May 10, 2016
At some point, we may skip taking a look at each remaining primary. Donald Trump is running unopposed and Hillary Clinton has math firmly on her side. Bernie could win out and still fall well short of the nomination. But we do still have things to learn. West Virginia can help us answer a couple of useful questions.
How badly do Democrats want to keep Bernie going?
Can Trump win over a certain type of Sanders voter?
If we’ve identified any momentum in the Democratic race it’s that Bernie does better than expected when it looks like he’s eliminated/about to get eliminated, but Hillary does a little better when a defeat would cause her real problems. It’s as though voters are deciding they want him around but prefer her as the nominee.
This is a less visible (i.e. can’t prove it) effect than party registration or demographics. Bernie does better in open primaries. He does better in whiter states. We know he does better with younger voters. West Virginia doesn’t skew young, but it’s over 90% Caucasian and unaffiliated voters can participate. It’s light on the upscale suburban voters who prefer Clinton.
All things being equal, Bernie should win. He’s led every poll, though the last couple were relatively close. The Real Clear Politics average has him at +6. In previous open contests like Wisconsin and Indiana, this would translate to a 12 to 15 point victory. Bernie always beats his poll average in an open primary.
He’s spent more time in the state over the past week, as Hillary widens her footprint in preparation for the fall. She’s also not expecting victory, putting more hope in Kentucky next week. If Hillary makes this close, it helps answer the above questions.
Either Democrats are worried about an extended process helping Trump and want to support Hillary to shut things down, or unaffiliated voters are determined to support Trump rather than Sanders. It would take a combination of the two to keep the final result under 5 points.
Trump was headed for a big win even when this was a competitive race. His numbers in the Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia counties bordering West Virginia were excellent. All but PA voted well before Trump began winning majorities in primaries.
We know Trump trails Hillary nationwide in head-to-head match ups. A Utah poll found them virtually tied in a place Democrats never compete. A new survey found them basically even in red Georgia. Yet we see Trump leading Hillary 57/30 in West Virginia. This is a state Bill won very easily in the 90s. Any residual Clinton nostalgia doesn’t transfer to her.
Though West Virginians have supported the GOP candidate in each election since 2000, by generally increasing numbers, registered Democrats still outnumber Republicans by 200,000 voters. Crossover voting is not allowed, but unaffiliated voters can choose either primary.
If more voters participate on the GOP side with only one candidate still in the race, it’s either/both a huge vote of support for Trump or against the Democrats. It’s possible the polling is closer than I would have expected due to those unaffiliated voters indicating they’ll stand with Trump instead of Bernie.
These are exactly the type of Democrats and Independents Trump will need if he wants to win in normally blue states. He’s not going to get 27-year-old hipsters to support him. He’s not getting voters who support Hillary in the primary. There’s one type of Sanders voter up for grabs. If Trump is able to grab them, we’ll see evidence today.
So will he?
Bernie Sanders 54.8%
If this is the actual number, it means Bernie took a little bit of a hit as a result of the pending Clinton-Trump match.
Hillary Clinton 44.7%
Despit her win in 2008, this is not a Hillary state. Her comments about wanting to close down the coal industry didn’t go over very well. Still, she has her supporters. There are plenty of older voters, plenty of Democrats. With the fall campaign pending, it’s likely those core voters will show up to keep her from being embarrassed.
A gap of 10 points or less would give her a decent chance of winning in Kentucky next week and avoiding an 0 for May result.
Donald Trump 77.1%
Nebraska is about showing how determined some Republicans are to stay away from Trump, even after he became the presumptive nominee. West Virginia is his show of strength. In a state where Republicans are very much in the minority and voters are extra Trumpy, his friction with Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, and Paul Ryan can only help.
He’s benefitted all year from having the right enemies. The struggle to unite the party and increasing attacks from Hillary should encourage any and all Trump supporters to show up, even if he’s got the nomination wrapped up.
Not Trump 22.6%
There was never a healthy #NeverTrump presence. National Review-style conservatives aren’t plentiful in West Virginia. I’d expect the remaining anti-Trump voters to lack motivation to show up. Whether Cruz conservatives or Kasich moderates, there’s really no point now.
If Trump doesn’t win by at least a 3:1 margin, it’s a bad sign for him. West Virginia is the absolute floor for his GOP opposition.