Wednesday April 20, 2016 – Primary season is far from over. Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton is fully guaranteed to win the parties’ respective nominating contests. And both major parties will be doing a lot of politicking, voting, and arm-twisting between now and the conventions in July. But, when all is said and done, it may well turn out that the 2016 general-election campaign began in midtown Manhattan on Tuesday night.
The polls closed at 9 P.M., and before long Donald Trump was addressing the press at Trump Tower. Either he had just popped a sedative or he was trying to appear Presidential. He was calm and talked slowly, by his standards—and, rather than rambling on interminably, which is his regular speaking style, he spoke for fewer than ten minutes. He hailed the Republican voters who had delivered him a big victory in New York, thanked his staff (some of whom had only recently been hired), and claimed that Ted Cruz, who came in a distant third, was “just about mathematically eliminated” from the race. For one night, anyway, it was a quieter, gentler Trump. Even when he complained about efforts by other Republicans to deny him his elected delegates and force a brokered convention, he avoided shouting.
About half an hour after Trump wrapped up, a beaming Hillary Clinton addressed a rapturous crowd at the Sheraton New York Times Square. “In this campaign, we’ve won in every region of the country, from the North to the South to the East to the West,” she said. “But this one’s personal.” She reached out to Sanders supporters, saying, “I believe there is much more that unites us than divides us,” and looked ahead to the convention. “The race for the Democratic nomination is in the home stretch, and victory is in sight,” she said. With that, she pivoted to the general election, portraying herself as a progressive problem-solver, describing the Republican candidates as extremists, and stealing a quote from her husband, Bill, who was standing behind her. “There’s nothing wrong with American that can’t be cured by what is right with America,” she said.
Trump and Clinton both had ample reason to celebrate. Both were heavily favored to win in New York, but, after a string of defeats in other states, they needed decisive victories in their own backyards. Trump crushed his two opponents, getting slightly more than sixty per cent of the vote. John Kasich came in second, with about twenty-five per cent, and Ted Cruz finished third, with just under fifteen. Clinton’s margin of victory wasn’t quite that large, but it was impressive nonetheless. She got nearly fifty-eight per cent of the vote, and Sanders got forty-two.
On this occasion, the opinion polls broadly got it right. (Not the network exit poll, which initially showed Clinton defeating Sanders by just four percentage points: that was way off.) Going into Tuesday, most polls had indicated that Trump and Clinton were headed for big wins. In the event, Trump carried every county in the state, except, ironically, his own, Manhattan, where Kasich edged him out. Clinton trailed Sanders in almost all the rural counties upstate, but she won almost all of the state’s major population centers: New York City, Long Island, Westchester and Rockland Counties, Syracuse, and Rochester. (The result in Buffalo was very close.)
It wasn’t just Trump and Clinton’s handsome victories that brought a possible general-election showdown between the two into view, although, clearly, that was part of it. In sweeping almost all of the ninety-five delegates available on the Republican side, Trump extended his lead over Cruz to about three hundred, according to the Times’ count. On the Democratic side, where two hundred and forty-seven delegates were up for grabs, Clinton made a net gain of about thirty delegates, and extended her lead among pledged delegates to two hundred and forty-five. Strictly as a matter of arithmetic, neither front-runner’s lead is insurmountable. But, practically speaking, it is now hard to see how either Cruz or Sanders could get enough delegates to win. Their hopes rest on turning things around at the conventions.
Should Clinton and Trump emerge victorious, the election will be a New York affair. And, if you look at the breakdown of the votes on Tuesday, the state’s primary was a microcosm of what we could see in November. Trump, if he gets the G.O.P. nomination, will be seeking to mobilize disgruntled white suburban voters, some of whom are traditional Republicans, while others are what were once called Reagan Democrats. Clinton, on the other hand, will be seeking to recreate the multiracial Obama coalition, which brought the Democrats to victory in 2008 and 2012. In New York, on Tuesday, we saw the makings of both sides taking the field.
Since Trump won virtually everywhere, it’s difficult to pick out trends in particular areas. But his huge margins of victory on Long Island, where he picked up about seventy per cent of the vote, and on Staten Island, where he got eighty-two per cent, confirmed his strength in communities that are predominantly white and middle-class. In these places, which include areas that were once referred to as “white flight” destinations, the billionaire’s nativist rhetoric, populist economic message, and criticisms of career politicians resonate strongly with many inhabitants, be they Republicans, independents, or even Democrats. By contrast, Trump’s weakness in Manhattan and in wealthy, mostly white parts of Brooklyn, such as Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill, confirmed the difficulty he may encounter in attracting affluent, educated Republicans.
On the Democratic side, the exit poll, which was updated later in the night to more closely reflect the actual votes, showed that Clinton had defeated Sanders by appealing to, and turning out, core Democratic groups, particularly women, who made up fifty-nine per cent of the electorate, and minorities, who comprised forty-one. The two candidates split male voters and white voters just about evenly. But Clinton carried female voters by sixty-three per cent to thirty-seven per cent, a huge gap. Seventy-five per cent of black voters went for her, as did sixty-four per cent of Hispanics. The former Secretary of State also did very well among affluent and highly educated Democrats, another important component of the Obama coalition. People with a post-graduate degree represented about a quarter of the Party’s primary electorate in New York, and fifty-eight per cent of those people voted for Clinton. Three in ten voters came from households earning more than a hundred thousand dollars a year, and sixty per cent of them went for Clinton.
The broad nature of her support was also clear from the New York City neighborhoods where she performed best. According to the Times, these were the Upper East Side, which is very white and very affluent; Rugby-Remsen Village, in Brooklyn, which is a poor black neighborhood; and Eastchester, in the Bronx, which is a poor, racially mixed area.
The exit poll also illustrated which issues are animating the voters as we get closer to the general election. Among Republican voters, eighty-eight per cent said that they were angry or dissatisfied with the federal government, and sixty-four per cent said that they wanted an outsider as President. Democrats, perhaps unsurprisingly, were happier with the political status quo. More than half said that the next Commander-in-Chief should continue President Obama’s policies. Strikingly, however, both Republicans and Democrats picked the economy and jobs as the biggest issues facing the country. Terrorism and other concerns ranked lower.