To no one’s surprise, Bernie Sanders won the Democratic presidential primary in West Virginia yesterday and has so far picked up 16 delegates to Clinton’s 11. While that is not enough to change the trajectory of the race, it produced some interesting information.
As exit polls were released, there was some surprise in a couple of categories. Thirty-five percent of voters in the Democratic primary plan to vote for Donald Trump in the general election. Of those, 63% voted for Sanders. Similarly, a plurality of voters (41%) want the next president to be less liberal than Obama. Of those, 51% voted for Sanders.
Initially pundits attempted to ascribe these results to Clinton’s remarks in March about how she’d “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” But given that Sanders’ position on coal is the same as Clinton’s, that doesn’t seem plausible. Rye Spaeth provided some information that is probably more pertinent.
“No state has lower approval ratings for the president than West Virginia,” Philip Bump pointed out in February. And unlike embattled Democrats in West Virginia, Clinton has embraced Obama’s legacy and diverse coalition.
It is also worth noting that the population of West Virginia is 93% non-Hispanic white.
Nate Cohn provides some data suggesting that Reagan Democrats (a term that has been dismissed by a lot of people, including me) are actually a large part of the electorate in states like West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky (which holds its primary next Tuesday).
Coal County, Okla., is one of the most extreme examples. There, 80 percent of voters are registered Democrats, yet President Obama won just 27 percent of the vote in 2012. Mrs. Clinton has performed very poorly where the share of voters who are registered Democrats is much greater than the share of voters who supported Mr. Obama…
These conservative Democrats are a legacy of the old Democratic strength among white voters in the South, where many white conservatives nonetheless remain registered as Democrats.
Cohn provided this map to demonstrate.
The conservative registered Democrats helping Sanders have helped him elsewhere, especially Oklahoma pic.twitter.com/MpFfilnwHo
— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) May 11, 2016
These voters have tended to remain registered as Democrats and support local candidates like Sen. Joe Manchin in West Virginia. But they mostly resemble white Democrats of the pre-Civil Rights South. When it comes to presidential elections, they ensure that their states are firmly red. That’s a pretty classic definition of the term Reagan Democrat.