Democrats are confident the rising salience of terrorism and police shootings of African-Americans this week will benefit Hillary Clinton. Republicans, meanwhile, believe overwhelmingly that Donald Trump will win the terrorism argument but are less confident that he’ll react in a measured way to the recent protests in North Carolina.
That’s according to The POLITICO Caucus — a panel of activists, strategists and operatives in 11 key battleground states. More than three-in-four Democratic insiders believe Clinton will benefit from the increasing prominence of both issues. And while majorities of Republicans, on the other hand, think both issues will help Trump, there’s less confidence that he can strike the right balance between law enforcement and the aggrieved African-American community.
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On terrorism and national security, the results were fell along party lines: 76 percent of Democrats said Clinton stands to benefit from the issue, compared to 81 percent of Republicans who said it would help Trump. That mirrors public polling that shows voters divided on which candidate they trust more on the issue — with a slight edge for Clinton, particularly on temperament and ability to be commander-in-chief.
“Polls show that folks do not trust Trump to have his finger on the button,” said one Wisconsin Democrat — who, like all respondents, completed the survey anonymously. “That to me says it all.”
A Pennsylvania Democrat added that Trump’s criticism of military leadership for their prosecution of the overseas battle against the Islamic State has alienated key voters in their state.
“Trump’s open disrespect of the military doesn’t play well among the same base he’s supposed to be courting — the disaffected Western [Pennsylvania] voters,” the Democrat said.
But some Democrats are concerned that rising anxieties about terrorism — if they were to persist for the next six-and-a-half weeks — could benefit Trump.
“We have an older electorate, plus still some conservative white Democrats,” said a Florida Democrat. “In a close race, fear can win out.”
Republicans, meanwhile, said Trump can effectively tie Clinton to President Barack Obama — who, despite rising approval ratings overall, rates poorly on his handling of national security.
“People who are angry and afraid feel that way because of the Obama-Clinton policies that created [ISIL] and allowed the wave of domestic terror to occur largely unchecked,” said an Ohio Republican.
“She’s counting on ‘experience’ and ‘being there in the situation room,’” said a Michigan Republican. “I think that works against her and solidifies that she’s part of the problem.”
On the other burgeoning issue this week — the police-involved shootings in Tulsa, Okla., and Charlotte, N.C. — majorities of Democrats again defaulted to their partisan leanings. But Republicans were less certain the issue would help Trump — only 61 percent said it would — compared to the larger majority that said it would benefit Clinton, 77 percent.
(Reponses were filed between 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, prior to the beginning of a second night of rioting in Charlotte, and 2 p.m. Thursday.)
Democrats mostly said the issue allowed Clinton to strengthen her appeal to minority voters — and, potentially, for Trump to repel nonwhite voters further.
“The voters who are young, who are people of color, and who are most sympathetic to the injustice of police shootings are more liberal, but inconsistent voters,” said a Michigan Democrat. “This increased attention, if it has any impact, will boost their participation, and they are more likely to vote for Clinton.”
Added a Florida Democrat: “If Clinton can get black turnout as a share of electorate to Obama levels, in addition to her Hispanic advantages, she can lose a bit of white support and win.”
But some Democrats worried about a backlash among white voters to the at-times-violent protests.
“Pictures of black youth burning things in the middle of Interstate 85 in Charlotte last night did nothing but help Trump,” said a North Carolina Democrat. “With more demonstrations planned for tonight, this issue could even surpass the HB2 fiasco as the defining issue in the campaign for North Carolina voters.”
Most Republicans see the issue as an opportunity for Trump to burnish his law-and-order credentials.
“People believe Obama has created an anti-police attitude in this country, and many will punish Hillary Clinton for that,” a Florida Republican said.
And the demographic reality of the battleground states — many of them, like Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire have smaller African-American populations — means a backlash among white voters in those states could tilt toward Trump.
A Colorado Democrat said the African-American vote there was “small and already locked in.”
“Iowa is 93 percent white, and [Black Lives Matter] protests are more galvanizing for downscale white voters than urban liberals,” said a Republican there. “And those rural white voters outnumber urban liberals by a lot, many of them former working class Democrats who are attracted to nationalist, anti-PC rhetoric.”
“There are way more ‘Blue Lives’ than ‘Black Lives’ Matter folks in Iowa,” added another Republican there. “Trump will clean up.”
But some Republicans in more diverse states said the issue could motivate some members of the Obama coalition who haven’t been enthusiastic about Clinton.
“[T]o the extent it may generate increased interest in public policy and the election in her base, that would be a good thing for her,” said a Virginia Republican. “Hillary’s base is there, but they aren’t motivated or excited.”
