Nobody’s voted yet, but the $64,000 question in the Democratic presidential nominating contest is whether the white liberals flocking to Bernie Sanders’s insurgent banner in Iowa and New Hampshire can find some allies of color in the states that will actually determine the nomination.
There hasn’t been much empirical evidence either way for the simple reason that very little polling has been done in the mostly southern and heavily African-American states that will begin weighing in once the cheering’s over in New Hampshire (there’s one state, Nevada, with significant Latino as well as African-American Democratic voters holding a caucus on February 20, a week before South Carolina holds its primary).
Team Sanders is certainly focused on the problem, with a variety of campaign efforts focused on minority voters in the works. The talking points they are putting out there, however, are less than convincing, as I learned as a guest on the public radio show “To the Point” yesterday, when I heard a Sanders supporter argue that an Iowa win would greatly boost Bernie’s African-American support just like it did for Obama in South Carolina in 2008. The idea that Sanders’s potential to win the black vote in South Carolina is analogous to that of the first African-American president does not pass the laugh test. Still, any early-state win for Sanders, even in exceptionally honkified Iowa and New Hampshire, will likely create some sort of generalized bounce. The question is how high, and how loyal minority voters prove to be to Hillary Clinton, her husband, and her implicit ally Barack Obama. It’s worth remembering that she defeated Barack Obama handily among Latinos in 2008, and that Bill Clinton enjoyed robust support in both communities.
Monmouth University has a new national poll out that casts some fascinating, if very preliminary, light on this subject. Compared to its poll in December, Monmouth shows Sanders making pretty big gains: Clinton was up 59-to-26 last month, and only 52-to-37 now. But among black and Latino voters, Clinton has actually expanded her lead from 61-to-18 to 71-to-21. In other words, a legitimate “Sanders surge” nationally has coincided with a deterioration of his standing with the voters he will most need for a breakthrough after the first two contests of the primary season.
It’s just one poll, but it’s consistent with what we know about the intra-party bases of the two Democrats. If that’s all wrong, we’ll know very soon.