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Donald Trump's Real Problem Is With White People

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a rally in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday.

Donald Trump needs to stop the bleeding.

Since the two parties' conventions, he has plummeted in the polls — both nationally and in the states.

His campaign knows this. His new campaign manager, KellyAnne Conway, is a veteran Republican pollster well aware of Trump's deficiencies with certain voting groups.

That's why there's been a concerted effort in the Trump campaign to reach out to black and Hispanic voters, even if it's been poorly received by many nonwhites.

But the outreach might not be entirely to gain the support of minority voters, who are deeply skeptical of Trump and indicate they are supporting Hillary Clinton overwhelmingly.

It might be aimed, in large measure, at white people, in particular suburban whites with college degrees. You know, people who traditionally vote Republican. They might be persuadable, given their past voting history, but they don't want to vote for someone who is viewed as a racist or a bigot.

So his campaign is trying to change that. Trump has been speaking specifically about black voters at multiple events over the last week or so (though in front of predominantly white crowds) in Wisconsin, Ohio, Texas and Florida. He held an event Wednesday night in Jackson, Miss., where 4 in 5 residents are black.

That outreach continues Thursday at an event at Trump Tower, where black and Latino leaders are supposed to join Trump. And there will perhaps even be a tour of Detroit led by Ben Carson, who grew up there, in early September.

But how can it be, that Trump has a white people problem? Isn't he supposed to be the candidate who appeals squarely to whites?

Let's take a look at the polling. What it shows is that Trump is underperforming with whites compared with Mitt Romney's performance in 2012:

White women: Romney won white women by 14 points — 56-42 percent, according to national exit polls.

Trump, in the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released this month, is down a point with the group, 43-42 percent.

That's a 15-point shift. No Republican can afford that.

White men: Romney won white men by a huge margin — 27 points (62-35 percent).

Trump is supposed to drive up the score with white men. But, according to NBC/WSJ, he's only up 13 points (49-36 percent), far less than Romney.

And, let's remember, Romney lost in an electoral landslide to President Obama.

A big problem for Trump is when education is factored in. He is struggling to win the margins he needs with whites with college degrees. Just look at this chart of Trump's massive deficit with white women with college degrees:

What's stunning about this is that Democrats have never won a majority of white voters with college degrees since exit polling began in 1976.

And when it comes to white voters without a college degree, even here Trump is only doing about as well as Romney did. Romney won 61 percent of whites without a college degree. Trump, in the latest, CNN/ORC poll, gets the support of 59 percent.

Yes, Romney lost by big margins with nonwhite groups, too, but white voters made up 72 percent of the electorate in 2012 (likely to be slightly less this year.) Trump's campaign has to think there's nowhere to go but up with minority voters — except, right now, Trump is doing worse (or almost similarly bad) with both African-Americans and Latinos also.

Maybe Trump's outreach to minorities can change his standing somewhat with those groups. But an important group he needs to reach are those white voters, who should be traditionally open to voting Republican but are not behind him right now.

That's a point Republican pollster Whit Ayres made as well this week to the Washington Post.

"After 15 months of denigrating every nonwhite minority in sight, it's hard to believe that he can actually do significantly better among nonwhites," said Ayres, who wrote the book 2016 and Beyond: How Republicans Can Elect a President in the New America. He joined Marco Rubio's campaign as his pollster. "But he may be able to soften his image a bit with some Republican and maybe a few independent whites who have been put off by his harshness thus far."

But this is a big hole to climb out of in less than 11 weeks.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit

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