One of the main themes of coverage of the 2016 election has been that the American public hate both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and are trying to figure out which is the lesser of two evils. But that may no longer be true.
If a round of recent polls is correct, Hillary Clinton is consolidating support among Democrats in general, young people, Latinos — in short, all the groups she needs to win, but who at various points in the campaign weren’t yet behind her in as large numbers as they might have been.
She may not wind up as the most beloved presidential candidate in memory, but she’s beginning to look much like other recent Democratic nominees — which would be more than enough for her to win. I’ll explain why I think this has happened in a moment, but let’s do a quick run-down first:
Democrats: In recent elections, both nominees have had overwhelming support among their partisans. But since there are slightly more Democrats than Republicans, if both do equally well, then the Democrat wins. For example, in 2012 Barack Obama won 92 percent of Democratic votes and Mitt Romney won 93 percent of Republicans; in 2008 Obama got 89 percent of his partisans and John McCain got 90 percent of his. You’ll recall who won those two elections.
Clinton is fast approaching a comparable level, while Trump trails slightly behind. In the latest ABC News poll, Clinton wins 89 percent of Democrats and Trump has 82 percent of Republicans. The latest Democracy Corps poll gives Clinton 90 percent of Democrats and Trump 86 percent of Republicans. A CNN poll shows Clinton with 91 percent of Democrats and Trump with 90 percent of Republicans. The latest Politico/Morning Consult poll gives Clinton 86 percent of Democrats and Trump 82 percent of Republicans.
So despite fears that large numbers of Bernie Sanders supporters might defect to Jill Stein or not vote, Clinton just needs to pick up a few Democratic stragglers, and she’ll have the party as unified behind her as she needs.
Young people: For many months, this was a major area of concern for Clinton. But a large new survey from GenForward and the Black Youth Project shows Clinton winning 60 percent of voters under 30 — exactly the same number Obama won four years ago (though she does slightly better among young whites and slightly worse among young voters of color). Other polls have shown similar results. As Jeff Stein wrote yesterday, “there’s very strong evidence that her support with millennials has increased at a much faster clip than it has with the rest of the voting public — particularly in the wake of the presidential debates.”
Latinos: Numerous analysts argued before the election began that if the Republican nominee couldn’t reach 40 percent of the Latino vote, it would be nearly impossible for him to win. In 2008, Obama beat Romney among Latinos by 44 points, and right now Clinton is doing even better. The latest Latino Decisions tracking poll shows Clinton crushing Trump by 53 points, while an NBC/Wall Street Journal/Telemundo poll showed her leading by 50.
Another data point: as Greg points out, the number of Clinton voters who say they are voting for her as opposed to against Trump has been rising, while the lower number of Trump voters who say they are voting affirmatively for him has stayed flat. As 538’s Harry Enten observes, the latest numbers on this question put her at levels of enthusiasm that are about in the middle of the pack for a Democrat: lower than Obama was, and slightly behind her husband, but better than Democrats who lost, like John Kerry, Michael Dukakis, and Walter Mondale. So the idea that Democrats are just holding their nose and voting for her is no longer true, if it ever was.
Why is it that Democrats in general and particular Democratic constituencies seem to be coming home to Clinton? The answer may lie in the process of going through a presidential campaign — not just her going through it, but voters going through it as well.
First, even many Republicans would acknowledge that Clinton has performed extremely well in this race. She may made a minor “gaffe” here or there (as all candidates do, even the most skilled), but she hasn’t had any significant screw-ups. She put on a terrific convention, and emphatically won all three debates. Her strategic decisions seem to have been quite sound. She built an efficient and effective campaign organization that has outperformed her opponent’s in every way — from the quality of its ads to its fundraising to its ground operation. She’s been disciplined and persistent, qualities she always had but which are serving her particularly well right now.
But there’s a more significant dynamic at work. The process of the campaign will tend to bring partisans home to their candidate even if all that weren’t true, just as it pushes members of the other party away. Clinton has often noted that when she’s doing a job, like senator or secretary of state, she’s been extremely popular; it’s when she’s seeking a job that her approval ratings go down. That’s partly simple sexism — many people still have a negative reaction to a woman displaying ambition — but it’s also because it puts her into a partisan context.
When she’s running for something, she’s not representing constituents or the country; she’s opposing a Republican and trying to accrue power for Democrats, which inevitably makes Republicans turn against her. It also means that she’ll be the focus of lots of criticism from conservatives in the media, which reminds rank-and-file Republicans that they’re supposed to dislike and fear her. That means that any Republican-leaning person who might have said she was doing a good job as secretary of state now won’t have anything positive to say about her.
But there’s another side to that equation, which is that putting her in a partisan context will lead Democrats to line up behind her. Just as conservatives hear the political and media figures they trust telling them all the reasons why she’s awful, liberals will hear their own trusted sources telling them all the reasons she’s terrific.
Democrats have also found themselves arguing in Clinton’s favor, and that’s a process in which you convince yourself as much as you try to convince the person you’re arguing with. You examine their arguments, come up with reasons why they’re wrong and you’re right, and generally organize your thinking into coherence, in a way that can solidify your pre-existing views and resolve whatever ambivalence you had. This can happen even if you’re not actually talking with someone in person — you might be doing it over social media, or maybe just in your own head as you watch the news. When you hear Donald Trump say that Clinton should be in jail and say to yourself, “Come on, that’s ridiculous,” you’re engaging in a process of self-persuasion.
Put all that together, and it may have been almost inevitable that Democrats would come home to Clinton by the time election day came. Yes, she’s running against an unusually repellent opponent. But you can’t say anymore that Americans can’t stand Hillary Clinton either.