Donald Trump’s argument for his viability has always been that he will inspire white working-class voters, including Democrats, to come out to the polls for him in droves. That’s been his strategy for responding to the shift toward a more diverse electorate, and it seems to be why he has insisted (if he no longer does) that states like his home of New York might be in play (which it isn’t).
The most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, though, shows that Trump’s actually doing worse than recent Republican candidates with white voters, not better. Given how the electorate has shifted, that alone could doom his candidacy. But that problem doesn’t stand alone.
Right now, Trump’s biggest problem is on gender. He’s doing better with men than Mitt Romney did four years ago, according to the new Post/ABC poll, but far worse with women. When George W. Bush won in 2000 — barely — he did so with an 11-point advantage among men and an 11-point disadvantage among women, with women comprising about 52 percent of the electorate (according to exit polling). In his reelection, he narrowly lost women. Right now, Trump’s doing worse with women than Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush or Bob Dole did.
That split alone — trailing by 17 points with a group that will make up more than half of the electorate — makes Trump’s path difficult. But then there’s the issue of race.
In 2012, Mitt Romney had a 20-point advantage with white voters. The problem for him was that with every other group he faltered. He lost black voters by 87 points, Hispanics by 44 and Asians by 47. So he lost the election overall by four points. The new Post/ABC poll didn’t have a big enough sample of Hispanic or Asian voters to break out, but the percentage of the electorate that is Hispanic has been growing each cycle. In 1996 Hispanics were 5 percent of voters, according to exit polls; in 2012, 10 percent. Pew Research estimates that Hispanics will continue to grow as a percentage of the electorate simply because so many Hispanic Americans have turned 18 since 2012.
This is the crux of Trump’s problem. He’s doing as well with whites as McCain did in 2008. McCain, you may recall, didn’t win. And the electorate has continued to grow less white since then; the 2014 electorate was as nonwhite as in 2008.
Put another way. In 2012, whites made up 72 percent of the electorate. If whites had been 74 percent of the electorate — as they were in 2008 — Romney would have needed to win them by 25 points to have won the election (all other things being equal, which of course they wouldn’t have been). Even if Trump manages to reverse the demographic trend and get whites to make up three-quarters of the vote, he can’t win if he’s only winning them by 12 points.
The problem for Trump, as you might have guessed from the first graph, is white women. White women haven’t voted Democratic since 1996, but that’s where they’re leaning now. With white men, Trump is matching Romney, according to Post/ABC polling. (We’ll note that our poll numbers include undecided voters while the exit poll figures don’t, meaning that final poll margins would probably be slightly larger than we present them here.)
Among black voters, Hillary Clinton is matching Barack Obama’s performance.
(Missing data above is due to gaps in exit poll data.)
As we noted on Friday, a big problem for Trump right now is Republicans. Weak support from Republicans is the reason why he trails by as wide a margin as he does. And that’s clear when you compare his current standing to past candidates. Even as he performs well with independents (relatively), that’s not enough to make up for his underperformance with his own party.
The moral of this particular story is not that Donald Trump is necessarily going to lose. It is that he would lose if the election were held today, it seems, because his performance with demographic groups that have been central to past Republican victories is subpar. If Trump’s campaign hinges on white voters, he needs to change how he’s performing with that group by a lot, fast. If he doesn’t, it’s hard to see how he is elected president.