I have had a chance to comb through the exit polls from November 8. I have already written about the Democrats’ dismal day, especially the performance of Hillary Clinton. But I want to now take a look at something that did not happen. Despite the fact that the President and First Lady could not translate their own political capital into a victory for their very damaged would-be successor, the polling numbers reveal that the victory coalition that Mr. Obama has put together is still very much alive and well.
Before I get to the numbers, remember that Franklin D. Roosevelt’s two-generation New Deal coalition suffered through two Dwight D. Eisenhower terms and the two-generation Ronald Reagan coalition had to endure two terms of Bill Clinton.
First and foremost, Mr. Obama remains a popular figure with American voters. Of those who voted last week, 54% gave him a positive job rating. And more voters (31%) said they were better today than said they were worse off. Both the total number of voters (126 million) and the percentage of those eligible voters who actually cast a ballot (55.6%) for President dipped from 4 years ago – yet the percentage of that vote that was nonwhite continued its upward trajectory (30%, up from 28% in 2012 and 26% in 2008). The youngest voters – 18-29 years old – actually increased their percentage of the total. But the problem for the Democrats is that their candidate for President was a drag not only on the race for the White House but also on the their chances to regain control of the Senate (Democrats gained only 2 seats) or make a more significant dent in the GOP majority of the House (Democrats gained only 6 seats). Democrats needed a high turnout to offset a significant enthusiasm gap at the top of the ticket and they did not get it.
But the other problem is that Mrs. Clinton under-performed in almost every category where she needed both a turnout and positive margin over Mr. Trump. While a greater percentage of Hispanics turned out than ever before (11%), Mrs. Clinton won only 65% to Mr. Trump’s 29% — a six point decline from Mr. Obama’s performance in 2012 and a 2 point gain for Mr. Trump of Mitt Romney. Clinton dropped a full ten points among an increased percentage of Asian American voters (75% in 2012 down to 65%) and as the percentage of African American voters dropped from 13% to 12%, Clinton got 88% (compared with the 95% and 93% that Obama received in his bids). Among 18-29 year olds, Clinton won by a margin of only 54% to 37% — a drop of 7 points from Obama’s 61% in 2012).
Clinton lost among college educated voters (45% to Trump’s 49%) and got walloped among those voters without a college degree (28% to Trump’s 67%). She is the first Democrat to lose among Catholic voters (46% to Trump’s 51%) since Michael Dukakis in 1988. And while Obama received about 30% of the vote among Born Again/Evangelical voters, Clinton received only 16%.
In short, there were 6 million fewer voters from 2012, obviously reflecting distaste toward both candidates – but the percentages reflecting the Obama victory coalition were mainly up. Trump increased the GOP share of Protestants and white voters in general. But in the demographics and in the sentiments expressed in the exit polling, there is nothing to suggest that voters repudiated President Obama. Indeed, they bore out in many ways pre-election polling by both PPP and Bloomberg that Obama would have won this election by double digit.
It appears that President Obama is certainly capable of winning a majority when he is on the ballot but less able to do so when he is not – especially when the standard-bearer is a harder sell even to the base.