Friday May. 20, 2016

Trump Thinks He Can Win Ohio, He Might Be Right

The close margin in Kentucky's May 18 Democratic primary underscores some of Hillary Clinton's potential vulnerabilities in the general election (which we raised earlier, after the Indiana Primary).

Overall, the race in Kentucky was amazingly close, especially considering how well Clinton performed in Lexington, home of the University of Kentucky. Previous contests suggested that Sanders would have an obvious advantage there.

Unsurprisingly, Sanders outperformed Clinton in the coal counties, but also did well in western areas of the state less dependent on coal. As with Indiana, these results expose a real weakness for Clinton with rural and less educated white voters.

The wider impact of this effect could hurt Clinton in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and possibly Michigan and Minnesota during the general election.

A Closer Look at Ohio

Using the Census Bureau's 2014 Current Population Survey, the estimated shares of Ohio's Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP) by race and Hispanic origin break down as follows:

Race and Hispanic OriginCVAP Share
White (non-Hispanic)84%
African American12%
Hispanic2%
Asian1%
Other1%

In the table below, we include estimates of white and black vote share from the 2012 election, when President Obama carried Ohio by 3 points.

Source Vote Share, White Obama Support, White Vote Share, African American Obama Support, African American
Exit polls 79% 41% 15% 96%
Census Bureau 83% - 13% -

According to the 2012 exit polls, Obama won Ohio by carrying 96 percent of the African American vote, and 41 percent of the white vote, giving him a victory margin of 166,272 votes.

Scenario 1: Trump Plurality

How the election in Ohio will play out is far from certain, but using Obama's performance as an indicator, along with other available data, we can forecast several scenarios that show an uphill climb for the Clinton campaign in the state.

Based on the following turnout assumptions, the race in Ohio could be even closer than 2012:

Trump performance assumptions:

Based on these projections, the vote would breakdown like this:

Race Major Party Vote Trump Clinton Trump Margin
White 4,679,000 2,667,030 2,011,970 +655,060
African American 665,000 66,500 598,500 -532,000
Hispanic 115,000 28,750 86,250 -57,500
Other 68,000 27,200 40,800 -13,600
Total 5,527,000 2,789,480 2,737,520 +51,960

For this scenario to materialize, Trump would need to capture 10 percent of the African American vote, which would be slightly less than George W. Bush received in 2004. As noted above, in this scenario, we are assuming both a drop in African American turnout and a slight defection of African American voters.

Scenario 2: Clinton Matches Obama's African American Support

Some observers will be reluctant to accept that Donald Trump could carry 10 percent of the African American vote, given Obama's vast advantage over the last two presidential cycles. So, keeping other factors the same, here we consider what happens if Clinton matches Obama's 96 percent African American support.

Race Major Party Vote Trump Clinton Trump Margin
White 4,679,000 2,667,030 2,011,970 +655,060
African American 665,000 26,600 638,400 -611,800
Hispanic 115,000 28,750 86,250 -57,500
Other 68,000 27,200 40,800 -13,600
Total 5,527,000 2,749,580 2,777,420 -27,840

This scenario changes the outcome considerably. If Clinton maintains Obama's advantage with African American voters, she will win the state. However this is still tenuous, as a Trump increase of 2 percent among African American voters would result in a virtual tie (in this scenario).

Scenario 3: African American Turnout Increases, Trump Receives 10% of African American Vote

Trump's divisive rhetoric may actually increase overall African American turnout (as voters turn out in higher numbers to oppose him). If we assume, again, that the vote share is divided more traditionally (as in Scenario 1), we see that an elevated African American turnout may not be enough to deliver the state for Clinton.

Race Major Party Vote Trump Clinton Trump Margin
White 4,679,000 2,667,030 2,011,970 +655,060
African American 700,000 70,000 630,000 -560,000
Hispanic 115,000 28,750 86,250 -57,500
Other 68,000 27,200 40,800 -13,600
Total 5,562,000 2,792,980 2,769,020 +23,960

Scenario 4: Clinton's White Vote Share Drops

If the Democratic primary has shown one thing, it's that Hillary Clinton has a problem engendering support with working-class white voters. So now assume that Clinton's support among white voters drops to 39 percent, but she maintains Obama's advantage among African Americans.

Race Major Party Vote Trump Clinton Trump Margin
White 4,679,000 2,854,190 1,824,810 +1,029,380
African American 665,000 26,600 638,400 -611,800
Hispanic 115,000 28,750 86,250 -57,500
Other 68,000 27,200 40,800 -13,600
Total 5,527,000 2,936,740 2,590,260 +346,480

It is clear in this scenario that such a marked drop in share of the white vote in Ohio would be devastating for Clinton. Elevated turnout of Hispanic voters—something proponents often cite—would be unable to overcome that margin.

All in all, it could be a challenging battle for Clinton in Ohio.

Implications for the Election Nationwide

We are not suggesting that Trump has the advantage when analyzing the electoral map. Rather, we are confirming that his path to victory runs through states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

However, if the demographic advantage favoring Democrats were to deliver Colorado and Nevada for Clinton—which it certainly could—Trump would need to negate that outcome with a victory in Michigan and possibly Minnesota. Other states, like Virginia, that went Democratic in 2008 and 2012, could be potentially devastating for Trump if they did so again. From our perspective, Virginia in particular may be more likely to go Democratic than Ohio.

All of this leaves out Florida, which again presents Trump with serious demographic obstacles, but remains winnable for him. His path to victory is extremely complicated and unlikely should he fail to carry Florida.