Blacks Are Surprisingly Giving Clinton a Little Boost

At a rally for President Obama in September 2012. As the first black president, Mr. Obama stirred an unprecedented level of enthusiasm and turnout among black voters. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times
At a rally for President Obama in September 2012. As the first black president, Mr. Obama stirred an unprecedented level of enthusiasm and turnout among black voters. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times

The conventional wisdom holds that sweeping demographic shifts propelled Barack Obama to the presidency.

So here’s a simple question: Why haven’t these demographics swept Hillary Clinton to a big polling lead and a smooth glide to victory? Donald J. Trump, after all, has alienated just about every growing demographic group and every category that helped push Mr. Obama to victory.

The biggest reason is that demographic change was an overrated contribution to Mr. Obama’s victory, and it will help Mrs. Clinton only at the margins this year. Analysts have conflated all of the effect of higher turnout and percentage of support among nonwhite voters with demographic shifts. In truth, the turnout and support were far more powerful components.

Mrs. Clinton is not poised to match the gains Mr. Obama made among nonwhite voters over previous Democratic nominees. That brings the pace of Democratic gains down to the slow crawl of demographic change.

Demographic Change Not as Powerful as Assumed

The traditional demographic story is fairly simple: Between 2000 and 2012, the white, non-Hispanic share of voters plummeted. According to the census, white, non-Hispanic voters represented just 74 percent of the electorate in 2012 — down from 81 percent in 2000.

The shift was, indeed, driven by demographic change. The white, non-Hispanic share of adult citizens — roughly the pool of people eligible to vote — fell by roughly the same amount over the same period.

The white, non-Hispanic share of adult citizens who are eligible voters has continued to fall — probably down to around 68 percent, although the census information is not yet up to date.

The growing diversity of the electorate has undoubtedly helped the Democrats. However, many people look at these numbers and assume that the preponderance of Democratic gains over the last decade can be attributed to these shifts. That is not so.

In fact, John Kerry would have probably lost the 2004 election even if eligible voters had been just as diverse as they were in 2012.

Conversely, Mr. Obama would have probably won his two elections even if the last decade of demographic shifts had never happened.

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Source: The New York Times | Nate Cohn @Nate_Cohn