Doubts Start Creeping In for Democrats

Jeff Greenfield, Politico, August 1, 2016

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Ask about Hillary Clinton’s prospects in November, you get a number–actually a lot of numbers. You get “2 percent every cycle,” a reference to the steady decrease in the clout of the white electorate. You get “the 6 percent spread,” from the 2012 exit poll finding that women were 53 percent of the electorate while men were 47 percent. You get “we’re up 200,000 in Florida!” That’s the margin by which Florida Hispanics register Democratic over Republican.

As startling as it was for Democrats to watch Donald Trump emerge from the GOP convention more or less even in national polling with Hillary Clinton, the campaign professionals who had labored for decades returned again and again to one overriding proposition: The numbers show that there are more of us than there are of them. And they’re right: That’s what the numbers say.

But ask enough people close to the campaign, privately, and you hear something else: a note of worry. What if, in this one unusual year, past isn’t prologue? What if the patterns don’t hold up?

Consider the election in black and white, which is how the lion’s share of analysis was framed by the insiders I spoke to in Philadelphia. In 1992, Bill Clinton effectively split the white vote with President George H.W. Bush; he lost it, but narrowly, by only a 39 percent to 41 percent margin. That was critical to his victory, because whites represented 87 per cent of the electorate. In 2012, President Barack Obama lost the white vote overwhelmingly to Mitt Romney, 39-59. But by then America had changed, and the white share of the vote had dropped to 72 per cent. Obama’s overwhelming margins among blacks (93-6), Hispanics (71-27) and Asians (73-26) handed him the victory.

The obvious concern for Democrats this year is that Hillary Clinton, a paid-in-full member of the white establishment, simply won’t bring out the minority vote the way Obama did in both of his campaigns. {snip}

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Indeed, at a panel of Democratic pollsters last week, Hart Research president Geoff Garin warned that 2016 would be “a close competitive election. The country,” he added, “is largely frustrated with the status quo, and, as one NBC poll found, huge majorities wanted change even if they don’t know what that change is.”

Moreover, as they say in ads for investment banks, past results are no guarantee of future performance. For instance, the prognosticators say that for Trump to win with the expected electorate, he’d need almost two-thirds of the white vote, and that target is all but out of reach. But why? All through the primaries, Ted Cruz’s campaign was arguing that their data-analytics tool would be able to finally find the “missing millions” that conservatives have always dreamt of and get them out in places like central Pennsylvania in November. What if Trump can draw them out with his blisteringly effective strategy of tweets, rallies and free TV?

This does not require a revolution. What it requires is enough white voters to get excited in the right states. Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher, president of Brilliant Corners Research & Strategies, framed the election outlook for Clinton in blunt terms: “If turnout is 70 percent white, I like her chances,” he said. “If it’s 74 percent … I’m very worried.”

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If that’s what’s going on now–if voters find it empowering to upend the table, break the crockery and send every member of “the Establishment” running for cover–then all the turnout models of all the experts might be thrown into a cocked hat. {snip}

And it could explain why, after all the confident assertions that the numbers point to a Clinton victory, so many of those I spoke with echoed the words of the 40-year party warrior: “If Trump wins, it means everything I thought I knew about politics is wrong. It’s just that I’m a lot less sure about what I know than I was a year ago.”

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