Tuesday, July 2, 2013

PART III: The "Race" Factor: Have African Americans Forgiven the Clintons for 2008?

Clinton greets supporter and BET founder Robert L. Johnson at a campaign stop in Jan. 2008. Photo courtesy of Todd Heisler/The New York Times.

As discussed in parts I and II of this 3 part series, Hillary Clinton would be a uniquely strong Democratic Presidential Primary candidate should she decide to enter the race in 2016, though with three distinct areas of potential weakness, based on her 2008 performance against President Obama.

She runs the risk of falling behind among voters concerned with electing a candidate who can best bring about change, with the only variable being how many 2016 primary voters will choose this quality as the most desirable trait. 51% selected "change" in 2008, far more than the second most identified trait, "experience," at 23%.

Clinton also risks doing poorly among young voters aged 18-29. This age group chose Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in 2008 by 26 points, and although she won voters over 30 years old by four points, (86% of the total electorate), she still lost the nomination.

But of all the attributes and demographics measured by the 2008 primary exit pollsters, none would seem to bode so poorly for Hillary Clinton in 2016 as her performance among African American Democratic Primary voters.

By the time the campaign ended in June 2008, Hillary had averaged a measly 15% of the African American vote, to Barack Obama's 76%. The margin was large enough to deny Clinton the nomination, despite carrying white Democratic primary voters 55-39%, Hispanics 62-35%, and "other" 57-41%.

Data is compiled from CNN's state-by-state primary exit polling. The complete data behind the national primary numbers can be found here.

Sure, a part of Hillary's weakness with black voters in 2008 was due to the presence of a young, charismatic African American on the Democratic ballot. But if you recall, the Clintons did a fair amount of racial flame-throwing in their quest to shake-off the popular Senator, upsetting many former black allies and supporters. So the question is whether or not African Americans have forgiven the Clintons for the perceived racial undertones of their attacks on Obama, and if so, whether they've redeemed themselves to the point of receiving their vote.

If early primary polling is any indication, the answer to the question is yes, blacks seem willing to vote for Hillary Clinton again:

Only surveys including racial breakdowns were included in the table.

That being said, we're still 2.5 years out from the start of any nominating contests. And more than any other group, the African American vote risks becoming a particularly troublesome weak spot for Hillary Clinton, and may make it hard for certain up and coming African American politicians to say "no" to a 2016 run (see Gov. Deval Patrick (D-MA) and likely soon-to-be-Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ)).

Based on 2008 exit polling, possible Hillary Clinton challengers have more than just three potential opportunties to exploit old weaknesses, as the chart below illustrates.

National data is compiled from CNN state-by-state exit polling. The complete national data set can be found here.

For example, Obama carried male primary voters 52-42%, as well as "very liberal" voters 51-43%. So there's always the chance that someone with a particularly strong appeal to men, or the most die-hard of liberals, could make inroads in a Democratic primary.

But the chart above makes clear that Hillary struggled most in 2008 with young voters, "change" voters, and black voters. That's why it's hard to see how someone like Joe Biden or Andrew Cuomo could pose a serious challenge. None of them are terribly new or fresh names in politics, none of them are young by any stretch, and none of them are admired by their liberal activist base (well, except maybe for Hillary, but only in the last few years).

As Democrats showed in 2008 and flirted with in 2004, insurgent, change-oriented candidacies, especially one by an ethnic minority, can flip the conventional wisdom on its head fast.

No doubt, any potential 2016 candidate would love to be in Hillary Clinton's seat right now. But any of the 2008 candidates would have said the same thing at this point.

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