Why Clinton win over Trump may not be a game changer
Democrats feel optimistic about national and state polls in the presidential race, as they all point to a big win for Hillary Clinton and a major loss for Donald Trump in November. Team Blue hopes those votes seep into down-ballot races, giving control of the Senate back to the Democrats and picking up many House seats.
But anyone who thinks this portends a change in attitude in American politics is wrong. This will be an anti-Trump vote. It will not be a major shift toward the Democratic Party, nor does it mean the implosion of the Republican Party. The obvious huge effects of Supreme Court picks and the presence of the first woman president aside, Republicans in Congress will still be an impediment to anything Clinton attempts.
Trump’s instability, lack of ground game, insults to everyone short of Vladimir Putin, missteps, lies, hiring of a scorched-earth campaign management team, general craziness—all of the above, and more—mean he’s likely to get clobbered in the Electoral College. His unfavorable ratings are high enough that most voters are unwilling and even scared to put him in office. The latest NBC News/Survey Monkey poll puts his unfavorable ratings at 64 percent. Only 17 percent of Americans think he has the temperament to be an effective president. Many news organizations, FiveThirtyEight, and other poll trackers say the election could be in landslide territory.
Both Republicans and Democrats expect Trump to lose, which is “a powerful predictor of general election outcomes,” as explained in a story on Huffington Post.
Here’s the thing, though. As high as Trump’s negatives are, unfavorable ratings for Clinton are at 59 percent—the same as they were back in May. I write this as a strong Clinton supporter: Clinton’s win in November will be more about voters rejecting Trump than favoring her. What will that ultimately mean for her presidency?
Party identification may have inched up for Democrats and inched down for Republicans, but in the same NBC poll, voters identifying as independents leaned more Republican, a trend that continues over time (maybe they’re just embarrassed to admit their real political leanings—who knows?). So the overall party identification hasn’t changed that much.
As we’ve also seen in poll after poll, Trump’s numbers among minorities have tanked, down to 6 percent with African-American voters and 13 percent with Latino voters (likely lower than that and still dropping) in that NBC poll. Another poll shows that Trump has zero percent support among African-American voters in some battleground states.
Trump’s support is also way down among millennial voters. A USA TODAY/Rock the Vote poll shows Clinton beating Trump 56 percent to 20 percent among those under 35. A USA TODAY story reporting on that poll concludes that high Democratic voter totals among young voters in 2016 (as well as in 2008 and 2012) mean a new era of Democrats.
The findings have implications for politics long past the November election. If the trend continues, the Democratic Party will have scored double-digit victories among younger voters in three consecutive elections, the first time that has happened since such data became readily available in 1952. That could shape the political affiliations of the largest generation in American history for years to follow.
Don’t get your hopes up.
Young voters turned out in 2008 and 2012 to vote Democratic—66 percent in 2008 and 60 percent in 2012 voted for President Obama. But both the 2010 and the 2014 midterm elections showed less enthusiasm from young voters, few of whom bothered to show up. According to Pew Research, voters 18-29 made up only 12 percent of voters in 2010. In 2014, according to CBS News, 18- to 29-year-olds made up 13 percent of the electorate. A CBS News story breaks down voting by age for congressional races.
In 2012, a presidential election year, 60 percent of voters 18-29 backed the Democratic candidate for the House, and 38 percent backed the Republican candidate, a gap of 22 points. In the midterm years of 2014 and 2010, the percentages for the Democrat were 54 percent and 55 percent, respectively, while the Republican candidate won 43 percent and 42 percent in 2014 and 2010, respectively. The exit polls show young Republican voters, like young Democratic voters, also turn out in lower numbers during midterm years, but the drop-off is less dramatic.
Even younger Republicans vote at higher rates than younger Democrats. Young voters turning to Democratic candidates in presidential elections is nothing new, and it hasn’t yet created a generation of Democrats. From the CBS story:
Voters ages 18-29 have supported the Democratic candidate for President for six straight presidential elections. The last time young voters backed a Republican candidate for the White House was in 1988 when they cast their votes for George H.W. Bush.
