Hillary Clinton is in Trouble! Her poll numbers are tanking! Kevin McCarthy’s gaff has saved Clinton! Donald Trump is a joke! Donald Trump will be the next GOP nominee! Clinton is saved by debate! Carly Fiorina is the likely next nominee! Ben Carson jumps to a lead!
Clearly journalists like nothing more than some good clickbait, and both parties have their own special way of handling these daily headlines. Democrats, in general, are great at overreacting to news stories, and Republicans are very good at over-stating their chances based on headlines; this year has been no different. But outside of the ups and downs of the daily headlines, has anything really changed when it comes to the dynamic of the race?
Recently we looked at the upcoming presidential election and discussed how our model predicts that there is a clear Democratic advantage in 2016. Additionally a few months back, we looked at how 2016 was going to be an uphill climb for Republicans. As we discussed in this second piece, the GOP could (in theory) help in not making their task Sisyphean. In order to win, the GOP nominee will need to start by sweeping Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia (which would get them to 266 electoral votes). Then they would need to pick up four more electoral votes to win the Presidency. Our PAAR model pointed to Colorado, New Hampshire, and the upper-Midwest trio of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa as the only viable paths to hit 270. We look at this as a one out of five preposition since it is extraordinarily unlikely that, for instance, Republicans lose Ohio, but sweep Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin.
The question for Republicans was what strategies and policies would be able to provide that essential victory in one of those five states. The GOP even went through a research project after the 2012 election to determine what they would have to do to win. Overall, their findings were similar to ours: they need to focus on Hispanic voters, young voters, and women. The problem for the GOP is that no one on the Republican side seems to be listening.
Two years later, Republicans are not exactly attempting to change the tide. Brash, outsider candidates are currently dominating the Republican polls and are digging the party further into the hole among key General Election voters. But can Republicans change the dynamic of the race and engineer an upset? Technically yes, but so far it looks doubtful.
In the aftermath of 2012, it seemed like the Republican Party had realized their demographic challenges and were prepared to endorse immigration reform to win back Latinos voters. However, this was never going to work as well as Republicans imagined. It is not simply a matter of passing immigration reform and voters then flocking to the GOP. There are plenty of other real policy issues, especially with younger Latinos, that would have likely prevented Republican support from being much higher in 2016 anyway. In addition, there have been almost 10 years of disparaging comments coming from the right. From Republicans walking away from comprehensive immigration reform under President George W Bush, to Mitt Romney advocating for self-deportation in the 2012 election, and now we have Donald Trump calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” in his campaign announcement, and then doubling down. To add insult to injury, Trump is now campaigning on building a wall across the US-Mexican border. Then, instead of walking away from Trump’s positions, the rest of the Republican field has tripped over themselves to match Trump’s immigration policies.
While the wide Republican primary field currently comprises two Hispanic candidates, neither Senator Marco Rubio nor Senator Ted Cruz appear to be the party’s easy answer to recruiting Latino voters. First, both Rubio and Cruz are Cuban-Americans, representing a small and unique subset of the Hispanic population in America. In 2013, Cuban-Americans only made up 3.7% of the Hispanic population in the U.S. and the Cuban-American population is older, more educated, has a higher income, and are more likely to consider themselves “a typical American” than the overall Hispanic population. Additionally, Cuban-Americans’ politics differ from that of most Latino voters. For example, in 2012, among Latino voters overall, 61% wanted to leave Obamacare in place and only 25% wanted to repeal it. However,among Cuban-Americans, only 42% wanted to keep it while 43% wanted to repeal Obamacare. Said in a more succinct way, Cuban voters are clearly Hispanic but should not be considered blindly as Latino voters.
