After the 2016, many different media narratives came from the (somewhat) unpredictable results of election night. Some people believed the Democrats lost because Clinton was deeply unpopular, and could not connect to average voters. Some people believed that Trump had unlocked a populist core in America, which he could ride to power indefinitely. Others (like myself) believed that this was a shift in America, where White Non-College voters had irreversibly let the Democratic party and joined the Republican party, not dissimilar to rural white voters in other Western countries abandoning center-left parties in favor of right wing populist parties. However, at this point in the Presidential race (April 2020) the polling is showing Biden making improvements with White Non-College voters nationally, and in key swing states.
From any analysis, it’s clear that the main demographic problem for the Democratic party is currently white working-class whites. While the Democratic party does well with minority voters, currently white working-class voters make up an overwhelming amount of the electorate in key swing states: Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire etc. While eventually Democratic strength with minority voters should theoretically give them an easy path to electoral college wins, that long term strength is meaningless as those future strong Democratic states (Georgia, Texas, Arizona) are still not in reach in a neutral environment, while those heavily white swing states become very hard to win when the Democratic candidate severely underperforms with White non-college voters. In 2008, according to CNN exit polls, Obama lost White College voters 47-51, and lost white non-college voters 40-58. While that might seem like an impossible task to win the Presidency, he was saved by astronomical margins with minority voters in several states. Even though Obama didn’t win White non-college voters in a landslide win (2008) he still held enough of them to win the Presidency. In 2016, according to the PEW research study of the electorate with validated voters, Clinton lost White non-college voters 28-64, which is 12 points lower than Obama did just 8 years earlier. Even with that low of a performance, Clinton would only lose Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by a tiny margin, showing that Democrats don’t need to win this key demographic to win elections, they just need to do as well as possible, while maximizing their performance with other groups.
At first, I was skeptical that Biden would be able to do well with this group. Many people claimed that only a Democratic moderate (Biden) could win back these voters, while others claimed that only Sanders could win back these disaffected voters as he did much better with them in the primary than Hillary Clinton did. However, in 2020, history did not repeat itself
While Clinton struggled to win White non-college heavy counties in the Primary against Sanders, once Super Tuesday happened Biden completely dominated those counties, nearly winning every similar county on Super Tuesday itself, but then winning all but a handful of counties after Super Tuesday. While the 2016 Primary results could be viewed in a way to show early signs of Clinton’s trouble with white non-college voters, that never happen for Biden after the early stages of the primary.
Additionally, at this point, the polling is showing a large swing towards Biden of White non-college voters nationally and in key swing states. In the Quinnipiac National poll from April 8th, Biden only lost White non-college voters 35-55, seven points better than Clinton, while Trump does 9 points worse, while equates to a 16 point shift in this key demographic. Additionally (for consistency) the Quinnipiac poll from Florida today shows Biden with the support of 35% of white non-college voters *again* in a state that is clearly to the right of America as a whole. This would suggest (vaguely) that there has actually been a slight shift towards Biden with White non-college voters since that Quinnipiac poll earlier in April.
How is this possible? Maybe White non-college voters writ large are tired of Trump and his feuds, and just want him to get to work for them. Maybe they haven’t seen the gains they expected after almost 4 years of his Presidency. Maybe they feel that Trump was a good choice when the Nation wasn’t facing a particular crisis, but now that one has arrived with the Coronavirus, the Nation now needs a more experienced leader for these hard times.
Of course, it is April of an election year, and the polls can always change. Perhaps those white non-college voters can be persuaded to come back to Trump in November, and are merely sitting on the sidelines because of the current crisis. Maybe Biden is riding a high from recent endorsements and winning the nomination, or has not gone through enough scrutiny yet, and his white non-college numbers could come down with the right mix of attack ads and messaging. It is too soon to know as there are still more than 6 months until November. At this point, only one thing is clear: Biden is doing better with white non-college voters than Hillary Clinton did, and if that trend continues until November, we won’t be missing much sleep on election night.
Robert Martin is founder and CEO of LeanTossUp.ca and a contributor to Decision Desk HQ.