Tuesday, May 10, 2016

5 Biggest Questions for the November Elections

It's another primary day, but thanks to both Ted Cruz dropping out of the race and Hillary Clinton's comments on coal, it doesn't look to be a particularly close race for either side of the aisle.  As a result, I'm going to continue (like the two presumptive nominees) to pivot to the general election, and focus on the five biggest questions I have as we start to move into the final six months of a weird, frequently disturbing campaign.

1. What happens to Bernie Sanders supporters?

This is the question that the DNC, Hillary Clinton, national Democrats, Donald Trump, and probably even Bernie Sanders all have as we head into the general election against Donald Trump.  Sanders supporters have proven surprisingly obstinate to the overtures of Democrats who want them to at least agree on Clinton over Trump, and many are proclaiming that they will not vote if Bernie Sanders isn't on the ballot.  This is part of the reason why Democrats are privately begging Sanders to get out of the race-every day he's in risks the idea that he'll alienate enough voters that it will cost Hillary Clinton, in a similar fashion to Ralph Nader in 2000 (and considering Nader's name is the equivalent of a swear word now amongst Democrats, Sanders should at least consider the proposal because Trump is even worse than George W. Bush).

It's par for the course for the losing candidates supporters to not initially back their nominee (in 2008, many Hillary Clinton voters were saying the exact same thing about Barack Obama at this point in the race, and they almost all returned home to roost).  That being said, there's some trouble here and Clinton/DNC knows it.  The longer that Sanders supporters light the candle, the more likely they are to try and make Bernie Sanders look better.  While I'm not accusing that of being the case in a recent Quinnipiac poll that showed Clinton/Trump roughly tied in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, especially considering the sample size of minority voters in those polls, my gut says that at least some younger voters and male voters might be saying Trump or undecided that would normally be going for Clinton.  These polls have an impact though-the Democrats are in a rare moment right now where the GOP isn't unified, and they want to get maximum damage out of it.  While it's common wisdom that most voters don't actually pick their candidate until after Labor Day, that's not entirely true, and it's certainly not true for donors, writers, and politicos who are following the race right now.  The more Republicans that the Democrats can get to say they won't support Trump in November, the stronger their campaign.  That would be happening much more forcefully if Sanders had dropped out after the Northeast primaries a few weeks ago and Clinton had been able to rally a good chunk of his supporters.  The longer that Bernie Sanders stays in the race and makes his supporters more jaded, the more likely it is that Donald Trump becomes president.  That's a scary fact considering that he says he wants to stay in until the convention, and hopefully Bernie Sander isn't insulated enough to not realize it.

2. Can Trump's leftward swing work?

Taxes on the rich?  A stronger minimum wage?  Support for the transgender bathroom bill?  The platform of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders?  Yep, but I'm talking about Donald Trump here.  Trump has started a swift and deeply unconventional move to the left in recent weeks, perhaps in a bid to pick up Bernie Sanders supporters who truly hate Hillary Clinton.  The move comes with it some risks (regardless of Sanders' supporters dislike of Clinton, Trump's better play would be to try and court fractured Republican voters than Democratic ones, who will be more likely to bolt from him if he goes off-script toward the Right again).

The question here is-does it work?  Reshaping the landscape in such a way (particularly the taxing of the rich, which runs counter to one of the strongest-held beliefs of the current Republican Party), carries with it reward and risk.  In doing so, Trump could be making a populist play for white-collar men in Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, and truly going after the Rust Belt strategy that has long been trumpeted as his best shot at winning the White House, but he also risks alienating conservative suburban voters and the Religious Right with stances like this.  While neither of those groups would be easy victories for Hillary Clinton, they could just stay home or go third-party.  Any general election play to the center carries risk, but considering this is Trump, whose appeal is either love or hate, it will be interesting to see if his overtures will matter on a public wary of him (or if his ardent fan base would ever abandon him).

