Clinton or Trump? A changing electorate will decide

Election Day is here at last. America is set to decide between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Voters cast their ballots on Election Day at P.S. 62 in New York, Nov. 8, 2016.
Voters cast their ballots on Election Day at P.S. 62 in New York, Nov. 8, 2016.

Election Day is here at last. America is set to decide between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

But the long, unusual and often ugly 2016 presidential campaign has been about the country’s changing demographics and the shifting coalitions of the two major parties as much as about the two main candidates.

[Live blog: Capital Region voters speak out on Election Day]

Trump expresses confidence while criticizing media and polls

As the polls opened on Tuesday morning, Trump said he would do “very well” in the crucial battleground states of Florida, North Carolina and Ohio and acknowledged that after nearly a year and a half of campaigning the only thing left for him to do was wait and see.

“We’re going to win a lot of states,” Trump said in an early morning interview on Fox News. “Who knows what happens ultimately.”

His voice raspy from one last late-night rally, Trump took some last digs at Clinton for enlisting celebrities to bolster her crowds and he assailed the media for trying to keep him down. A self-proclaimed lover of polls, Trump said he no longer believes most of them.

“I do think a lot of the polls are purposely wrong,” he said. “I don’t even think they interview people, I think they just put out phony numbers.”

But there is one vote that the Republican nominee knew he could count on this Election Day.

“I’ve decided to vote for Trump,” Trump said.

But one of his former advisers has harsh words for his Nevada operation

A political operative who helped Mr. Trump begin his 2016 presidential campaign nearly two years ago offered an unvarnished view of the Republican’s operation in Nevada, a state that is leaning toward Hillary Clinton.

“Frankly, Trump has run one of the worst campaigns in modern political history in the state,” said Roger Stone, a strategist who has advised Mr. Trump at different times over the last 30 years.

Nevada was once an important piece of Mr. Trump’s electoral puzzle. But Democrats and some Republicans have conceded that Mr. Trump was running behind there heading into Election Day.

Mr. Stone’s comments, in an interview on Boston Herald Radio, were an early bit of recrimination in an election cycle in which Mr. Trump’s organizational heft has been questioned.

Mr. Stone, who parted ways with the campaign in August 2015 over strategic differences, added that he saw Michigan, a state in which Democrats spent the final days sending Mrs. Clinton and President Obama, as a potential “surprise.”

Clinton and Trump vote

Parents held their children in the air to get a glimpse as Mrs. Clinton voted for herself in Chappaqua, N.Y., on Tuesday morning.

“It’s a humbling feeling,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Minerva Turpin, 99, places an “I voted” sticker on Sen. Tim Kaine, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, after he and his wife, Anne Holton, voted at a polling station in the Hermitage Richmond, in Richmond, Va., on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2016.

Mr. Trump appeared to be in good spirits when he arrived at a Manhattan polling place on the Upper East Side just before 11 a.m. with his wife, Melania, to vote for himself.

He was met with a mix of cheers and boos as he left his motorcade and waved to pedestrians.

Inside Public School 59, Mr. Trump shook hands with other voters and offered high-fives to some children who came along with their parents.

The vice-presidential candidates also voted in the morning.

In a display of Election Day punctuality, Mrs. Clinton’s running mate, Senator Tim Kaine, and his wife, Anne Holton, arrived at their polling place in Richmond before Virginia’s polls had opened. They cast their ballots just after 6 a.m.

“We feel good,” Mr. Kaine told reporters afterward. “It’s kind of like we’ve done all we can do and now it’s in the hands of the voters. But we feel really comfortable about it.”

Gov. Mike Pence did not have far to go to cast his ballot. Flanked by his wife, Karen, and his daughter, Charlotte, Mr. Pence walked across the street from Indiana’s governor’s mansion to St. Thomas Aquinas Church shortly before noon.

Mr. Pence told reporters and supporters on hand that he was “humbled” to be able to choose himself and Mr. Trump.

Long voting lines could have long-term consequences

Early voters, urban voters and minority voters are all more likely to wait and wait. And that makes them less likely to vote in the future, according to new research. Minority voters are six times as likely as whites to wait longer than an hour to vote. Those disparities persist even within the same town or county, suggesting they don’t reflect simply the greater difficulty of putting on elections in populous cities.

Sun Belt vs. Rust Belt

The changing nature of the presidential map can be deduced from where Clinton went on Monday. She was assured enough of her prospects for winning Florida, a state that George W. Bush won twice, to not return to the biggest battleground of them all, but she held her second event in four days in Michigan, a state no Republican has won since 1988.

