After a long week, the people have spoken in Nevada and South Carolina. Though the presumptive frontrunners may appear to have this race wrapped up, it’s probably better to take a breath and look at where the election stands. In reality, there are roughly 4,000 delegates left to be handed out on the Democratic side, and 2,000 for the Republicans.
Anyone calling this race for any candidate before the end of March is merely speculating, but let’s look at a few trends, and try and get a sense of where we’re at.
Turnout for Dems still low, Republicans break records.
The Democrats have a real problem in November if they can’t motivate more voters to turn out to the polls. Democratic voter participation fell by about a third in both states, failing to match the turnout Barack Obama aroused in 2008. In South Carolina, new primary voters only made up 13% of the electorate. So far, the Bernie Sanders revolution has failed to materialize and though Clinton may be winning, she needs to find a way to energize more than just the establishment.
Republicans, on the other hand, are breaking records. Turnout for the Nevada caucus more than doubled from 2012, and 125,000 more voters showed up in South Carolina. Absentee ballots doubled from 2008.
Trump is fueling a movement of anti-establishment, white voters that transcends almost all categories. He’s been winning among a wide array of age groups, income levels, and education. After his win in Nevada he proclaimed, “So we won evangelicals. We won with young. We won with old. We won with highly educated. We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.”
The continuation of the Angry White Electorate.
Bluster aside, Trump’s claims of dominance leave out the fact that his supporters lack a certain diversity. After the New Hampshire primary, a few readers took issue with my suggestion of an Angry White Electorate driving this election cycle. Holding firm to that premise, the trend continues. Whites made up 96% of Republican voters in South Carolina and 85% in Nevada. Over 90% of these voters asserted to pollsters that they were either angry or dissatisfied with the federal government.
Democrats appear to be less angry, but the number of African-American voters favoring a more moderate Clinton over a revolutionary Sanders supports the angry, white voter theory. Clinton won over African-Americans by 54 points in Nevada and an astonishing 72 points in South Carolina. Sanders won white voters in Nevada and lost them to Clinton in South Carolina, but white voters were fairly split between the candidates.
Latino vote is still uncertain.
Trump also claimed to win the Latino vote, but several news sources have pointed out some incongruities in the entrance polling data out of Nevada. They point to the fact that only 100 Latinos were included in a survey that had a margin of error of +/-10 points. So, despite winning that share of voters by 15% over Rubio, any claim to victory should be taken with a grain of salt.
There were also inconsistencies on the Democratic side of Nevada’s caucus. While early entrance polling showed Sanders winning Latinos by eight points, Clinton won by large margins in districts with large Latino populations. That entrance poll surveyed just 213 Latinos, and had a margin of error of +/-6 points.
Small survey sizes and wide margins of error may explain the uncertainty surrounding the Latino vote in Nevada, but other factors may be at work. Latinos could still be making up their minds about which candidate to support. Or better yet, it could be that Latinos aren’t voting as a block this election cycle. We tend to assume that certain groups vote a certain way, and for the most part, studying polling data by age, income, gender and race does give us a sense of who is voting for whom. If the Latino vote is segmented between candidates, it may explain the disparities at work in Nevada.
Can Rubio catch up to Trump?
The Donald Trump juggernaut seems unstoppable. Even after Rubio and Cruz tag-teamed him at the debate Thursday night, Trump managed to dominate the news cycle the next day with a Chris Christie endorsement. Cruz won Iowa and seems poised to eke out a victory in Texas, but the numbers look to be working more in Rubio’s favor on a larger level.
According to entrance and exit polling in both states, Rubio won voters that decided in the last week or the last few days before the election. Voters also believed that Rubio was the candidate that could win in November. He won this category by 26 and 27 points in South Carolina and Nevada respectively. He also won the youngest voters, but by smaller margins. Finally, Rubio crushed Trump with voters who wanted an experienced candidate by over 40 points.
So why isn’t he doing better? In the categories Rubio is winning, the number of voters is small. Simply put, establishment Republicans are either lacking, or not coming out to vote for him. Though an attack Trump strategy is necessary at this point, getting more of these voters to the polls would be more effective in securing the necessary delegates needed for the nomination.
Take a page from the Clinton playbook.
In Nevada, Clinton won Democrats and Moderates. In South Carolina she won Democrats by 60%. Her victories are starting to prove that a results-oriented campaign can beat an emotional argument based on anger. In Nevada, a last minute push by Harry Reid to union members carried the day. In South Carolina, Clinton’s ability to organize and rally African-Americans tilted the balance so far that it broke the scales. African-Americans made up 61% of the electorate in South Carolina. Again, Clinton won those voters by 72 points. Her strategy is simple. Identify your core voters, and get them out to the polls. If Sanders can’t follow her lead, he’ll have a hard time making the case for continuing his campaign past March.
It’s not over until it’s over.
Nevertheless, a small portion of the delegates have been awarded on both sides. Regardless of the media narrative, nothing is certain in politics other than the fact that the unexpected can and will happen. Another month from now, we could be contemplating a Cruz vs. Sanders general election with Bloomberg entering the race just to make things more complicated and interesting.
So, get ready. March Madness starts in two days.