Secondly, many of the policy positions that both Senator Rubio and Senator Cruz have taken are at odds with the views of the vast majority of Latino voters, particularly immigration. Indeed, walking away from the 2013 immigration deal hurts Senator Rubio among Latino voters as a majority (54%) would have been likely to consider voting for him for president if he “played a key role in helping to pass this bill”, while 65% are not likely to consider voting for him since he voted against the bill. Additionally, prior to the 2014 election, 68% of Latino voters strongly supported President Obama’s executive action on immigration, a plurality (45%) said that immigration reform was the most important issue facing the Hispanic community that politicians can address, and over two-thirds said that immigration was the most important or one of the most important issues in their voting decision. It is unlikely that the current Republican candidates have convinced Latinos their immigration plan is better. Even if Republicans don’t drive Latinos away with their immigration plan, their insistence to repeal Obamacare will also hurt them. Ever since its signing, more Latinos have had a favorable opinion of the Affordable Care Act than have had an unfavorable one, with Obamacare currently favored by 50% of Latinos.
This is certainly not going to help Republicans as they try to win back states like Colorado and Florida. It also isn’t going to help them put Nevada back in play as some party operatives hope.
Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin still hold the most theoretical promise for Republicans in 2016. Two years ago we suggested that if the party nominated someone like Paul Ryan or Scott Walker to try and steal one of those states, they would have a chance. When Ryan elected not to run, Scott Walker seemed to be a good enough Midwestern stand-in. However, Walker’s campaign was short lived.
Out of all of the five options, these states are probably the most receptive to the xenophobic, nationalistic platitudes that Donald Trump has run on thus far. In 2012, 93 percent of Iowa voters were white, and white voters accounted for 86 percent of the turnout in Wisconsin and 87 percent in Minnesota. Among the swing states, only New Hampshire had a comparable share of white voters. However, the live free or die state is much less likely than the agricultural and manufacturing dependent Midwest to support Donald Trump’s unique brand of protectionism.
While there is disagreement on the likelihood of Donald Trump’s ability to win the Republican nomination, his current front runner status makes his opinions and policy ideas carry much greater weight, and will likely have an impact on how Republicans in general are viewed by voters in these states.
This all being said, we need to remember that Wisconsin has not given their electoral votes to a Republican since 1984, and for Minnesota you have to go back to 1972. Iowa supported George W Bush in 2004, but before that you also had to go back to Ronald Reagan in 1984 for the last time the Hawkeye State was a Red State. Furthermore our PAAR model shows the Democratic nominee should receive a majority support in MN (52.8%), WI (53.7%), and IA (53.3%).
Much like with the Midwestern states, the candidate that we suggested might get the Republicans over the top could be Rand Paul. However much like Scott Walker, Rand Paul has not had a very good summer. Additionally, New Hampshire has some unique extremes among swing states. It has the highest percentage of white voters, a low percentage of over 65 year old voters, but the highest percentage of 45-64 year olds. Virginia is the only swing state with a higher percentage of highly educated voters, and voters with more than $100,000 in income.
These highly educated, wealthy, middle-aged, white voters are different from the standard Republican supporter, and it is easy to see why almost every statewide election in the past decade has been close, but the only win Republicans have managed was Kelly Ayotte’s dominating win in 2010. It would not be surprising if a non-Senate Republican, such as Ben Carson or John Kasich, tired to talk Ayotte into becoming their running mate to both gain someone well-regarded in the Republican foreign policy establishment and to try to win New Hampshire. Not that it would actually help them, or that Ayotte would be likely to drop her bid for re-election to run in the number 2 slot.
While our PAAR projections for 2016, that we ran three years ago and revisited earlier this year, acknowledge that candidates and campaigns can have a major impact on the final result, there has not been any evidence that Republicans are doing the kinds of things necessary to overcome their poor starting position. Republicans have continued to ignore or belittle the Latino vote and witness their candidates with the best chance to change the narrative fall short in the crowded primary. A little more than a year out, something about the trajectory of the race on either the Republican or Democratic side will need to change or the 2016 presidential election will likely be handed to the Democrats.
For a downloadable PDF of the white paper, click here.