For the time being at least, African Americans and Latinos could decide the outcome of the Democratic presidential campaign, and right now, they appear to be pulling in different directions in choosing between former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
With both camps desperate to score victories in the upcoming contests in Nevada this Saturday and South Carolina the following week, Clinton holds a substantial edge over Sanders among black voters – especially older voters and women – while Sanders is dazzling young Hispanics with his promises of free health care and college tuition and liberal immigration reform.
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If the current trends hold up, then Sanders may embarrass Clinton yet again in Nevada this weekend, by either edging her out or tying her at the Democratic presidential caucuses. A week ago, Sanders crushed Clinton in the New Hampshire primary with a 22-point margin. But Clinton could come roaring back and staunch the hemorrhaging in her campaign with a strong showing in South Carolina Feb. 20 in a race in which more than half the Democratic primary voters are black.
According to a new CNN/ORC Poll released on Wednesday, likely Democratic caucus goers in Nevada who have made up their minds are almost evenly split between Clinton and Sanders, 48 percent to 47 percent, with more than a third still “leaning” one way or another or undecided. This is a race was once deemed a Clinton “fire wall” to thwart Sanders after his strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, but that is no longer the case.
Although the poll doesn’t break out the Hispanic vote for the two candidates, recent media reports indicate that Sanders is surging among Hispanics and other minorities, and that the Clinton operation is in a “panic” mode.
The percentage of Latino caucus goers has grown from 15 percent in 2008 to 17 percent in 2014, while the percentage of white voters dipped to 62 percent. Clinton has given Nevada considerable attention, beginning with a modest ground operation in April 2015, while Sanders waited until October to invest in a ground operation. Since then, he has more than made up for that, by mounting a pricey TV ad campaign and setting up 12 field offices that are staffed by young, Hispanic volunteers and paid staff who are excited by his promise to lead a political and governmental “revolution.”
Although Clinton gets higher favorable ratings than Sanders on issues ranging from health care, race relations, foreign policy and immigration, the Nevada poll suggests that the results might hinge on sharp differences among Democrats over who would do the better job of handling the economy, according to the poll.
Related: Clinton’s Lead in Nevada Evaporates as Sanders Continues to Surge
South Carolina is a much different story, however, and one that should provide Clinton and her supporters with some solace if the trend holds up. Another new CNN/ORC Poll shows Clinton leading Sanders in South Carolina by 18 points, 56 percent to 38 percent, with overwhelming support for Clinton among blacks and women.
Likely black voters favor Clinton over Sanders, 65 percent to 28 percent, while women give Clinton a 60 percent to 33 percent edge over Sanders, the self-described democratic socialist from Vermont, according to the poll. White voters prefer Sanders to Clinton, 54 percent to 40 percent, while men are about evenly divided between the two, 49 percent for Clinton to 45 percent for Sanders.
Just as in Nevada, the former secretary of state and New York senator dominates Sanders among voters on most issues, including their ability to handle foreign policy, health care, and the economy and race relations. But viewed through the prism of race, there are “broad racial gaps in candidate trust,” according to CNN, with majorities of blacks saying they trust Clinton more on the top issues while whites generally break for Sanders.
That “racial divide” was most prominent on questions of core Democratic values, according to CNN. When asked which candidate better represents "the values of Democrats like yourself," nearly two-thirds of whites went with Sanders over Clinton, while roughly 70 percent of blacks chose Clinton. And on the question of which candidate would do more to help the middle class, 69 percent of blacks favored Clinton while 66 percent of whites chose Sanders.
Related: Clinton Scrambles as Sanders Puts the Black Vote in Play
These results could be a harbinger of the future primaries with far more delegates at stake, especially on Super Tuesday March 1, when nearly a dozen states in the South, Midwest and the West will be up for grabs. During the month of March, 56 percent of the national delegates will be determined. On Super Tuesday alone, 900 delegates will be up for grabs.
While Clinton holds a decided advantage over Sanders among black voters, a central question is whether she can spur African-Americans to turn out to vote this year in large numbers without President Obama, the nation’s first black president, on the ballot. Exit polls showed that African-Americans constituted just 10 percent of the electorate in 2000 and 11 percent in 2004, but then the number shot up to 13 percent in 2008 when Obama sought his first term and stayed there through his reelection in 2012, according to the Cook Political Report. Notably, the percentage turnout of African-Americans in 2012 exceeded that of white turnout by two points.
It will be a tall order for Clinton to replicate that turnout of black voters this year, although she may be helped by her decision to embrace Obama’s domestic and foreign policy agenda and her vow to preserve his legacy including Obamacare and immigration reform if she is elected president.
Sanders is determined to crack Clinton’s stranglehold on the black vote with aggressive campaigning and the help of prominent black surrogates, including former NAACP leader Benjamin Jealous and actors and entertainers Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte, and his wooing of the Rev. Al Sharpton, a cable TV personality and former civil rights lawyer.
But for now, he appears to be having more luck rallying support from Hispanic voters, who compromise 17 percent of Nevada’s Democratic voters. Both Sanders and Clinton have strong claims to the Hispanic vote in light of their records on income equality for the middle class and immigration reform that would offer a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.
Related: How Bernie Sanders Just Shook Up the Democratic Primary. Again
But Sanders’ huge advantage over Clinton among younger voters is helping him to attract Hispanic voters. That’s because millennials make up almost half of Latino eligible voters nationwide, according to one analysis--a share greater than for any other racial or ethnic group.