Commentaries on the dynamics of the 2016 race have focused on Donald Trump’s strength with working class men and Hillary Clinton’s challenge with white men. White non-college men are voting for Trump 58 to 22 percent in a 3-way ballot, and 75 percent view Clinton unfavorably (67 percent very unfavorably). This explains Trump’s “Rust Belt” strategy and Clinton’s choice of Senator Tim Kaine as running mate.
But white working class men are only 18 percent of likely 2016 voters. In a 3-way race, they would need to count for 25 percent of voters in order for Trump to be competitive with Hillary Clinton and in a 2-way race, the white working class men would need to count for 36 percent of the electorate, with all else equal.
That is why women will determine the outcome of this election. They are repulsed by Donald Trump, and 63 percent view him unfavorably, (58 percent very unfavorably). Hillary Clinton was 3 points ahead of Donald Trump in a 3-way ballot in Democracy Corps’ national likely voter survey right before the Republican Convention; that grew to 7 points ahead in a 2-way ballot. But consolidated support among key groups of women and gains with white working class women are likely to propel her further ahead in the days after the Democratic National Convention.
It is critical for Clinton to consolidate support with one of the most reliable and fastest growing Democratic voting blocs: the unmarried women who now count for one-quarter of all voters. In a 3-way ballot, Clinton leads unmarried women 59 to 26 percent, with 8 percent voting for Libertarian Gary Johnson. It is possible that unmarried women will out-perform the 66 percent vote they gave President Obama in 2012; Clinton already wins 66 to 29 percent in a 2-way ballot.
That will be achieved by appealing to the white unmarried women, where there is room for Clinton to grow: 52 percent of white unmarried women voted for Obama in 2012, but only 43 percent are voting for Clinton in a 3-way race now. As unmarried women grow, the more conservative married women become less important. Married women are only giving Clinton 39 percent of the vote in a 3-way ballot (47 Trump) but they are now just 28 percent of the electorate, compared to 33 percent of voters in 2004.
College educated women will count for 27 percent of the 2016 electorate, up from 23 percent in 2004, and they are delivering a 20 point margin for Clinton in a 3-way ballot (up from +13 for President Obama in 2012). College educated women are more economically stable, with just 38 percent giving the state of the economy an unfavorable score, are more socially liberal, and nearly half are favorable towards Clinton. They are also the group most enthusiastic about voting in 2016, with 79 percent saying this election matters tremendously, motivated by their disdain for Donald Trump (7 in 10 rate Trump unfavorably and 58 percent say there is no chance they will support him).
The white working class women, by comparison, will count for only 17 percent of the 2016 electorate and 64 percent are voting for Trump in the 3-way ballot. The 35 point margin for Trump is fairly recent and has allowed Trump to move ahead of Romney’s margin (39 Obama, 59 Romney, +20 Romney). Thus, persuadable white working class women are also an important target for progressives, as women play such a critical role in 2016.
Millennial women are a growing proportion of the electorate – 18-29 year old women counted for 6 percent of the electorate in 2004, but millennial women will count for 15 percent of 2016 voters – and they are among the most progressive. They are very socially liberal and cynical about corporate America and less likely than other groups of women to say this election matters tremendously. But their 63 percent vote for Clinton in a 2-way ballot points to huge gains for Clinton if millennial women consolidate behind her after the convention.
It is worth noting that millennial women are increasingly diverse – only 52 percent are white. While the minority vote tends to consolidate later in polling, Clinton is already meeting the +69 point margin that Obama won in 2012 with minority women (84 Obama, 15 Romney in 2012; 76 Clinton, 8 Trump in July 2016).
If consolidated, the growing numbers of key groups of women – unmarried women and college educated women, particularly the millennials – and the persuadable white working class women will elect the first woman president.