Some things just stick with you. I will never forget reading the following from one of Sean Quinn’s dispatches during the 2008 presidential election:
So a canvasser goes to a woman’s door in Washington, Pennsylvania. Knocks. Woman answers. Knocker asks who she’s planning to vote for. She isn’t sure, has to ask her husband who she’s voting for. Husband is off in another room watching some game. Canvasser hears him yell back, “We’re votin’ for the n***er!”
Woman turns back to canvasser, and says brightly and matter of factly: “We’re voting for the n***er.”
How can anyone forget something like that. It’s pure Archie and Edith Bunker, down to the smallest details. Things were so bad by October 2008 that even the Bunkers of the world were ready to give a black president a chance. But I don’t think he held their loyalty for very long. After years of uninterrupted disaster, these voters knew that they had to try something different, but Obama wasn’t part of their clan. He was too exotic. Too urban. Too intellectual. Too aloof. Too black.
I’ve been wondering where these voters stand on Hillary Clinton. I knew that there is a big set of people who are telling pollsters that they don’t approve of Obama’s performance in office but that they prefer Clinton to any likely Republican presidential candidate. I had a feeling that this group was made up of lower middle class white voters who don’t have a college degree, and that they are concentrated most heavily in rural areas, particularly in the South. Now, thanks to E.J. Dionne, my suspicions have been confirmed.
For starters, let’s look at the size of this set (from the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll):
Obama’s approval rating in the survey was just 41 percent, both with the general public and among registered voters. But in a hypothetical matchup with Jeb Bush for the 2016 presidential race, Clinton was favored by 53 percent of registered voters, Bush by 41 percent.
The roughly one-eighth of voters who disapprove of Obama but nonetheless support Clinton for 2016 may be the most important group in the electorate.
So, we’re talking about 12.5% of the electorate. That’s the size of the set that disapproves of Obama but plans to vote for Clinton anyway. Who are these people?
A comparison of those who back Clinton but disapprove of Obama with the group that is both pro-Clinton and pro-Obama suggests that the swing constituency is much more likely to be blue-collar and white — 71 percent of the mixed group are white, compared with only 57 percent of the pro-Obama, pro-Clinton group, and it is also somewhat more Latino. Whites without college degrees constitute 47 percent of the Hillary Difference Voters but only 30 percent of the pro-Clinton, pro-Obama group. In keeping with this, 62 percent of the Hillary Difference Voters have incomes of less than $50,000 annually.
So, Clinton has a greater appeal with potential Democratic voters who are less educated and less affluent, including among Latinos.
Ideologically, the swing group includes significantly fewer self-described liberals. Among the Hillary Difference Voters, only 29 percent call themselves liberal; among those who both favor Clinton and approve of Obama, 43 percent are liberals. Nearly a third of the mixed group are white evangelical Protestants compared with only 10 percent of those who react positively to both Democrats. Clinton also runs ahead of Obama’s approval rating among voters aged 30 to 49, among white Southerners and among independents, including those who say they lean Republican.
Clinton is more popular with less liberal Democrats, with white evangelicals, and with white Southerners. None of this a surprise to me, but it’s nice to see it confirmed.
Progressive political junkies may be scratching their heads over some of these results. After all, Obama was preferred to Clinton specifically because he promised a less hawkish foreign policy. While Obama has continued an aggressive foreign policy in some areas, no one knowledgable thinks that Clinton would have been less aggressive. Obama’s economic policies may be wanting, but we haven’t seen any return of the Democratic Leadership Council. Clintonian Democrats like Joe Lieberman, Evan Bayh, and Harold Ford are still decidedly on the outs. The party as a whole, including its congressional make-up, has moved far to the left of where it stood in 2000, and the Blue Dogs have been decimated. Why, then, is there such widespread enthusiasm for a Clinton restoration?
The answer is in these poll numbers. A large number of potential Democrats aren’t reachable for the president. They’re not reachable not because of his record but because of who he is. On most measurables, Obama’s record and positions should be more popular with these Democrats than Hillary’s, but that’s irrelevant. The Clintons may be Ivy League-educated, rich, and part of the national Establishment, but they still have their down-home Arkansas roots. Being from the South, having a more moderate reputation, and being “tough” on foreign policy have a certain attraction to some voters, at least, until you get into the specifics. But specifics have almost nothing to do with these poll results. This is a visceral thing. There’s about 12.5% of the population that thinks that Obama isn’t on their side but Hillary Clinton is. It’s partly racial, it’s partly regional, and it’s partly just a difference in their political brands. But it’s not based on anything substantive.
This is frustrating for progressives who want to win, but also want to move the party in a progressive, not regressive, direction.
But it’s hard to argue with poll numbers that show Hillary beating Jeb by 53%-41%. If those numbers held up and the two candidates split the undecideds, Hillary would get 57% of the vote. For comparison, Eisenhower was reelected in 1956 with 57.4% of the vote, and Ronald Reagan was reelected in 1984 with 58.4% of the vote. Ike lost only seven states that year, and in 1984 Reagan won every contest but Minnesota and the District of Columbia.
Can Hillary pull something like that off?
And, even if she can, can we trust her instincts on foreign policy?