Clinton’s aides express confidence that the results will go their way, in large part because of their optimism about Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Virginia, but they are less bullish about their prospects in Michigan and states like Iowa and Ohio. It is a striking turnabout given how rooted Democrats once were in the heavily unionized Midwest and how much they struggled in the South and parts of the West.

But they have effectively swapped much of their working-class white base for the so-called rising demographic of millennials, nonwhite voters and suburbanites clustered near cities such as Denver, Miami, Las Vegas and Washington.

From watching these communities, it will become clear on Tuesday why Clinton’s party enjoys a structural advantage in the Electoral College. But this election may also hasten the day when more of the heartland becomes out of reach, illustrating what Democrats lost as much as what they gained.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waves to the crowd after voting, while former President Bill Clinton votes on Election Day in Chappaqua, N.Y., Nov. 8, 2016

Madam President?

Clinton could sweep away the gender barrier from the White House, yet her history-making potential has not received the attention that Barack Obama’s candidacy did when he broke the presidential color line eight years ago.

But that is not to say her potential to be America’s first female president, along with the boorish comments that Trump has made about women, have not captured the attention of many voters. In every battleground state, the share of women as a percentage of the overall electorate has been higher in early voting than it was in the 2012 election.

Women, especially those with college degrees, have been galvanized this year. If they continue with their trend in the early vote and outperform their turnout from 2012, Trump could face a punishing defeat.

Trump’s way forward

Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event at Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pa., Nov. 7.

Trump has one real path to the presidency: run up the score among white voters without a college degree enough to compensate for his losses among well-educated and nonwhite voters.

National surveys suggest Trump is poised to fare far better among white voters without a degree than Mitt Romney did four years ago, even if the same surveys show Clinton in the lead. He leads that group by an average of 30 points in recent national surveys, compared with Romney’s 23-point edge in 2012.

If the polls and reporting are correct, Trump could make big gains in places that have been Democratic strongholds for generations, like Scranton, Pennsylvania; Youngstown, Ohio; or Duluth, Minnesota.

Trump excelled in these areas in the Republican primary. The old bastions of the industrial left in Britain voted resoundingly to leave the European Union this year.

A new wave

The nation’s growing Hispanic population has been considered something of a sleeping giant in electoral politics.

Early voting data indicate that it’s now awake.

The Hispanic turnout will be far higher than it was in 2012: The number of Hispanics who voted early in Florida this year is about the same as the total number that voted four years ago. The same story holds in heavily Hispanic areas across the country, whether the Latino neighborhoods of Las Vegas or the Texas counties along the Rio Grande.

Clinton’s exact margin among Hispanic voters could prove just as important. She will probably win Latino voters by an even wider margin than Obama did, but polls have not always been clear on just how much she might beat Obama’s 2012 results. He won Latino voters by a margin of 71 percent to 27 percent, according to exit polls.

The Latino vote has the best shot of deciding the election in Florida, where Hispanic voters represent a well-above-average share of the population. Trump does not have a credible path to the presidency without the state’s 29 electoral votes.

Areas to keep an eye on

Chester County, Pennsylvania: This is the one suburban Philadelphia county where Romney won four years ago, even as he lost the state by 5 points to Obama. If Trump is defeated in this traditionally Republican community, it will portend an even more decisive defeat elsewhere in southeastern Pennsylvania — and doom his chances to win statewide.

Orange County, Florida: Orlando, the Central Florida city best known as a Disney hub, was a true battleground in 2004: John Kerry won the surrounding county by fewer than 1,000 votes. Today, thanks to an influx of young voters and migrants from Puerto Rico, this community is part of the Democratic firewall that Clinton hopes will deny Trump Florida and the presidency. No other locality on the U.S. political map may speak as loudly about the Republican Party’s demographic challenges.

Oakland County, Michigan: How to know if Trump can score an upset in Michigan? Watch this prosperous suburb of Detroit closely. Romney, who grew up in the county, lost it by 8 points four years ago. If Trump cannot reduce that deficit, he will be hard-pressed to carry the state, no matter how much he resonates with blue-collar whites.

Maricopa County, Arizona: The decision by FBI Director James B. Comey to continue looking into Clinton’s email server issue may have put Arizona out of reach. But if she is to have a chance there it will be because of the large Hispanic turnout in this, the most populous county in the state. It is worth watching how much Clinton can cut into the 12-point margin that Romney enjoyed in the county four years ago. Given the surge in Latino registration and early voting, Republicans may be hard-pressed to replicate that number in the near future.

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