May 10, 2016
I’ll forgive you if the results of the Nebraska Republican Primary aren’t at the top of your mind. Donald Trump is the GOP nominee and he’s going to win Nebraska. It is worth wondering about the margin. Trump has an uphill battle to win the general election.
The Obama coalition is a majority of American voters. He won over 50% in both 2008 and 2012, and demographic trends mean this collection is an even larger percentage of Americans now. Mitt Romney won 93% of registered Republicans in 2012 and still fell short.
Not all groups turn out equally. In 2012, from most to least likely, the electorate broke down like this:
College Educated White Voters (77% turnout)
Non-College Educated White (57%)
Trump is banking on getting more non-college white voters to turn out and getting a larger percentage of them, though Romney pulled 62% support last time. It’s hard to see him doing much better than Mitt’s 56% with college educated whites, and expecting a much larger turnout seems faulty.
We shouldn’t assume he will do better with Hispanics than Romney. Despite Trump’s protestations, polls show he’s less popular, at least for now. Turnout is far more likely to increase. That would offset any drop in African American voters with Obama off the ballot.
Asian voters are often overlooked. I’m going to do the same here, though if Virginia winds up close, we’ll wind up taking a much closer look. Most states with higher Asian populations are too blue to worry about diving deeper right now.
Trump can’t afford any defections among less educated white voters and needs to keep more educated Republican leaners on board. While he still has 6 months before it’s all official, it’s not too soon to see how he’s doing. We can track polls, can track endorsements, but there’s no substitute for actual election results.
Nebraska is a good proxy. Republican Governor Pete Ricketts and his predecessor have both endorsed Trump. The Ricketts endorsement is particularly interesting as his parents (owners of the Chicago Cubs) have contributed millions to #NeverTrump advertising. His brother isn’t a fan either.
Ex-Gov. Dave Heineman is a Romney/Bush Family Republican. Having his support is another positive indicator for Trump. But Senator Ben Sasse is the most prominent and popular #NeverTrump politician. For those who are truly opposed to Nominee Donald, Sasse gives them a North Star to look to.
Normally turnout drops noticeably after the nomination is decided. In 2012, Romney had it locked up (though like Trump still hadn’t mathematically clinched.) About 180,000 Nebraska Republicans came out to vote. In most states 2016 participation ran ahead of 2012 numbers, so we’ll see if that continues now that we’re comparing presumptive apples to presumptive apples.
Trump voters might turn out anyway to show support for their guy and remind other Republicans the people have spoken. Opponents might want to signal he still needs to win them over. Last round, Romney secured roughly 70% of the vote in Nebraska, West Virginia and Oregon, all of which voted after things were decided.
It’s safe to look at Romney as an average/median outcome. He didn’t rally the party as quickly as George W. Bush, but wasn’t as divisive as Trump is. If The Donald can put up a similar result today, he has 6 months to work on improving the less educated white turnout.
If he’s stuck in the 55-60% range, it indicates he has plenty of healing to do just to get back to where Mitt was. Nebraska has no polling. We can’t see where Trump was in March and adjust for his progress, or look at last week and see how many Cruz voters shifted once he was eliminated. Anything over two-thirds indicates Trump is where he needs to be at this point. Anything below 60%….
My guess is he splits the difference:
Donald Trump 64.1%
#Never Trump 35.8%
Even if he still needs to win plenty of voters over, I’m thinking pro-Trump voters are more motivated to turn out than dispirited anti-Trumpers. Polls show a majority of national Republicans view him favorably. While he needs to make progress to win in November, I’m not expecting Nebraskans to lead a revolt, regardless of the views of their senator.
If you hear commentators tonight tell you a number in the high 60s (or better) is anything other than mostly positive for Trump, it’s an indicator the commentator is wrong and has at least a mild data allergy.