The FBI may have injected last-minute uncertainty into the presidential race, but with eight days to go, the contours of Hillary Clinton’s coalition are coming into sharper focus. It’s not yet clear whether it will match the breadth of President Obama’s coalition, which was sufficient for a majority in both 2008 and 2012. But even if it doesn’t, it could be sufficient for a plurality.
Clinton’s voters overwhelmingly overlap with Obama’s, but there are important distinctions. Her support among Latinos appears stronger and more intense. On the other hand, African-American enthusiasm has dipped compared with that in 2012 — a surprising and disquieting development for Democrats who believed Trump’s racial appeals and flirtations with the birther movement would generate more urgency.
As polls have shown all year, the education and gender gaps in this race are likely to be wider than any we have seen in modern history. Clinton’s coalition is more dependent on college-educated white voters and less dependent on whites without degrees than Obama’s was in 2008 and 2012. It’s also more dependent on women than men.
But Clinton is also more dependent on high enthusiasm and support among Latino and Asian voters, who appear very motivated to oppose Donald Trump. And she’s less dependent on African-Americans and millennials, who could well support Clinton by the same margins they supported Obama but may not turn out at the same rates as they did in 2008 or 2012. That’s a big concern for Clinton’s team in the home stretch.
The early voting data is beginning to bear these observations out. According to the U.S. Elections Project, a website run by University of Florida professor Michael McDonald, more than 22.5 million Americans have already cast ballots. And although early voting data is of limited value when it comes to predicting a winner, clear patterns are emerging: Enthusiasm is up from 2012 among Latinos and liberal whites, and down among African-Americans. (Of course, it’s possible those patterns will change.)
Because many states have altered their early voting periods or procedures since 2012, direct comparisons aren’t always possible. However, we can look at three states where absentee/early voting rules weren’t drastically changed since 2012: Florida, Texas and Virginia.
In Florida, the good news for Clinton is that the two most Latino counties in the state, Miami-Dade and Osceola, are above the state average in their progress toward exceeding 2012 early/vote-by-mail turnout. But the bad news for her is that turnout has lagged behind the state average in all five counties with the highest percentage of African-American voters — a sign the absence of Obama from the ballot is having a negative impact:
The even worse Florida news for Clinton is that all eight of the counties with the most early/vote-by-mail votes cast so far relative to 2012 totals are heavily Republican. Lee County, a GOP bastion on the southwest Gulf Coast, is already at 125 percent of its 2012 total, and Sumter County, the ruby red home of The Villages, is at 104 percent, signaling increased GOP enthusiasm.
In Texas, which reports only early vote data for the 15 largest counties, the trend lines seem more favorable for Clinton. The counties with the highest Latino shares, Hidalgo, Cameron and El Paso — all located along the Mexico border — are experiencing big surges in participation. After its first week of early voting, El Paso is already at 83 percent of its total 2012 votes cast and 177 percent of where it was at this point in 2012’s early balloting.
There has also been a huge spike in interest in the Austin area: Travis and Williamson counties are at 81 percent and 84 percent of their 2012 totals, respectively. That suggests strong interest levels among white liberals, who are most numerous there. But Texas counties with the highest share of African-American voters tend to lag behind the average:
In Virginia, the demographic disparities are even greater. Manassas Park, a small jurisdiction with the highest concentration of Latino voters in the state, has also recorded the highest absentee voting surge in the commonwealth: Manassas Park is already at 106 percent of its 2012 absentee total. Prince William County, the much larger surrounding jurisdiction with the third-highest Latino share, is already at 89 percent, well above the state average.
There’s also good news for Clinton in Arlington and Fairfax counties, the state’s largest bastions of liberal whites. They’re at 78 percent and 79 percent of their 2012 totals, respectively, compared to 70 percent statewide. The bad news for Clinton? Petersburg, the state’s most heavily African-American city, is only at 47 percent, and Portsmouth, the second-most African-American city, is at 40 percent — the lowest of all jurisdictions in Virginia.
Is there time for these numbers and this narrative to change? Of course, but there’s only a week left. And although higher Latino enthusiasm is a positive sign for Clinton, African-American engagement is a cause for concern. After all, African-Americans make up a much higher share than Latinos in the critical battlegrounds of North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — and any Trump victory scenario would likely depend on lower black turnout.
Increasingly, this give-and-take looks likely to produce a “Clinton coalition” broader than the one that propelled her husband into office in 1992 (43 percent) but narrower than the one that propelled Obama into office in 2008 (53 percent). Win or lose, it’s a new alignment.