The public signals sent by candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton resonate differently within America’s racial subgroups.
Both candidates are keenly aware of it.
A few simple numbers tell a good deal about the rough strategy behind those signals. They also help explain their statements as racially charged issues return to the fore.
Four years ago, Democratic President Barack Obama beat Republican Mitt Romney in the popular vote, 51 to 47 percent.
According to the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University, 72 percent of all the votes were cast by whites; 13 percent by African-Americans; 10 percent by Hispanics; 3 percent by Asians, and 2 percent by “others.”
Romney won 59 percent of the nation’s racial majority, Obama 39 percent.
But Obama cobbled together his majority by drawing a solid 93 percent of the black vote, 71 percent of Hispanics, 73 percent of Asians and most of the “others” as well.
There is no guarantee that those numbers work the same way in 2016. Turnouts change within the communities.
Minority enrollment has increased faster than for whites. Clinton has strong numbers among blacks — but could they be as strong as the first African-American president’s? Black votes mattered greatly in her primary defeats of Bernie Sanders, though his run flagged her weaknesses among white males.
And in a possible hint of where he’s focused, Trump ran up bigger totals from Republicans in the primaries than George W. Bush’s impressive numbers in that regard in 2000.
Romney collected his big percentage among whites. But the percentage of blacks who turned out exceeded the percentage of whites who turned out in 2012, as it did in 2008, which produced Obama’s first election, according to an Associated Press study a few years back.
Facing this landscape and trying to shift it to their benefit explains some the candidates’ recent declarations on the campaign trail.
Trump clearly is not riveted on winning even close to a majority of African-American votes; surely he’d like to shift the percentage his way if he can.
Moreover, he’d like to dampen enthusiasm, and therefore turnout, for his rival.
He said of African-Americans the other day, “Democrats still feel entitled to their vote,” but they shouldn’t. He’s also told black audiences, “What do you have to lose?”
Similarly, Clinton would undoubtedly like to contain the older white-male vote for Trump if she can’t convert it.
Trump won’t protect you from ISIS, or from disorder, but would further endanger you with his loose-cannon ways, she tries to persuade the electorate at large.
Gender is a separate but related topic. Trump has an explicit pattern of misogyny, Clinton tells the voters. She’s trying to play the “gender card,” Trump tells voters.
In 2012, 53 percent of voters were women. Obama won the overall female vote while losing among men, according to Roper.
It seems obvious, but it’s easy to forget: Every planned statement you will hear from the stage at the Hofstra debate on Monday will be directed toward a target group.
No matter who the candidates are, these campaigns become exercises in strategic pandering.