Joe Biden is reaching heights that Hillary Clinton never did this late in the campaign against Donald Trump. The former vice president holds a significant national lead of around 10 points and is over 50% support.
Yet a look at recent polls suggests Trump is outperforming where he was four years ago with a key part of the Democratic coalition: Hispanics. This could have implications for what electoral strategy Biden may need to take into the fall if he is to beat the President.
Clinton crushed Trump with Hispanic registered voters in the final 2016 preelection polls. She led by 61% to 23%. (I use the preelection polls for an apples-to-apples comparison for current polling.)
Biden, on the other hand, holds an average 58% to 33% lead among Hispanic registered voters in an average of eight live interview polls taken over the last two months. These eight polls were ones for which I could procure a breakdown among white, Hispanic and black voters. All told we are looking at somewhere around 700 to 800 Hispanic voters total.
If we examine polls conducted over the last three months (so that we’re looking at 15 polls and well over 1,000 interviews), it’s Biden 58% to Trump’s 32%.
Doing the math, Biden’s margin of about 25 points is more than 10 points lower than Clinton’s. This is more because Trump is doing better without third party candidates than Biden taking a lower share of the vote, though both seem to be occurring to some degree.
Biden’s weaker margin is occurring even as he is doing better overall. In the last two months, Biden’s margin over Trump overall is nearly double in these eight polls (9 points) what Clinton’s was among registered voters (5 points) in the final 2016 polls of registered voters.
Biden’s relative weakness with Hispanics extends back to the Democratic primary. In the caucuses and primaries where Hispanics made up at least 5% of primary voters or caucusgoers in the entrance and exit polls, Biden averaged 32% of their vote. He averaged 38% of the vote overall in these contests.
Biden is managing to do better than Clinton overall because of how he is doing with black and white voters.
Biden, while trailing Trump, still vastly overperforms Clinton among white voters. Trump is ahead of Biden by 50% to 44% over the last two months. The President’s margin with white voters has been cut in half from the 51% to 37% he enjoyed in the final polls of 2016. As The New York Times’ Nate Cohn points out, Biden is doing better among whites with and without college degrees.
Additionally, he’s basically holding Clinton’s ground with black voters. He averages an 83% to 8% lead with black voters over the last two months. Clinton was ahead 83% to 5% in the final 2016 polls.
Now, we’ll obviously have to see if the current contours of the election stay the same. There’s no guarantee that they do.
If, however, the current racial and ethnic voting patterns remain relatively constant, then it makes a big difference in Biden’s easiest path to 270 electoral votes. White voters tend to make up a much larger share of the electorate in the northern battlegrounds (e.g. Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) than they do in the Sun Belt (e.g. Arizona, Florida, Georgia and Texas). Hispanic voters, meanwhile, are quite prevalent in many of the Sun Belt states.
This could mean Biden’s best chance to accumulate 270 electoral votes goes through the north, like the president he served under, Barack Obama.
Biden’s underperformance with Hispanics might also cause him to think about choosing a Hispanic running mate. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham remains very much in the vice presidential mix. The research tends to indicate that vice presidents don’t matter much, but Biden’s polling with Hispanics may still play a role in his vice presidential selection.
Either way, the polling does seem to show Biden’s campaign has some work to do with Hispanic voters. If Biden can improve with them, he may be able to expand his national lead further. If he can’t and Trump closes the gap overall, Biden’s relative struggles could make the difference in this campaign.