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For Donald Trump to win the presidency there is one thing he absolutely must do. He must outperform Republican Mitt Romney’s 2012 numbers in some key demographic group.
Four years ago Romney lost the presidential race to Barack Obama. Meeting Romney’s margins with white voters, or African-Americans or Hispanics won’t do it for Trump. The GOP nominee has to do better and the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll says he is not – at least not yet.
The latest NBC/WSJ poll shows that across the three main racial/ethnic groups in the electorate – whites, African-Americans and Hispanics – Trump is not getting the numbers he needs.
Those numbers show Trump is getting slightly better margins among African-Americans than Romney did in the 2012 election, but Clinton still leads by an enormous 74 points. And Trump is doing worse among Hispanics.
But the big issue for Trump sits with the white vote. His 11-point margin in the poll is down 9 points from Romney’s 20-point edge in 2012. And remember, whites are still the biggest part of the part of the electorate so each percentage point within the group equals more votes, meaning that 9-point difference is enormous.
Trump’s problems with white voters in the NBC/WSJ poll show up in particular when you use education to divide the electorate.
Among whites without a college education, Trump leads by 26 points. That’s a solid edge and even a slight increase over the 25-point margin Romney had with the same voters in 2012.
Trump’s challenge, however, comes with college educated white voters. The differences between Trump’s numbers in the latest poll and Romney’s 2012 figures are striking.
In 2012, Romney swept the white college-educated vote among those with a bachelor’s degree or more. In the NBC/WSJ poll Trump is losing to Clinton among all whites with a college education, even white men.
That last point is significant because it suggests that college education is such a powerful mover among whites in 2016 that it even impacts the gender gap. Republicans generally win men in elections and Democrats win women.
The numbers show the size of the task in front of Trump as the presidential debates arrive. He’s behind and to make up ground he needs to find at least one friendly demographic slice of the electorate – and he needs to do it quickly.