The Perils of Pauline (sorry, of Hillary).

Back in late August and early September 2015, only 37 percent of Democrats supported Hillary Clinton for President.[1] By late August 2015, 45 percent of Democrats wanted Joe Biden to get into the Democratic primaries, while 47 percent of Democrats wanted him to stay out, and 8 percent weren’t sure.[2] By late September 2015, 42 percent supported Hillary Clinton. Then Biden decided not to run. She’s back!

Nagging at the Presidential Revenant was polling data showing that she is unpopular with white male voters. In Iowa, 66 percent of white male voters had an unfavorable view of her, while only 27 had a favorable view of her.[3] Yes, Iowa is a conservative state and the polling sampled all voters, not just Democrats. Yes, she will do much better in liberal states. Yes, she is building a coalition of women and minorities. Still, in a tight race, she could not easily just write-off the white male vote.

The numbers show a real division of opinion among mainstream Democrats about Hillary Clinton. She can be beaten in at least some of the primaries, just as she was before. Moreover, depending on which candidate the Republicans nominate, she can be beaten in the general election. To believe otherwise is to ignore the strength of underlying opinion and organization among likely voters. Republicans hold the majority in both the House and the Senate, in 70 percent of state legislatures, and the governor’s mansion in 30 states.[4] Even if successful in winning the White House, a President Clinton likely would face the same situation that Barack Obama has faced. It wouldn’t matter what platform she had run on, legislation would be blocked by Congress and executive actions challenged in court by many states.

However, other poll numbers challenge this view. A late October 2015 poll found that 57 percent of Democrats saw their party as more united than divided, while only22 percent saw it as more divided than united.[5] The same poll found that 57 percent of Republicans saw their own party more divided than united, while 28 percent saw it as more united than divided. The Republicans had good reason to see their party as divided. On the one hand, it had a mass of candidates vying for the presidential nomination through personal vituperation. On the other hand, a bitter fight over the leadership ripped through the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.

Perhaps Hillary Clinton’s best hope is to run to the center and hope that the Republicans wreck their chances by nominating a complete clown. It isn’t clear yet how far she may have to veer left in the primaries. At least in some cases, her stance on social issues (enhanced background check for gun purchases, gay-marriage, a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants) and economic issues (a mandatory increase in the minimum wage, rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline, opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership) can be spun as either progressive or mainstream.[6]

For their part, Republicans are doing what they can to stir up both the Republican and Democratic bases. They have been pushing restrictions on abortion and on access to the voting booth, along with more tax cuts, and a politicized inquiry into the Benghazi disaster.

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 2 October 2015, p. 17.

[2] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 28 August 2015, p. 15.

[3] Josh Kraushaar, “Clinton’s white male problem,” The Week, 23 October 2015, p. 12.

[4] Matthew Yglesias, “Democrats sleepwalking to disaster,” The Week, 30 October 2015, p. 12.

[5] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 23 October 2015, p. 17.

[6] “Clinton: lurching too far to the left?” The Week, 30 October 2015, p.16.

Future Election Demographics 2.

This is tedious, but I wanted to know more about it. Back before the November 2014 “deluge,”[1] Nate Cohn foresaw the Republican avalanche and explained why it would happen.[2] The Democrats have won the majority of the popular vote in five of six presidential elections, so they represent the majority of Americans, right? Well, no.

Essentially, the Democrats have conquered the big cities.[3] The Republicans have conquered the outskirts of cities and the rural areas. Thus, big cities in “red” states vote “blue” and far-suburban and rural areas of “blue” states vote “red.” However, the urban voters also are irregular voters, while rural and exurban voters are regular voters. So there are two rival constituencies, one alternately larger and smaller; the other steady and strong.

Cohn argues that “more than ever, the kind of place where Americans live—metropolitan or rural—dictates their political views.” This is comforting to American liberals, who associate the people living outside the cities with the supporters of William Jennings Bryan in the Scopes “Monkey Trial.” (Awkwardly for this analysis, Bryan was a Democrat.) Obviously, the opposite might just as easily be true: that their political views determine where people live. Maybe, some people are fed up with all the negative factors that they associate with great cities and move elsewhere. Well before President Obama took office, traditionally Democratic voters in places like West Texas and West Virginia abandoned the presidential candidate over “social issues.” It isn’t just him. It’s the party.

The traditional Democratic strategy had been to win more than the cities. The party’s embrace of divisive social causes (gay marriage, abortion, gun control, expanded federal powers in many areas) undermined this strategy. President Obama won election in 2008 and 2012 by wagering on urban core populations. He expanded the Democratic vote in 68 urban areas that had gone for Al Gore in 2004, but didn’t dent the Republican vote anywhere else.[4] In the process of building his “Me-Me-Me” coalition of African-American and hipster voters, the President further alienated part of the old Democratic base.[5] In the future, the party will have to figure out whether it needs to walk back away from some of those positions or to just wait for a majority for voters to catch-up with them. (Growing Republican support for gay marriage and government action on climate change suggest that the latter might be the best approach.)

What works at the level of Presidential races isn’t going to work at the level of House races. At the level of the House of Representatives, two things are true. One is that Democrats have massive majorities in a relatively restricted number of urban Congressional districts. A second is that Republicans generally have narrow-to-solid majorities in a majority of Congressional districts. Thus, many of the votes in Democratic districts are “wasted” votes. In sum, the Republicans have a long-term grip on the majority in the House of Representatives.

Are Democratic policies in cities driving out Republicans to the suburbs and exurbs? Is any struggle within the Republican Party the real story in American politics? Is deadlock between legislature and executive the American fate in an age demanding decisions?

 

[1] See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deluge_%28history%29 for the way that my Democratic friends and family think about it.

[2] Nate Cohn, “Why Democrats Can’t Win,” NYT, 7 September 2014.

[3] They have won the young and the racial minorities—African-Americans above all.

[4] For example, in 2012, President Obama won 52 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania, but only 28 percent of the Congressional districts; 52 percent of the vote in Virginia, but only 36 percent of the Congressional districts. .

[5] This isn’t the same as saying that he permanently alienated them from the Democratic Party.