Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has a lot of problems. Near the top of the list is this: Suburban voters want nothing to do with him, especially in three states where he needs to compete.
The latest indicator was this week’s Washington Post survey, which showed Hillary Clinton up by 14 percentage points in Virginia among registered voters and eight with likely voters. The driving force: she enjoys a 45-point advantage in the voter-rich Washington suburbs, almost double the margin rolled up there four years ago by President Barack Obama.
This follows similar findings in Philadelphia’s suburbs, where Clinton’s big lead threatens to put Pennsylvania out of Trump’s reach.
A Marist College poll out this week shows the Democratic nominee with a 14-point lead in Colorado. Lee Miringoff, director of the poll, says looking at the statewide response, “You can extrapolate that she has almost a 3-to-1 lead in the Denver suburbs.” This is a bigger advantage than Obama held while carrying the state in 2008 and 2012.
These three states have been considered crucial for Trump — among the half-dozen or so states he has to switch from the Democratic column to win. The growing suburbs in these states seem to be making that impossible. If he loses Colorado, Pennsylvania and Virginia, a pathway to victory is hard to see.
Trump is especially unpopular in these venues, which include a lot of college-educated residents, rising diversity and voters who are more tolerant on social issues. But this only is accelerating a political trend in suburbs outside the deep South, which have been trending Democratic for almost a quarter-century. As recently as 1988, they were Republican bastions.
A few things changed. The growing numbers of minority-group suburbanites are mainly Democrats. White suburbanites aren’t drawn to the Republican party’s campaign to connect with religious and cultural conservatives.
“The Republicans’ positioning resonates with rural voters and some working class areas but turned off many suburban voters,” notes Seth McKee, a political scientist at Texas Tech University who has researched partisan and demographic changes in American politics. “It’s hard now for suburbanites to identify with the Republican brand.”
Another factor, he notes, is the nature of migration. New residents coming into Texas suburbs, for example, are mainly from conservative areas so the politics of those places haven’t changed. But many new migrants coming into the suburbs of cities in Virginia and even North Carolina, he says, are coming from more progressive places and are changing the politics.
Virginia is a classic case. From 1952 until 2008 it voted Republican in every presidential election except 1964, when Lyndon Johnson thumped Barry Goldwater in an historic landslide.
Obama’s victories in Virginia in the two most recent elections were fueled by his winning margins in the Washington suburbs and exurbs. In 1988, when Republicans easily won the state, George H.W. Bush carried the large Washington suburb of Fairfax County with 61 percent of the vote. In 2012, when there were 200,000 more votes in Fairfax, Obama won it with 59 percent. The two most significant exurbs, Loudon and Prince William counties, cast a little over 90,000 votes in the 1988 election with Bush winning two-thirds. Four years ago they contributed over 340,000 votes with Obama taking almost 55 percent.
If current trends hold, Clinton will exceed these winning margins.
Albert Hunt is a Bloomberg columnist.