Trump Forces Didn’t Just Beat the Establishment, They Overran It

Donald Trump didn’t just outlast a long list of Republican challengers to be the last man standing for the presidential nomination. He won by remaking the Republican Primary electorate itself.

About 25.7 million people have voted in the 2016 Republican primaries and caucuses so far. That’s about seven million more votes than were cast in the entire 2012 GOP presidential primary – and there are likely still well over two million votes yet to be cast in nine states this year, including in the nation’s most populous state, California.

And a close look at the numbers provides a lot of evidence that Trump didn’t win the party over so much as his supporters overran the primary process. In essence, Trump democratized (small “d”) the GOP process and took it away from the establishment.

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Consider Florida’s March 15 Primary, where Sen. Marco Rubio was supposed to have chance to make a statement with a big win, or at least a strong showing, in his home state. Rubio lost by some 400,000 votes and won only his home county, Miami-Dade. It was a massive 19-point victory for Trump.

But the reason the victory looked so impressive was the sheer number of voters that turned out. Trump captured more than 1.07 million votes on March 15. That was far-and-away the most votes received by a candidate in a Florida Republican Presidential Primary.

How big was Trump’s vote? If you add the total votes from 2016’s two establishment Republican candidates in Florida – Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich – you get a final tally of 797,000. That’s a big number. It’s greater than the number of votes cast for Romney in 2012, 776,000.

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But Rubio and Kasich’s total added together still would have lost to Trump by more than 200,000 votes. That’s remarkable. About 1.67 million people cast votes in the Florida Republican Primary in 2012. More than 2.36 million cast votes in 2016 – and it appears Trump captured most of that increase.

Beyond Florida there is more evidence of the size of the Trump vote overrunning the traditional GOP vote in establishment strongholds around the country, particularly later as the establishment candidates banded together to “stop Trump.”

On April 26, Trump swept five states and all but captured the nomination. In those states the numbers in key counties suggest that the establishment vote was remarkably consistent with where it has been four years ago.

In Chester County, Pennsylvania, Trump easily handled Kasich – 35,500 votes to 23,800 votes respectively. But in 2012, Romney won the same county in a landslide with only 24,400 votes.

In Fairfield County, Connecticut, Trump dominated Kasich – 33,000 to 20,000 votes. But in 2012, Romney won Fairfield with only 13,000 votes.

In Montgomery County, Maryland, Trump edged Kasich – 18,900 votes to 17,100 votes. But in 2012, Romney won the county handily with only 17,400 votes.

Those counties hold the hallmarks of the GOP establishment. They all have median household incomes of more than $80,000 and more than 45% of the 25-or-older population has a bachelor’s degree. Romney won at least 60% of the vote in all of them in primaries in 2012.

Yet they all went to Trump, as did every county in the east coast states that voted on April 26 – Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Turnout was up by at least 80% in all those states from four years before. Some of that is undoubtedly due to the fact that the Republican race went longer in 2016 and the vote in those states mattered more. But the numbers suggest that much of the establishment vote did turn out, there just wasn’t enough of it.

To be clear, Trump’s wins likely aren’t only about increased turnout. He almost certainly has captured some of what is considered the establishment vote in those counties and around the country.

But the presumptive nominee’s wins, combined with the increase in turnout and the numbers for Rubio and Kasich – and later for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz – indicate the driving force behind Trump has been a big bump in the number of votes cast.

In other words, voter turnout, the very thing that candidates and parties cite as evidence of their strength, may be the biggest force behind the weakness of the Republican establishment in 2016.

Over the past couple of weeks, Donald Trump has become the presumptive Republican nominee and Hillary Clinton has continued to inch closer to the magic number of delegates she needs to lock up the Democratic contest. Clinton continues to lead Bernie Sanders in our national tracking poll (she is up by 14 points in this week’s results).

Attention is now rapidly moving to the hypothetical match-up between the leading candidates with an emphasis on a Clinton and Trump contest. In this week’s poll, Americans are nearly split between their choice of Trump or Clinton; her margin over Trump narrows from 5 points last week to 3 points this week to 48 percent to 45 percent.

This early data indicates a very close race right now — though that may change considerably before November. Understanding, why the race is close requires a deeper look into how various demographic groups break for either candidate.

The demographic-based analyses below are from the latest data from the NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking Poll conducted online from May 9 through May 15 among 14,100 adults, including 12,507 who say they are registered to vote.

Clinton, who was able to maintain her front-runner status throughout the Democratic primary by winning over black and Hispanic voters, continues to do extremely well among these voters over Trump. She wins black voters 84 percent to 9 percent — a 75 point gap — and wins Hispanics 65 percent to 28 percent.

Trump is the preferred candidate among white voters by 14 points over Clinton — 53 percent to 39 percent. This is up slightly from last week’s 11-point margin among white voters.

There is also a significant gender gap with Clinton beating Trump by 15 points among women, while Trump carries men by a similar 11-percent margin. Gender appears to be critical to this race already with Trump’s controversial comments about Clinton playing the “woman’s card” in order to explain her success over Sanders.

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NBC News

When examining voters’ preferences by income and education, those with a high school degree or less favor Trump over Clinton by 5 points. Those with college degrees favor Clinton by 7 points. Though there are many narratives that state working-class voters — at least on the Republican side — are one of the main groups responsible for Trump’s success, overall, Americans from households who earn less than $50,000 a year favor Clinton over Trump by 20 points. Those from higher-earning households favor Trump by 5 points.

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NBC News

While many people are speculating that Republican voters will ultimately end up supporting Trump, and Democrats will line up behind Clinton, a big question is where independents will place their support. At this moment, independents break for Trump 44 percent to 36 percent. This group will be heavily targeted this summer and fall by campaigns and outside groups as they will be a critical voting bloc in determining the winner.

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NBC News

While political ideology correlates highly with partisanship, it is interesting to note that Clinton does much better than Trump among moderate voters. This group breaks for Clinton 53 percent to 39 percent. While those who say their political leanings are “conservative” solidly support Trump, voters who identify as “very conservative” are slightly less strong in their support of the presumptive nominee.

In a general election, turnout is everything. However, the 2016 election is a bit more unpredictable in that what motivates key groups to support — or cast a vote against their party’s opponent — could be different with a non-traditional candidate like Trump in the race.

On the Democratic side, Clinton may need to focus her efforts on overcoming large unfavorable ratings in order to sway unaffiliated voters. The same would likely to true for Trump who holds even higher unfavorable ratings than Clinton. Tracking how these various groups break for either candidate helps give early clues into where each candidate needs to focus their campaigns in the coming months.

The NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking poll was conducted online May 9 through May 15, 2016 among a national sample of 14,100 adults aged 18 and over, including 12,507 who say they are registered to vote. Respondents for this non-probability survey were selected from the nearly three million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. Results have an error estimate of plus or minus 1.2 percentage points.