How Do You Solve a Problem Like Trump?

Thomas B. Edsall, New York Times, May 25, 2016

On Sunday, Donald Trump pulled ahead of Hillary Clinton in the RealClearPolitics average of the five most recent national polls–albeit by 0.2 points. Political realists and polling experts tell us not to overreact to every twist and turn of the numbers, but there is an unmistakable trend here, and it is not one Democratic strategists like the look of.

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How could a candidate with as much baggage as Trump be neck-and-neck with one of the most admired, best credentialed and most broadly experienced nominees in the history of the Democratic Party?

The reversal has come quickly, as my colleague Nate Cohn pointed out on Tuesday. Last year, on July 15, Clinton led Trump 53.3 to 33.7 in the RealClearPolitics aggregation of polls. As recently as March 23, she had a solid 11.4 point lead, 50.4 to 39.0, over Trump.

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This is one way to explain why the latest assaults on Hillary Clinton have been effective, eroding her support not only among men, but also among all whites, who are expected to make up 69 or 70 percent of the voters in November. She is, in fact, lagging behind President Obama, in terms of his level of white support in 2012. That year, Obama won 39 percent of the white vote, according to exit polls; the most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll gives Clinton 33 percent of whites.

Further examination of the May Post/ABC poll provides no solace to Clinton. In sheer numbers, Clinton has suffered her biggest losses among men, especially white men. The percentage of college-educated white men who said they would vote for her dropped an astonishing 14 points from March to May (from 47 to 33 percent); among white men without college degrees, already a problem area for her campaign, Clinton’s support also fell, from 26 to 14 percent.

The question for the Clinton campaign is whether she can make up her losses among white men with gains among women, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanics, other ethnic minorities, L.G.B.T.Q. activists and those who value the protection traditionally provided by the Democratic Party for–and Clinton’s reliable commitment to–the disadvantaged. The pressure to retain and increase minority support puts Clinton in another bind: How can she meet the demands of the minority poor for jobs and housing while simultaneously winning the support of more affluent voters repelled by Trump but in no way willing to have a lot of affordable housing built in their neighborhoods?

The Clinton gamble is that she can make these numbers work. But clearly her campaign will face substantial resistance.

So far her strategy has been to tack to the left. In the speech she gave to begin her campaign on June 13, 2015, long before she learned that Bernie Sanders was going to be a formidable opponent, Clinton outlined the goals of her candidacy. She declared her support for a host of positions that amount to identity group politics, whatever the merits of her individual policies:

On women: “It is way past time to end the outrage of so many women still earning less than men on the job — and women of color often making even less. This isn’t a women’s issue. It’s a family issue. Just like raising the minimum wage is a family issue.”

On mass incarceration: “The unequal rates of incarceration is a family issue.”

On the mentally ill and addicted: “Helping more people with an addiction or a mental health problem get help is a family issue.”

On undocumented immigrants: “So we should offer hard-working, law-abiding immigrant families a path to citizenship. Not second-class status.”

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The liabilities of such a strategy are laid out in the findings of a Fox News poll from May 18: At 71 percent, more voters think Clinton “will say anything to get elected” than the 65 percent who say the same thing about Trump. Asked if the phrase “strong moral values” describes Clinton, 57 percent said no, one point less than the 58 percent who said the phrase does not describe Trump.

Along similar lines, the Fox poll shows a steady decline in the percentage of voters who “think Hillary Clinton is honest and trustworthy,” which dropped to 31 percent in May. Trump, in contrast, saw the percent of voters who think he is honest and trustworthy rise from 33 percent in March to 40 percent in May. Asked “Who do you think is more corrupt–Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?” 49 percent picked Clinton and 37 percent picked Trump.

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