What The Early 2016 Head-to-Heads Show

The 2016 general election is still more than a year off, but looking at the head-to-head match-ups from the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll (or the WSJ/NBC News poll) with the American Communities Project filter reveals something about the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses.

They suggest Hillary Clinton may have some turnout challenges in the Big Cities and Jeb Bush may have problems in rural places, and particularly with social conservatives. The dense suburbs, meanwhile, look solidly Democratic.

The ACP took the data from the latest poll and combined types to come with five county groups: the Big Cities, the Urban Suburbs, the Sprawl (made up of the Exurbs and Middle Suburbs), Rural America (made up of Graying America, Rural Middle America and the Aging Farmlands) and Faith-Driven America (made up of the Evangelical Hubs, Working Class Country and LDS Enclaves).

We looked at Mrs. Clinton against the Republicans in the survey – former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former neurosurgeon Ben Carson, businessman Donald Trump and former tech CEO Carly Fiorina – and then compared those data to 2012’s election results.

You can see a map of all the types here.

There are three big findings out of the data:

  • The advantage that President Barack Obama built in the Urban Suburbs in 2012 at this point seems to be holding for Mrs. Clinton.
  • The strength of Mr. Obama in the Big Cities in 2012 may not be matched by Mrs. Clinton.
  • Republican Jeb Bush is not yet near where Republican Mitt Romney was in 2012 in Rural and Faith Driven communities, in large part due large numbers of undecided voters.

Those points in depth below.

1. The Democrats seem to own the Urban Suburbs for now. urbburb

In 2012, Mr. Obama carried 57% of the vote in the Urban Suburbs. That was a big number. But the percentage saying they support Mrs. Clinton is even with Mr. Obama’s 2012 results against every GOP opponent – except Donald Trump, against whom she outperforms Mr. Obama. And that is with 8%-12% of those voters still undecided. That’s a good deal better than Sen. John Kerry did in those counties in 2004, when he carried 53% of their vote.

Whatever Mrs. Clinton’s problems, they have not (or not yet) hit her here and that’s a very good sign for Mrs. Clinton and the Democrats. The Urban Suburbs hold 67 million people and held about 22% of the electorate in 2012.

2. The Big City counties are a different story.


Hillary Clinton would win in the Big Cities if the election were held right now and but she wouldn’t do nearly as well with them as President Obama. He took 65% of the vote from those counties 2012. Mrs. Clinton takes 53% against Jeb Bush, 52% against Ben Carson and 51% against Carly Fiorina. She does much better in the Big Cities against Donald Trump, capturing 59% of the vote against him.

Again there are still undecideds in these places – around 10% – 12% depending on the match-up. But the differences between the Obama and the Clinton vote in the Big Cities are potentially very big factors because of what they do to the margins.

About 28 million people voted in the Big Cities in 2012, so each percentage point here would translate to about 280,000 votes. Those are votes Democrats need to offset rural losses in states such as Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), Ohio (Cleveland and Cincinnati), Michigan (Detroit) and Wisconsin (Milwaukee).

3. Jeb Bush’s Challenges in GOP Strongholds.


The problem Hillary Clinton may have in the Big Cities looks similar to the problems Jeb Bush seems to be having in the more rural communities Republicans count on in elections: Rural America and Faith Driven America.

Mr. Bush’s 46% against Mrs. Clinton in Rural America is 10 points below Mitt Romney’s 56% in 2012. And the numbers from Faith Driven America are much worse. Mr. Bush garners 51% of the vote from those counties against Mrs. Clinton in this poll. Mr. Romney won 68% of the vote there in 2012.

To be clear, this is not a sign of these places shifting from Republican to Democratic in their leaning. The high amount of undecided vote in these places – more than 20% in Faith Driven America – is a huge factor here. Mrs. Clinton’s numbers are not equal to what Mr. Obama got in those places in 2012. And none of the Republican candidates is yet near Mr. Romney’s 2012 numbers in them.

But Mr. Bush does worst out of all the candidates in these counties, including Mr. Trump. At the very least it suggests a lack of enthusiasm. Mr. Bush’s low numbers in Rural America and Faith Driven America are something to keep an eye on in the coming months as those undecided begin to line up behind a candidate.


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