perennial problem election cycle after cycle. In my research, I find that exit polls have a real discrepancy in representativeness of the overall look of Latino voters”, said Pedraza.
The issue may be the overall “representativeness” of the caucus system, not the exit polls. Unlike primaries and general-election balloting, caucuses only include those who show up at a specific place and time to participate. For that reason, caucuses are not terribly representative of electorates; they are a measure of organization and enthusiasm. It’s one reason why caucuses are a poor way of nominating delegates to major-party conventions, along with the lack of accountability and the inability to conduct recounts when necessary — as it was in Iowa for Democrats this year.
Besides, as Bump notes, a lack of “representativeness” in another demographic may provide a better answer for the apparent conundrum:
Lenski also noted that the same dramatic split in age that we’ve seen in Democratic voting to date also played out in the Hispanic vote. Younger Hispanic voters were much more likely to back Sanders than older voters — a split we’ve seen among white voters and, as the Wall Street Journal reports, among black voters, too. Age is a much better predictor of how someone will vote than race or ethnicity. Among the younger Hispanic voters, Lenski said, Sanders won about 4 out of 5 votes. Among older Hispanic voters, Clinton won two-thirds — with hefty margins of error on both.
As a general rule, younger voters turn out less heavily than older ones do — and younger Hispanics are among those the least likely to vote in the country, according to data from the Census Bureau. …
To cut to the chase, then: Entrance polls are often imprecise, and in this case there was a large margin of error. But while younger Hispanics tend not to vote often, more Hispanics (at least nationally) are younger — and that group heavily favored Bernie Sanders. Older Hispanics, meanwhile, preferred Hillary Clinton — though apparently not as broadly as did black voters.
Still, this points to a fundamental flaw for Democrats in Hillary’s appeal. Barack Obama managed to win two presidential elections — the latter by only a slim margin — by pulling together a coalition of younger, non-white voters who rarely voted in elections before 2008. Sanders seems to be appealing to more of those voters in the Hispanic community, Hillary to fewer of them. Democrats cannot afford to fall back to pre-2008 levels with these voters, and yet with so many of the under-35 Hispanic votes in Nevada abandoning Hillary, that seems to signal that they’re not all that into their ersatz abuela.
Part of the problem may be that Hillary has targeted the Latino vote in 2016 the same way Republicans did in 2012 — by national messaging that treats Hispanics as a monolithic bloc. As I write in my upcoming book GOING RED, the Hispanic vote comes from a number of communities that have different priorities and even cultures. For younger Hispanics, economic opportunity and national security may matter much more than immigration, and pandering abuela advertising will offend rather than engage.
If Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton, Republicans have an opportunity to compete for the Hispanic vote — and the African-American vote as well, and perhaps even the millennials as a whole. It won’t be easy, but the GOP won’t have to win these demographics outright to win the White House; they just have to be competitive in them. Hillary’s surprising poor showing demonstrates the opportunity for Republicans and conservatives in 2016, and beyond.