Added an Ohio Republican: “Hillary has to ignite the black community. I expect the Obamas to camp out in the cities. This unrest could become a focal point for her.”
And for other Republicans, they questioned Trump’s ability to address these issues in a measured way.
“Trump is antagonistic and demeaning, and his ideology on racial issues/police shootings is embarrassing,” said a Colorado Republican.
A New Hampshire Republican put it even more sharply: “No matter how hard he tries, Trump is incapable of hiding his racism.”
But with the demographic push-and-pull between groups concerned in equal measure about the police shootings and the subsequent protests, others saw the issue as a wash between the two candidates.
“I think it helps them both equally,” said a Michigan Republican. “Hillary needs minority turnout to go up, and this certainly helps there. Trump needs disaffected, law-and-order, white voters to turn out — this helps him with that.”
These are the members of The POLITICO Caucus, not all of whom participated in this special survey:
Colorado: Ryan Call, Laura Carno, Matt Chandler, Will Coyne, Adam Eichberg, Mark Ferrandino, Cole Finegan, Michael Fortney, Andrew Freedman, Ted Harvey, Craig Hughes, Owen Loftus, Pete Maysmith, Frank McNulty, Karen Middleton, Christopher Murray, BJ Nikkel, Josh Penry, Rick Ridder, Alan Salazar, Janice Sinden, Pat Steadman, Pat Waak, Steve Welchert, Taylor West, Roxane White, Rob Witwer
Florida: Fernand Amandi, Scott Arceneaux, JP Austin, Tim Baker, Dennis K. Baxley, Slater Bayliss, Dave Beattie, Wayne Bertsch, Ron Book, Pamela Burch Fort, Jose Calderon, Kevin Cate, Kelly Cohen, Gus Corbella, Brian Crowley, Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder, Justin Day, Judith Diaz, Nelson Diaz, John Dowless, Ryan Duffy, Jessica Ehrlich, Joe Falk, Alia Faraj-Johnson, Mark Ferrulo, Damien Filer, Marty Fiorentino, Rich Heffley, Nick Iarossi, David Johnson, Eric Johnson, Marian Johnson, Eric Jotkoff, Chris Korge, Jackie Lee, Susan MacManus, Beth Matuga, Fred Menachem, Jon Mills, Joe Mobley, Ben Pollara, Andrea Reilly, Steve Schale, April Schiff, Max Steele, Roger Stone, Richard Swann, Kevin Sweeny, Christian Ulvert, Steve Vancore, Ashley Walker, Andrew Weinstein, Andrew Wiggins, Ryan Wiggins, Rick Wilson
Iowa: Tim Albrecht, Brad Anderson, Rob Barron, Jeff Boeyink, Bonnie Campbell, Dave Caris, Sam Clovis, Jerry Crawford, Sara Craig, John Davis, Steve Deace, John Deeth, Derek Eadon, Ed Failor Jr., Karen Fesler, David Fischer, Ben Foecke, Doug Gross, Steve Grubbs, Tim Hagle, Bob Haus, Joe Henry, Drew Ivers, Jill June, Lori Jungling, Jeff Kaufmann, Brian Kennedy, Jake Ketzner, David Kochel, Chris Larimer, Chuck Larson, Jill Latham, Jeff Link, Dave Loebsack, Mark Lucas, Liz Mathis, Jan Michelson, Chad Olsen, David Oman, Matt Paul, Marlys Popma, Troy Price, Christopher Rants, Kim Reem, Craig Robinson, Sam Roecker, David Roederer, Nick Ryan, Tamara Scott, Joni Scotter, Karen Slifka, John Smith, AJ Spiker, Norm Sterzenbach, John Stineman, Matt Strawn, Charlie Szold, Phil Valenziano, Jessica Vanden Berg, Nate Willems, Eric Woolson, Grant Young
Michigan: Jill Alper, Saul Anuzis, Andrea Bitely, Lori Carpentier, Howard Edelson, Jordan Gehrke, Steve Hood, Darwin Jiles Jr., Joe Lehman, Dennis Lennox, Katie Packer, Ronna Romney McDaniel, John Truscott, Stephanie White, John Yob
