WASHINGTON, June 3, 2015 — The big headlines about the CNN/ORC poll released this week have been about several possible Republican opponents catching up to Hillary Clinton. But the really bad news for Team Hillary lies deeper in the data.
In the head-to-head matchups with the GOP field, Clinton averages a 65.6 to 27.4 percent advantage among respondents classified as non-white. While a 38-point polling edge usually means things are going well for a candidate, for Clinton this may mean electoral doom next November.
In 2012, President Barack Obama won re-election with an impressive 332-206 Electoral College win over Mitt Romney. Lost in that margin are hard-fought wins in key battleground states, where a stellar ground game found and turned out every last possible supporter. As part of that effort, Obama thumped Romney among black, Hispanic, and Asian voters, 82 to 16 percent.
Applying some simple, back-of-the-envelope adjustments to the 2012 figures to factor in Clinton’s depressed support among minority voters shows the depth of her challenge. This kind of performance among non-whites could have cost the Democrats the last presidential election.
Pulling support from just 70 percent of non-whites nationally—a kind figure that outpaces her performance in the CNN/ORC poll—Clinton would lose 4 million raw votes. She would beat Romney’s national total by only about a million votes, or less than 1 percent, a statistical tie.
More important are the state-by-state races. If Clinton’s performance among minority voters degraded at the same rate nationally, decreasing raw vote totals among non-whites by 17 percent, several swing states that Obama won in 2012 would flip from blue to red. Rough exit poll data on demographic breakdowns within the electorate suggest Clinton would sink below Romney’s totals in Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, raising the Republicans’ electoral vote total to 266, just one state shy of a win.
Remember, this assumes all those voters Clinton lost simply stay home, with absolutely no defections. Under this model, Colorado and Nevada would have pro-Clinton margins of about 70,000 and 25,000 votes, respectively. That keeps Clinton at 272 electoral votes, but her grip on victory is tenuous. A handful of vote- switchers could have changed the hypothetical course of the 2012 election.
Since the GOP contenders are polling at least 50 percent better than Romney did, that is worth worrying about if you’re a Democrat. In Nevada, the 30,000 new conservative voters on the rolls since 2012—courtesy of a registration drive by a group called Engage Nevada—would help put a dent in the deficit, too.
A caveat: Thanks to inconsistencies among state-by-state exit polls and the CNN/ORC lumping minority voters into a single, “non-white” category, this mental exercise is obviously no scientific projection. Still, there’s no escaping the numbers that show Clinton lagging 14-18 points behind Obama’s percentages.
There’s plenty of time between now and November 2016, so even the snapshot the CNN/ORC poll offers won’t be accurate for very long. Clinton and her Republican opponent will have campaigns to run, which will shape and shift these numbers. For example, perhaps she can make up the difference by pulling more votes from women or working-class whites.
Yet, for the allegedly front-running Clinton, these results present a troubling trend line. The Republican field closing in might have been expected; the news that her base could erode from beneath her feet is much worse.