When everyone’s views are taken into account, Hillary Clinton’s biggest political challenge is clear: older white men.
While Clinton holds an apparent advantage among most voters surveyed – especially women of all ages and marital status and the largest ethnic minorities – Donald Trump is substantially favored among men 50 and older, according to the latest and most comprehensive survey of voters by the Pew Research Center. Trump outdraws Clinton by 18 percentage points, similar to Mitt Romney’s standing at this point in 2012 — he went on to carry 52 percent of the male vote overall.
How Trump and Clinton play to each candidate’s entrenched voters, in a contest where most Americans hold both in low regard and few voice a readiness to consider the other party’s nominee, will play a critical role in the outcome of the 2016 election. For each, it’s a matter of rallying their best voters.
At the moment, the “law and order” card offers Trump’s most powerful draw for the older white male voters supporting him.
“I am the law and order candidate,” Trump said Monday, in his first public appearance since the killings of five police officers in Dallas. Calling Clinton “ineffective” and “pandering,” he opened by saluting “the men and women in blue” who “separate civilization from total chaos and the destruction of our country as we know it.’’
It’s a particular challenge for Clinton, who has reacted to this and other mass shootings with calls for tougher gun control, while underscoring her belief — as she did last week at a national conference for AME church leaders — that “implicit bias still exists across our society and even in the best police departments.”
Clinton’s overwhelming advantage among women, minorities and the college-educated is offset by Trump’s support among white voters, especially older men — while whites claim a dwindling share of the presidential vote in recent elections.
“When you look at the lead she has with a lot of these demographic groups, she should be leading a lot overall in the polls, yet the margins show she’s leading now around five percent on average,” says Kenneth Warren, a political scientist at St. Louis University and author of In Defense of Public Opinion Polling. “When you look at the lead she has among women, and since women constitute a comfortable majority of the vote, you would think that she would be doing better.”
Clinton holds an average 4.5 percent advantage over Trump in the most recent public opinion polls. An analysis of Pew’s latest survey and where presidential contenders stood at the same stages in earlier contests and on Election Day shows:
— Clinton leads by 24-percentage points among women, as much as 44 points among younger women, and 18 points among older women. She leads among the married and single alike. Together, women accounted for 53 percent of the vote in the last election, and they backed President Barack Obama by 11 points.
— Clinton has a 16-point advantage among college graduates, a constituency that Romney carried by four points in 2012. They accounted for 29 percent of the vote.
— Even among those with high-school educations or less, a key to Trump’s success during the Republican Party primaries, Clinton holds an overall edge of seven percentage points. They delivered 53 percent of the vote in 2012.
— Trump’s standing among men 50 and older, with a 56-38 point edge over Clinton, marks his strongest hold on any one group of voters. This combines with a nine-point advantage among all white voters surveyed — though this falls short of the 20-point edge Romney held over Obama among white voters in 2012.
— Among white working-class voters — without college degrees — Trump held a 27-point advantage over Clinton in several recent polls. Romney led Obama by 19 points. Nate Cohn of the New York Times’ Upshot notes the percentage of older white working class voters may also have been underestimated at 23 percent.
— Still, while whites delivered 72 percent of the vote in 2012, their share has steadily declined from 77 percent in 2004. And Clinton holds overwhelming leads among African Americans and Hispanics, as Hispanics claim a growing vote-share.
The strengths of their bases explain their campaign appeals to voters.
In the immediate aftermath of the police killings in Dallas, while both cancelled most campaign events, Trump attempted to address New York City police officers at a precinct roll call. New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton vetoed the request, explaining at a news conference that he’s not providing “photo-ops.”
Clinton kept a scheduled appearance at a national convention of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, where she said: “We know there is something wrong with our country. There is too much violence, too much hate, too much senseless killing, too many people dead who shouldn’t be. And we know there is clear evidence that African Americans are much more likely to be killed in police incidents than any other group of Americans.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, said to be under consideration by Trump for a running mate, contends Clinton was making “white people being to blame… That is so irresponsible,” Flynn said on ABC News’ This Week.
“Police are needed most where crime is the highest,” said Trump, appearing Monday with another potential running mate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. “Not only am I the law and order candidate, but I am also the candidate of compassion… You can’t have true compassion without providing safety.”
Clinton, while also saluting “brave police officers… working hard every day to inspire trust and confidence,” praised Dallas in particular for its “reputation for excellence.” Still, she said in urging stronger gun controls: “People are crying out for relief from gun violence… Gun violence is ripping apart people’s lives.”
As in much else, Americans are sharply divided over gun control — 83 percent of Democrats support stricter gun controls, but just 26 percent of Republicans do, the Quinnipiac Poll shows. More than one-third of American men own a gun at home, Pew has found, and Republicans outnumber Democrats 2-1 in gun ownership.
“I’m not sure guns are going to be the big issue in the campaign,” Warren says. “The big issue is obviously the anti-establishment lure of Trump… His appeal has got to come from people who are so angry with politicians, and it’s not the same as we’ve looked at in the past. He is really so anti-convention, anti-establishment, anti-Washington, and his description of the way politics is working is stark.”
“I understand the breadth of his appeal,” he says. “It goes way beyond guns.”