Nevada: Mac Abrams, Greg Bailor, Barbara Buckley, Yvanna Cancela, Bob Cavazos, Linda Cavazos, Jim DeGraffenreid, Andrew Diss, Peter Ernaut, Ryan Erwin, Chip Evans, Jay Gerstema, Oscar Goodman, Ryan Hamilton, Dan Hart, Pat Hickey, Zach Hudson, Jeremy Hughes, Megan Jones, Lindsey Jydstrup, Adam Khan, Peter Koltak, Roberta Lange, Sam Liberman, Laura Martin, Michael McDonald, Chuck Muth, Erven Nelson, Kristen Orthman, Neal Patel, Nick Phillips, Jon Ralston, Andres Ramires, Emmy Ruiz, Scott Scheid, Mike Slanker, James Smack, Paul Smith, Jack St. Martin, Mari St. Martin, Daniel Stewart, Brendan Summers, Riley Sutton, Robert Uithoven, Michelle White, Ed Williams, Heidi Wixom
New Hampshire: Charlie Arlinghaus, Arnie Arnesen, Patrick Arnold, Rich Ashooh, Dean Barker, Juliana Bergeron, D.J. Bettencourt, Michael Biundo, Ray Buckley, Peter Burling, Jamie Burnett, Debby Butler, Dave Carney, Jackie Cilley, Catherine Corkery, Corriveau, Fergus Cullen, Lou D’Allesandro, James Demers, Mike Dennehy, Sean Downey, Steve Duprey, JoAnn Fenton, Jennifer Frizzell, Martha Fuller Clark, Amanda Grady Sexton, Jack Heath, Gary Hirshberg, Jennifer Horn, Peter Kavanaugh, Joe Keefe, Rich Killion, Harrell Kirstein, Sylvia Larsen, Joel Maiola, Kate Malloy Corriveau, Maureen Manning, Steve Marchand, Tory Mazzola, Jim Merrill, Jayne Millerick, Claira Monier, Greg Moore, Matt Mowers, Terie Norelli, Chris Pappas, Liz Purdy, Tom Rath, Colin Reed, Jim Rubens, Andy Sanborn, Dante Scala, William Shaheen, Stefany Shaheen, Carol Shea-Porter, Terry Shumaker, Andy Smith, Craig Stevens, Kathy Sullivan, Chris Sununu, James Sununu, Jay Surdukowski, Donna Sytek, Kari Thurman, Colin Van Ostern, Deb Vanderbeek, Mike Vlacich, Ryan Williams
North Carolina: Don Davis, Francis X. De Luca, Anita Earls, Jonathan Felts, Tami L. Fitzgerald, Dylan Frick, Taylor Griffin, Robin Hayes, Morgan Jackson, Patsy Keever, Theresa Kostrzewa, Michael Luethy, Ray Martin, Thomas Mills, Melissa L. Reed, Chris Sgro, Paul Shumaker, Dee Stewart, Brad Thompson, Bruce Thompson, Charlie Wallin, Doug Wilson
Ohio: Jerry Austin, Greg Beswick, Matt Borges, Erica Bruton, Tim Burke, Janet Carson, Jai Chabria, Martha Clark, Bob Clegg, Damareo Cooper, Jo Ann Davidson, Michael Dawson, Bill DeMora, Cindy Demse, Kathy Dicristofaro, Katie Eagan, Michael Gonidakis, Wes Goodman, Joe Hallett, Ian James, Melissa Klide Hedden, David Leland, Nick Martin, Rhine McLin, David Pepper, Molly Shack, Mark R. Weaver
Pennsylvania: Chris Borick, Larry Ceisler, Valentino DiGiorgio, Jason Ercole, Dan Fee, Charlie Gerow, Marcel Groen, Leslie Gromis Baker, Mark Harris, Nan McLaughlin, Aubrey Montgomery, Christopher Nicholas, Nachama Soloveichik, David Sosar, Todd Stephens, Doc Sweitzer, David Thornburgh, Ray Zaborney
Virginia: Ray Allen, Sandra Brandt, Marc K. Broklawski, Patsy Brown, Janet Carver, John Cosgrove, Brian Coy, Doris Crouse-Mays, Tom Davis, Julie Dime, Abbi Easter, Mike Farris, John Findlay, Joe Fitzgerald, Sean Harrison, Margo Horner, Robert Hurt, Gaylene Kanoyton, Chris LaCivita, Sue Langley, Frank Leone, Robert G. Marshall, Tucker Martin, Ed Matricardi, Susan J. Rowland, Peter Snyder, Susan Swecker, Jo Thoburn
Wisconsin: Meg Andrietsch, Mary Arnold, Kevin Barthel, Mike Basford, Rebecca Bonesteel, Barry Burden, Terri Burl, Jim Camery, Patrick Guarasci, Robert Hansen, Gary Hawley, Marian Krumberger, Emily Nehring, Jason Rae, Brandon Scholz, John Zapfel
Kristen Hayford contributed to this report.