3. Can Hillary Clinton Win Over Men?

I could have phrased this question "can Donald Trump win over women?" but quite frankly that seems less likely to happen, and I think you get that sense in the Trump campaign-while I think it will certainly hurt him down-ballot, Trump's best shot at winning the presidency is not by closing his margins with women, which seems unlikely (he's campaigning against the first major female presidential candidate, there are literally hundreds of clips of him making cracks at or disparaging women-it's going to be a very tough sell for any swing female voters who aren't already in his corner).

No, his best strategy is around keeping the divide strong.  While I do question some of the fundamentals of that Quinnipiac poll I mentioned earlier (particularly in Ohio, it felt like Democrats were under-sampled), it did point to a critical problem for the Clinton camp-right now Trump has as great of a margin over her with male voters as she does with him on female voters.  This might be aided when Bernie Sanders (who has predominantly won over male Democrats) gets out of the race, but it's something that Clinton will need to at least alleviate.  It seems doubtful she ever wins male voters (that would be a Nixon/McGovern style loss for Trump), but she needs to win women by more than he's winning men by, otherwise this could be a very close race.  I imagine that she'll make a concerted play for male voters after the June primaries, and we're seeing something of that with her unorthodox approach to West Virginia voters right now.

4. Will Latinos Vote?

While I think the bigger question is simply if Clinton can improve her standing with men (particularly white men in the Great Lakes States), the other question hanging over this election is just how strong can Clinton get with Latino voters?  While Clinton is certain to win Latino voters, likely by a huge margin, the question here isn't around her margin like with gender, but simply around voter turnout.

I'm not great at math, but I'll give it a shot here.  Let's take a critical state like Florida, a state that would put Clinton's march to the White House in the carpool lane.  In 2012, 17% of the voters in the state were Latino, and 60% of them voted for Barack Obama versus 39% for Mitt Romney.  However, the overall percentage of Latinos in the state is estimated to be 23%, so Latinos actually voted in smaller numbers than their statewide population would indicate.  Had Latino voters voted in the same margins in 2012 as their population with the same swing toward President Obama, he would have gained roughly 300,000 more votes.  That's an enormous number even in a state as large as Florida, and in other states Obama's margin with Latinos was even larger (thanks to the propensity of Cuban-Americans to vote for Republican candidates at a much higher rate than other Latino populations).  In Arizona, if the statewide margin had matched the proportion of Latinos in the state (roughly 30% of the population), we'd have been looking at a virtual tie between President Obama and Mitt Romney, despite Romney having won the state by 10-points largely due to a comparatively depressed Latino turnout.

This is all to say that Latinos, who have become a cornerstone of Donald Trump's platform in terms of immigration, have a major chance to sway the next election, but they would need to do something that they have historically had trouble doing-getting a large amount of people to the polls.  If they could do so, it would likely swing the election to Hillary Clinton.  This is one of the main reasons that Julian Castro continues to be a key possibility for Clinton-if she thinks that it would create the same sort of turnout that Barack Obama received from black voters, she'll almost certainly have him on the ticket.

5. Will the Waffling from Congressional Republicans on Trump Make a Difference?

Sen. Pat Toomey was already in a tough election race prior to Donald Trump winning the nomination, but now he's truly looking for the paddle.  Toomey has not said whether or not he will support Donald Trump, and has said he might make it all the way to November without endorsing any candidate in the race.  While I think this is partially survival instincts (he wants to wait and see if Trump will actually be winning Pennsylvania, perhaps the most volatile in terms of Gore/Kerry states in 2016), it will come with a price.

After all, the longer that Toomey stays on the sidelines the more likely it is that Trump will make him a cause celebre.  The business mogul has shown a short temper in terms of people who don't support him (look at Paul Ryan or Lindsey Graham for examples), but Toomey cannot afford to lose really any Republican support if he wants to win reelection in a state that has gone for Democrats in the past six presidential elections, and if even 5% of Trump's voters say no to a guy they don't see supporting their candidate, this will be a pretty easy win for Democrat Katie McGinty.  This is an issue for a number of Republicans in blue states, who either are holding off on endorsing Trump or only giving him a tacit nod, and the big question is what do ardent Trump supporters do about it?  Will Trump try to get them to skip candidates who don't get behind his campaign, or will he not care?  Control of the Senate will surely be staked on how this question is answered.

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