WASHINGTON, March 18 (UPI) — As Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders vie to create the broad coalition of voters needed to win their party’s nomination, one bloc’s influence could be overlooked in the diverse Democratic electorate: white men.
Clinton has lost the white male vote to Sanders in all but three states — and by double digits in Ohio on Tuesday, where those voters are crucial to victory in November.
Exit polls in Ohio indicate part of the reason for Clinton’s failure is messaging, and part is the outsized role Republican front-runner Donald Trump is having in open primary states.
Clinton fares well among registered Democrats of either gender. But she does not do nearly as well among independents. Those independent voters can pick which primary they want to vote in, and turnout numbers show many of them voted on the Republican side this year.
It’s also worth factoring in the obvious: white, blue-collar “Reagan Democrats” are called something else now — Republicans. And many of them are being aggressively courted by Trump, who has given voice to the frustration many working class white Americans feel about the direction the country is headed.
Indeed, turnout numbers have shown the inverse of 2008. That year, independent voters flocked to the Democratic primary, having developed strong feelings about Clinton and Obama. This year, they are voting in the Trump-dominated GOP primary in record numbers.
While Trump and Sanders have virtually nothing in common in style, they do have two important traits in common that could explain why they are outperforming Clinton with white men. Trump and Sanders are seen by voters as outsiders storming the political establishment and they both vehemently oppose free trade deals they say have cost American jobs.
On trade, Sanders and Trump share a position that resonates deeply with white male voters, many of whom have faced economic hardship as once-lucrative industrial jobs across the Midwest have vanished.
On the Republican side, the free trade assault resonates with economically disenfranchised voters.
“You know, Michigan’s been stripped,” Trump told CNN’s Anderson Cooper after winning the state’s primary. “You look at those empty factories all over the place. And nobody hits that message better than me.”
The heart of that anti-free trade appeal on the Democratic side is with organized labor, a political constituency that is also dominated by white men. In Michigan, Sanders captured 62 percent of the white male vote, NPR exit polling showed. Had Clinton come anywhere near splitting them evenly, rather than losing more than six-in-10, she may have avoided what is the most embarrassing primary defeat for her so far in the campaign.
While 2016 has seen Trump and Sanders play to the white vote, it wasn’t always like that. In 2008, Clinton was the candidate most aggressively courting their support — and while she did not win the nomination, her arguments proved persuasive among white voters in that campaign. She won a majority of the white male vote against Obama in the Democratic primary, in part by appealing more to their issues eight years ago than she has thus far in her second presidential campaign.
In 2008, Clinton made a point of defending the Second Amendment and spoke fondly about her father teaching her to shoot a gun as a young girl.
In 2016, she has revised her appeal to Democrats, focusing much more on gun violence and institutional racism in law enforcement — issues that appeal greatly to black and Hispanic voters, but not nearly as much to white people, particularly men.
If Clinton wins the nomination, she will not need a majority of white men to vote for her to win in November. In 2008, Barack Obama won the general election rather handily, while only receiving about 35 percent of the white male vote. No Democrat has carried a majority of the group since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.