So Republicans made major gains in midterms. The reasons for that are varied: Young voters might have been disappointed that an Obama presidency wasn’t all that they hoped for. Obama might have thought bipartisanship was possible when it wasn’t. The rise of the tea party motivated older right-wing voters. The state of the economy was bad enough that it turned people off. Whatever the reasons, it happened, and the GOP ended up controlling governors’ mansions, state legislatures, the House of Representatives, and even the Senate again by 2015. The 2010 Republican wave allowed the GOP to go on a gerrymandering spree, the effects of which will be felt through at least 2020.
Most millennials this year favored Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Even if most of them vote for Clinton in November, which seems likely, they’re not doing it out of a sense of solidarity with the Democratic Party or out of love for the nominee. It would be a mistake to call these voters automatic Democrats from now on, even if they tend to lean that way and reject the other party more.
The last true landslide was in 1984, when Ronald Reagan, touting his “morning in America” theme, handily beat Walter Mondale with 58.8 percent of the popular vote and 525 electoral votes. The only state Mondale captured was his home state of Minnesota. The “Reagan Revolution” with its so-called Reagan Democrats brought many voters into the Republican fold who stayed there. Many Republicans such as former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell first were elected to Congress in 1984, saying they were inspired by Reagan. Other Republicans claiming a Reagan legacy helped to take over in the Republican wave of 1994.
So a Trump loss aside, Republicans aren’t going anywhere. The GOP still controls most states: 31 Republican governors and 68 out of 98 partisan state legislative bodies. In 24 states, the GOP holds both the governorship and a majority in the state legislature; there are only seven such partisan state strongholds on the Democratic side.
A Politico story offers a history lesson on the nation’s political parties and explains why so few end up in the electoral dustbin.
Since the Republicans formed in 1856, the two major parties have bent but not broken. But, as incredulous commentators consider the possibility that 2016 could be the end of the GOP, they are missing the issue about which they should be most incredulous: Our two political parties are still, in some sense, vestiges of the parties they were in the 1850s. Despite changes in coalitions and ideology — to say nothing of revolutions like industrialization, the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage, two world wars, and the changing composition of the electorate — the two parties have proved immensely adaptable.
Asking whether the GOP is not long for this world is, in a sense, the wrong question. Here’s the right one: Are the parties too resilient for their own good?
The latest Trump campaign team (3.0? 4.0? Probably higher—it’s hard to keep track) will give Steve Bannon of Breitbart a chance to offer even more hysterical Clinton conspiracy theories, like the recent nonsense about Clinton’s health. Because these claims are coming from the Republican nominee, regular media will be forced to cover them, at least at some level. These conspiracies will give the public one more reason to doubt Clinton once she takes office, as if 25 years of conspiracies weren’t enough. If Trump-Bannon turns into a new media platform post-election after Trump loses, that will give them a voice to keep spreading the crazy, which will be lapped up and magnified by at least some of the public.
Even though Rep. Steve King told attendees of the Iowa State Fair that Hillary Clinton “is somebody I can work with,” it’s doubtful that he—or House Speaker Paul Ryan, or soon-to-be-Minority-Leader McConnell, or nearly any other Republican officeholder—is going to offer the new President Clinton much in the way of cooperation. It won’t be long before McConnell announces that his most important “job” will be to make sure she’s a one-term president. They’ll form the same obstinate Red Wall of obstruction that Obama faced throughout his presidency. And although Clinton might enter office more clear-eyed about Republicans’ intentions, that doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll be any more successful working across the aisle with a foot-dragging Republican Party. There’s little chance the party that’s now chanting “Lock her up!” will start singing “Kumbayah.”
What does this all mean when it comes to voting this year and into the future? Those of us saying #ImWithHer will continue to sell a Hillary Clinton presidency on her accomplishments, strengths, experience, and ideas. She needs to be seen as more than the anti-Trump.
Certain truisms remain the same: We need to get rid of obstacles to voting, such as voter suppression schemes like voter ID laws. GOTV is the law of the land for Democrats, for down-ballot races as well as the top spot. And these efforts can’t stop on Nov. 9.
The conventional wisdom of “Trump is doomed” in 2016 won’t make any difference in the midterm election of 2018, especially when Democrats must defend 25 Senate seats to Republicans’ eight.
Originally posted on Daily Kos on Aug. 21, 2016.