Pew: Demographic shifts make 2016 look difficult for GOP

Call these the Charts of the Day, derived from the latest Pew Research survey conducted among registered voters from June 15-26. Both parties had settled their presumptive nominations, and Democrats had at least a couple of weeks to settle their internal battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders voters. As it turns out, less than half of each party’s voters found themselves satisfied with the outcomes:


Overall satisfaction with the choice of candidates is at its lowest point in two decades. Currently, fewer than half of registered voters in both parties – 43% of Democrats and 40% of Republicans – say they are satisfied with their choices for president.

Roughly four-in-ten voters (41%) say it is difficult to choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton because neither would make a good president – as high as at any point since 2000. And just 11% say the choice is difficult because eitherwould make a good chief executive, the lowest percentage during this period.

The presidential campaign is widely viewed as excessively negative and not focused on important issues. Just 27% of Americans say the campaign is “focused on important policy debates,” which is seven points lower than in December, before the primaries began.

Also, fewer than half of the voters for either candidate “strongly support” them. Normally, this would be a prescription for a low-turnout election. Somewhat counterintuitively, though, Pew says that voter participation will not decline despite the despairing attitude voters have taken:

Yet dissatisfaction with the campaign and the candidates has done nothing to dampen voter interest in the 2016 election. Fully 80% of registered voters say they have given “quite a lot” of thought to the election, the highest share at this point in any campaign since 1992. Four years ago, 67% of voters said they had given a lot of thought to the election, and at this point in 2008 – the previous election in which both parties had contested nominations – 72% did so.

In part, this is a reflection of the widespread belief that a great deal is at stake in the upcoming election. In every campaign since 2004, majorities of voters have said “it really matters” who wins presidential contests, but currently 74% express this view, up 11 percentage points from the same point in the campaigns four and eight years ago.


So who will turn out, and how will their votes break? Before we get to the charts, here’s a quick review of Pew’s methodology. Their stated results derive from 1,656 registered voters. The initial partisan split of the sample (including leaners within independents) is D+9, but has been reweighed for a D+5 model, 49/44. That’s a fairly rational model for 2016’s turnout.

So far, this is how the race breaks down by demographics within Pew’s survey:


There are a couple of red flags that immediately come up here for Republicans. First, Trump only has a 51/42 advantage among white voters, far too low to be competitive without significant gains in other ethnic demos. Mitt Romney won this demo 59/39 on the way to a 4.8 million-vote loss in 2012. Romney also led among the 40-49YOs 50/48 and 50-64YOs 52/47, while Trump trails in both demos. Those two demos combined for 48% of the vote in 2012. Also, Romney led 56/44 among seniors, another 16% of the overall vote, while Trump only manages a plurality within the margin of error.

But this trend is easier to see in the Washington Post chart comparing this Pew poll to one conducted in June 2012.


White women with college degrees were about evenly split between Romney and Obama in June 2012, according to Pew’s numbers. Now, Clinton leads Trump by 31 points.

That’s by far the biggest change since 2012, but it’s by no means the only one. In most cases, demographic groups look more favorably at Clinton relative to Trump than they did at Obama relative to Romney. Women in particular are moving more to the left this year than they expressed to Pew four years ago. White women under the age of 50, for example, are 19 points more supportive of the Democrat than they were then. White women 50 and over are 15 points more supportive.


The news isn’t all bad for Trump, but even the good news is relatively tempered:

The groups moving away from the Democratic candidate? White men — older white men, less educated white men. That’s good news for Trump: If he’s to have a shot in November, getting the backing of one of the largest segment of American voters isn’t a bad way to do it. What’s more, he does better in the Midwest than did Romney in 2012, reinforcing Trump’s argument that he might be able to win states like Pennsylvania, which no Republican has won in six election cycles.

At the very bottom, the group that’s moved the most to the Republicans’ advantage is black voters. Mind you, black voters still overwhelmingly back Clinton. It’s just that they don’t back her as strongly as they did Obama four years ago.

The problem with this as evidence that Trump will win Pennsylvania is that all of the other demos apply there, too. The argument that Trump’s popularity with older white men will provide the difference is that it assumes that he’ll hold Romney’s other demos static. That’s pretty clearly not the case, at least nationally, and it may explain why polls in Pennsylvania haven’t shown much evidence of any better performance for Trump than Romney’s eventual 47% in the Keystone State. (Or in other Midwest states like Iowa, Michigan, or Wisconsin either, for that matter.)

The only way to improve in these demographics is to start running a more inclusive campaign, one that addresses the specific issues and concerns in these demographics. There is still time for Team Trump to orient their campaign in that direction, but time will quickly run out after the conventions. Us Versus Them rhetoric will only take a candidate so far in a general election, and Trump may be pressing up against those limits now.


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