Super Tuesday Analysis: How Race, Class And Geography Fed Trump And Clinton's Victories


After Tuesday night’s primary results, the presidential race is now all but settled among Democrats, and the fractured Republican field seems far along on their suicide mission to hand the White House to Hillary Clinton, a woman who as many as two-thirds of all Americans dislike, according to a recent poll. We are moving toward, as two Republican strategists recently remarked on CNBC, a November matchup of Clinton and Donald Trump that most voters actually don’t want.

How did we get here? Three major factors — race, class and geography — shaped the Super Tuesday results, much as they have the overall campaign, and they reinforce the prospect of even more divisive politics in the years ahead.

The Racial Primary

Class defined the first primaries, where white voters predominated. In the South and Southwest, racial bloc voting has sealed the deal for Hillary Clinton. African-American voters may not have done well economically over the past seven years, but their loyalty to President Obama, and to the Clintons, remains rock solid. Having provided the base for a huge win in South Carolina, on Super Tuesday, black voters sealed her victories in Georgia, Virginia and Alabama, and contributed greatly to her cause in Texas, where Latino voters also gave Hillary some 65 percent of their votes. Virtually everywhere minority votes put Clinton over the top, with weaker support from whites. In Virginia, where African-Americans constitute 25 percent of the primary electorate, eight out of 10 cast their vote for the former Secretary of State.

In contrast Bernie Sanders, the consummate radical candidate, continued to do well largely in lily-white states, as he did to start off the campaign in Iowa (92 percent white) and New Hampshire (94 percent white). He made a strong showing in Massachusetts (80 percent white) with 49 percent of the vote, while winning Oklahoma (82 percent white), Minnesota (85 percent white) and his home state of Vermont (95 percent white). Sanders also won in Colorado, a state that is 80 percent white, with a growing, predominantly Democratic Latino population but that is only 3.8 percent black.

Nationally, Republicans make pains to say publicly that they need to appeal to minorities, but as of 2012, 89 percent of voters who identified with the party were non-Hispanic white, compared to 60 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of independents. Even in highly diverse places like Harris County (Houston), on Tuesday almost 70 percent of GOP early voters were white compared to barely 41 percent of Democrats. Statewide exit polls put the GOP primary electorate at 82 percent white and 10 percent Hispanic; strangely, despite widespread perceptions that Trump is anti-immigrant, he didn’t do all that much worse with this demographic than favorite son Ted Cruz, with support from 26 percent of Hispanic GOP voters, versus 32 percent for Cruz.

Overall the big winner of the white primary is Donald Trump. Like Sanders he has racked up his strongest victories in nominally liberal white states like Massachusetts, which normally might have been expected to be easy pickings for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who came in a distant second. Trump won in the Bay State largely by sweeping the votes of poorer whites, precisely those who compete with immigrants for jobs and housing. But Trump won the support of white voters virtually everywhere by large margins. This shows that, in the Republican world at least, you can play with racial fire and not only survive, but actually thrive.

The Class Election

Among white voters, the big dividing line remains class. Throughout the election both Sanders and Trump have done best with those who make the least money. Among whites, Clinton has outperformed Sanders not only among seniors but also those making over $200,000. This may have helped her in places where there are many affluent whites, notably northern Virginia, where wealthy suburbanites combined with African-Americans to seal her impressive win in the state.

Sanders did somewhat better in states where the white working class is larger, such as Oklahoma and Tennessee. Yet Sanders really does best in his native New England and across the northern tier, in places like Minnesota, where socialist ideas have had resonance for generations among working- and middle-class voters.

But the most successful class warrior in this race remains Trump, a billionaire who is rapidly turning the GOP into the most unlikely of working-class parties. Overall working-class whites represent some 53 percent of all GOP voters. In Tennessee, according to exit polls, Trump took more than half of these voters, providing him a base that no other Republican can not match.

And it is a riled-up base. Some 53 percent of all Trump voters in Georgia exit polls said they were angry, 10 times those who said they were satisfied. Overall throughout the country over half of those coming out to vote Tuesday in the GOP primaries also expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the political status quo. These voter came out in big numbers for the Donald.

In contrast, Rubio does better among well-educated, more affluent voters, but they are easily outnumbered by the less well-off electorate, particularly in the south. In some states, particularly in the north, these voters have been leaving the GOP, making the party dependent on people who do not share the priorities or generally more liberal social views of the donor class. But there were at least enough moderate whites left in Minnesota to get Rubio his first victory, and allowed Kasich to come in a relatively close second to Trump in Vermont.

Some pundits, such as Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, see this white electorate as essentially “moronic,” dooming the GOP to a much deserved extinction in the wake of the triumph of “multicultural vision.” Yet don’t count the white working-class voter out yet. As liberal analyst John Judis notes, this group may be a declining share of the electorate – down from 65 percent in 1980 to about 35 percent today — but they still have the numbers to determine the November outcome not only in the South but in Northern states such as Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota and New Hampshire.

In November, geography will play a huge role, with most states either falling into the red or blue column. But in the primary season, it still helps to be a local. Ted Cruz’ victory in the Lone Star State, for example, may have less to do with the small Latino vote and more with his Texan identity; his win in Oklahoma may also have something to do with proximity, as well as the preponderance of evangelical communities.

Similarly Bernie Sanders did best in his home state of Vermont and liberal Colorado, and was at least competitive in neighborhood Massachusetts. These states are also home to many colleges and college students — his strongest base.

Yet the bottom line remains that, for all intents and purposes, we are about to see two largely unlikable, and untrusted, candidates running against each other. With Clinton depending on minorities and affluent liberals to get her through, and Trump running, almost exclusively, as the tribune of the angry, increasingly economically marginal white middle and working classes, we are seeing a divisive campaign whose final result is likely to please only a small minority of Americans.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, will be published in April by Agate. He is also author of The New Class ConflictThe City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

Republican results map by Ali Zifan (Own work; Map is based on here.) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Chosen colors

Blue is the wrong color for Drumpf.
His should be brown-shirt.

Trump, the moderate in wolf's clothing.

Trump, the moderate in wolf's clothing, will become less unlikeable as people get to know him better. This will be especially true of Hispanics and African Americans, who share the same class interests as working class whites. I thought it was interesting that Bernie's support in Oklahoma (and probably elsewhere) was strongest in rural areas. To me that suggests that Trump will pick up a lot of his supporters in the fall (assuming Trump gets the nomination -- how will he do in California?).

Before this is over I predict Joel will be rooting for Trump.