PHILADELPHIA - The Democratic National Convention has gone to great lengths this week to posture the party as one of inclusion, but the focus on minorities and women highlights a challenge that could hurt Hillary Clinton on Election Day: her white-male problem.
“Her most serious relationship problem is with white men, on a policy issue front but also stylistically,” Peter Hart, a veteran democratic pollster, told the New York Times.
Some recent polls show Clinton trailing Donald Trump nationally by about a point and that likely can be attributed to weak support by white non-college-educated men. Polls show Trump leads Clinton 58 percent to 30 percent among white voters without a college degree.
During Clinton’s 2008 campaign against Barack Obama, she had a different emphasis. In that race, she attempted to appeal to white voters as a contrast to Obama’s popularity among minorities. She emphasized her rural roots, hawkish views on national security and even told stories about when she learned to shoot a gun.
The white-male problem is not only a Clinton issue, though. Democrats have struggled on that front for decades. The last Democratic nominee to carry white males was Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and the party has only won about 35 percent to 40 percent of white men in almost every presidential election since 1988.
“This is one of the oldest stories in American politics. Mitt Romney got over 60 percent of voters in that category, that has been the weakest demographic for Democrats in decades,” said Bill Galston, former policy adviser to Bill Clinton. “So the fact that you are running as the first woman who is not exactly running as a populist, the fact that you are [supposed] to do better with that demographic is a joke. I always assumed that would be her weakest demographic.”
While not out of the ordinary for the party overall, some experts say the party’s problem with white males could still mean danger ahead for Clinton. White males make up about a third of the typical presidential electorate and will be an important demographic to tap or maintain in swing states that have witnessed a declining middle class.
“It hasn't been one of Democrats’ best demographics for years. But the combination of Hillary Clinton's unpopularity and Donald Trump's message could make some traditionally Democratic states, such as Pennsylvania, competitive,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor of the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report and an independent political analyst.
What that means for Election Day largely comes down to Trump’s own tactics to win over voters that have in recent years largely abandoned the Republican Party, such as Latinos, and he clearly has his work cut out for him in that regard. Following the Republican National Convention, a survey conducted by the Latino Victory Project found that 80 percent of registered Latinos polled held an unfavorable view of Trump.
“Clinton's gap with white voters may not matter if minority voters vote against Trump at historical levels,” Gonzales said. “But, over the long term, Democrats can't count on Trump to help them in every election.”
Democratic Party bigwigs don’t seem worried. Many of them say they have faced similar opposition by white voters in their own House and Senate races.
“The white males just don’t dig us,” Sen. Dick Durbin told DecodeDC. “Better minds than mine can analyze why white males push back against us. I can think of a few reasons. But you know by and large when you look at how you win an election, there are enough in the other categories to become an enduring majority if that’s all we lose in the process.”
Nancy Pelosi echoed similar thoughts Tuesday on PBS NewsHour. “So many times, white -- non-college-educated -- white males have voted Republican. They voted against their own economic interests because of guns, because of gays, and because of God, the three G's — God being the woman's right to choose.”
Pelosi said continuing to focus on the economy is the best way to get through to them.
Clinton’s recent pick for a running mate also might give her a boost among white males. Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine seems like an obvious choice to help appeal to them.
“She started by rejecting advice to appoint a woman or a minority as her VP and instead selected a certified white male,” Galston said of Kaine. “He has many other virtues, but if the ticket had left that demographic completely shut out that would have sent the signal that she really doesn’t care. And that was the most important decision she had to make.”
Former President Bill Clinton also will likely be a key player here. He mentioned in his DNC speech Tuesday that he is headed to West Virginia soon to pave the way for Hillary.
If Clinton can’t shore up support among white males or make up the difference with minority support, it could spell trouble for her in November.
“Life will become interesting if Trump does well enough in western Pennsylvania and southeastern Ohio to make a real race of it in those two states,” Galston said. “I don’t think [Clinton’s] writing off anybody. But at that point, minimizing Trump’s margin in that demographic will become very important.”