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Teixeira: Trump's 'Narrow Path' Through Rust Belt in General Election Still a Big Gamble for GOP

In the current issue of the New Yorker, John Cassidy interviews TDS Founding Editor Ruy Teixeira on the topic "Could Donald Trump Win the General Election?" From Cassidy's report on the interview:

Teixeira, who is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress, co-authored a paper titled "The Path to 270 in 2016," which argued that demographics continue to favor the Democrats in assembling a majority in the Electoral College.

In conversation, Teixeira began by reviewing some figures that he and his colleagues have put together. Between 1976 and 2012, the percentage of white voters in the U.S. electorate declined from eighty-nine per cent to seventy-four per cent. In 2016, that number is likely to fall another two per cent, Teixeira said. That means the minority vote will rise from twenty-six per cent to twenty-eight per cent. About half of that increase reflects the growing Hispanic population; the other half is accounted for by rising numbers of Asians and peoples of other ethnicities.

Cassidy asks Teixeira if Trump could win, as some observers have ventured, by turning out enough discontented white working class voters in the rust belt. Teixeira responded that "It is not crazy. But I think it would be very hard to pull off." Cassidy adds,

Teixeira went on to explain that he was skeptical in part because, on a national basis, Trump's support among white voters isn't quite as strong as it sometimes appears to be. While he is attracting a lot of people to his rallies and to the Republican voting booths, it is a mistake to believe that these people are wholly representative of that segment of the electorate. "We are talking about the most alienated white non-college voters, and some college-educated voters," Teixeira said. "The most totally pissed-off ones." Among white Americans as a whole, including those who vote Republican, Teixeira reminded me, there are many people with moderate or liberal views. And in order to win the election, Texeira went on, Trump would need to rack up huge majorities of the white vote in some parts of the country where that vote has traditionally been relatively liberal, compared to the white vote in the South.

...Teixeira cited some more figures for individual states, distinguishing between white working-class voters who didn't go to college--Trump's base--and white college-educated voters. In Ohio in 2012, Mitt Romney won the white working-class vote by a sixteen-per-cent margin: fifty-seven per cent to forty-one per cent. According to Teixeira's projections, Trump, to carry Ohio in November, would need to increase this margin to twenty-two or twenty-three points. "That's a big ask," Teixeira said. And Trump would also need to retain, or even increase, Romney's ten-point margin among college-educated white Republicans, even though at least some members of this group may be sufficiently put off by Trump's extremism to stay at home, or even to switch to the Democrats.

Teixeira cites the 2012 white working-class votes in Wisconsin and Minnesota, which were evenly-split, as illustrative of the challenge facing the GOP nominee in those states in 2016. In addition, writes Cassidy, "The biggest weakness in the argument that Trump can win, Teixeira said, is that it rests on the notion that he can raise turnout among such voters, particularly working-class ones, without provoking a similarly high turnout among anti-Trump voters, particularly people of color."

"I find it just so implausible that we could have this massive white nativist mobilization without also provoking a big mobilization among minority voters," Teixeira said. "It is kind of magical thinking that you could do one thing and not have the other."

Cassidy cautions, however, that "On the other side of the ledger, Trump has been trampling on established political wisdom since he launched his campaign. So far, it has worked for him." But Teixeira responds that, even so, a Trump sweep of the needed states would also require a significant dip in African American and Latino turnout --- not a wise bet in 2016.

For a more detailed look at Ruy Teixeira's cutting edge research on the demographic dynamics and political attitudes underlying the 2016 elections, see his recent publication with co-authors John Halpin and Rob Griffin, "The Path to 270 in 2016" and "America's Electoral Future: How Changing Demographics Could Impact Presidential Elections from 2016 to 2032," written with William H. Frey and Robert Griffin.