The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Cracks are visible in Hillary Clinton’s ‘firewall’

(Aaron P. Bernstein, The Washington Post)

With the battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders hurtling towards a number of March contests with very diverse electorates, the question increasingly preoccupying Democrats is whether Sanders will demonstrate an ability to crack into Clinton’s deep support among nonwhite voters. Related to this is the question of whether Sanders can make inroads among younger nonwhite voters, utilizing his appeal among young voters to broaden his demographic appeal, as his campaign has asserted he is already doing.

The polling evidence is now trickling in, and some of it shows that for now, Sanders is not making serious inroads, though this could change. However, one poll does show some movement for him. Here’s the latest data:

1) A new NBC/Survey Monkey tracking poll, which shows Clinton leading Sanders by 10 points among Democrats nationally, shows that she still holds a very lopsided lead among black voters, with fewer than one in four backing the Vermont Senator.

Perhaps more tellingly, the poll finds Clinton leads Sanders among black Millennials by 64-25. Sanders leads Clinton among white Millennials by 75-22. All this suggests Sanders may have yet to translate the success he’s had among young white voters to young nonwhites.

2) A CBS News poll of South Carolina released over the weekend found that Clinton leads Sanders by 59-40 among likely South Carolina Democratic primary voters. The CBS polling team tells me that she leads him by 73-26 among black voters, a larger lead than nationally. (The sample sizes were too small to break out young black voters.)

The Dem voting takes place in South Carolina on February 27th, and it will be the first big test of whether Sanders can make serious inroads among nonwhites in these southern primaries in March.

3) A new Public Policy Polling survey of South Carolina actually does show some movement for Sanders, though far from enough thus far. The poll, which shows Clinton leading Sanders by 21 points among Democrats in the state, finds that she leads him by 63-23 among blacks, which is better for him than a November survey that showed her leading him among blacks by 86-11.

The poll, interestingly, also shows Clinton leading Sanders by less — 49-34 — among blacks who are 45 and under.  (All this data was sent my way by PPP.)

So there’s not a lot of evidence that Sanders is making serious inroads among nonwhites — at least not yet. But there’s some movement. And there are clear signs that the Clinton camp is wary of this possibility, particularly among younger nonwhite voters. Clinton’s high profile African American backers have already started to pitch their argument to younger nonwhites, by making the case that Sanders’s big ideas may be seductive, but they are unrealistic, and insisting that younger voters (who have not been of voting age through many presidential cycles) need to ask themselves whether Sanders can win a general election.

What’s more, the Nevada caucuses — which are set for this Saturday — have suddenly emerged as a big unknown when it comes to the question of whether Sanders (who comes from an overwhelmingly white state) can broaden his demographic appeal. Veteran Nevada journalist Jon Ralston reports today that there are numerous on-the-ground signs that the Clinton team is now worried it could lose in the state, and he concludes:

If he can make it in Nevada, Sanders can proffer the argument that he can win anywhere in America, not just in less diverse states such as Iowa and New Hampshire. And it could raise serious questions about Clinton’s ability to fend off his insurgent challenge that was once considered a lark. On the other hand, if she wins Nevada and then South Carolina, the entire dynamic shifts in her favor, thus halting the media narrative of the Sanders Surge.

According to CNN, the Democratic primary electorate in Nevada is 40 percent nonwhite. What’s more, CNN also reports that both Clinton and Sanders are testing their arguments to nonwhite voters in Nevada. Clinton is arguing that her focus on systemic racism, discrimination, and bigotry is broader than Sanders’s focus on fighting soaring inequality and reining in Wall Street power, and is more tailored to the various diverse constituencies that make up the Democratic Party. The Sanders campaign, meanwhile, is stressing the fact that his father was an immigrant, to win over Latinos, as well as his past civil rights activism. So Nevada is a dress rehearsal of sorts in the battle for nonwhites.

Of course, it’s hard to say how much a Sanders win in Nevada would really tell us about what will happen in all the March contests, which will take place in states like South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, Arkansas and Florida. But a Sanders win in Nevada will put some serious cracks in the argument that he can’t breach her nonwhite voter firewall. The question will then be how far those cracks spread.


UPDATE: A few folks on twitter took issue with my headline, saying that it isn’t supported by the data that follows in the piece. I meant the “cracks” to refer to the one poll showing some movement among nonwhites for Sanders, as well as the signs emerging from Nevada that the Clinton camp is nervous about losing there. The question (I thought I clarified in the piece) is whether these cracks (and a loss in Nevada) will matter in all the big contests that follow in March. But the criticism seems reasonable enough.