Team Hillary hitting the panic button over African-American turnout in Florida?

While researching my book Going Red in seven different battleground states, I asked people on the ground whether they saw the same enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton as they did for Barack Obama at a similar point four years earlier. Without exception, observers on the ground responded in the negative, and also noted that her organization hadn’t made much of an appearance.

Just six weeks out from the election, Team Hillary has suddenly discovered the consequences of that lack of effort in Florida. According to Politico’s Marc Caputo and Daniel Ducassi, the lack of enthusiasm among Barack Obama’s most loyal 2008 and 2012 voters has become not just a problem, but a panic-inducing crisis, and now they’re making a last-minute push to catch up:

“Hillary Clinton’s campaign is in panic mode. Full panic mode,” said Leslie Wimes, a South Florida-based president of the Democratic African-American Women Caucus.

“They have a big problem because they thought Obama and Michelle saying, ‘Hey, go vote for Hillary’ would do it. But it’s not enough,” Wimes said, explaining that too much of the black vote in Florida is anti-Trump, rather than pro-Clinton. “In the end, we don’t vote against somebody. We vote for somebody.”

Part of the problem Clinton faces is that Obama, the actual black president, is the toughest of acts to follow. Obama enjoyed support from 95 percent of Florida’s black voters in both 2012 and 2008, according to exit polls.

Clinton isn’t polling quite that well in a state that has nearly 1.7 million black voters. An average of the last three Florida polls that provided racial breakdowns shows she’s polling less than 85 percent among African-American voters in Florida, while Trump polls around 5 percent.

It’s not the split as much as it is the turnout. The Trump campaign keeps insisting that it will get double-digit support from black voters, which would all but put the election in landslide territory if it came true. So far, polling doesn’t show that kind of support, and Trump hasn’t done the retail politics necessary to produce that kind of a shift. There may be a small uptick in the percentage of the African-American vote simply from the absence of Barack Obama on the ticket, but probably only an incremental shift. Even the recent NYT/Siena poll of Florida that showed Trump up by a point noted that he was only getting 4% of the black vote.

The problem for Hillary is turnout rather than just a split, although the relatively low 84% in the Siena poll shows that it’s probably both. Black voters comprised 13% of the turnout for Obama in both of his elections, and both John McCain and Mitt Romney ended up with 4% of that demographic. In 2004, black voters were 12% of the turnout and John Kerry got 86% of it — about where Hillary is polling now — and Bush won the state by five points overall.

If Hillary hasn’t already made the sale enough African-American voters to even meet Kerry’s level, that’s a big, big problem. Late breakers usually go to the challenger, so let’s assume the remaining voters break 60/40 for Trump. That would produce an 89/11 split, not far from Bush’s 2004 performance. If Trump forces Hillary into that range, then she’s right to worry.

But it’s not as simple as that, either. Hispanics make up a slightly larger chunk of the electorate, and Trump’s far behind with that demographic. Bush did much better among Hispanic voters (56/44 over Kerry) than one can expect from Trump, who’s polling at 22% in the relatively friendly Siena poll. Romney, in contrast, scored 39% of the Hispanic vote while losing by a point in 2012. Unless Hispanics turnout drops off significantly too — a possibility, of course — then there’s not as much need to “panic” as one might suspect over the African-American vote.

Even so, Hillary has fallen into essentially the same trap that Romney did four years ago. Rather than spend a significant amount of time and effort building up relationships in these communities like Obama did, her campaign now has to fall back on “bungee visits” and big rallies to inspire turnout. They’re sending Bill Clinton, Barack and Michelle Obama, and Hillary herself at the last minute to cover for her lack of engagement. Team Hillary has squandered the Obama advantage from 2012, and the turnout model of this election is going to change in ways that disfavor her because of that failure — and not just in Florida, either.