Last night saw Donald Trump triumph in South Carolina’s Republican primary, cementing his lead in the race to become the Republican nominee for president. In the Nevada Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders, but by only 5 percentage points. US Centre Director, Professor Peter Trubowitz writes that Trump’s victory and Sanders’ better than expected showing illustrates that anti-establishment sentiment on both sides continues to dominate this election.
Donald Trump won big last night in South Carolina and he is now the undisputed favourite on the Republican side. Trump now has history on his side: every Republican candidate who has won in New Hampshire and South Carolina (two states whose voter profiles are very different) has gone on to become the party’s nominee. More importantly, the Republicans who remain (Cruz, Rubio, Kasich, and Carson) will continue to divide the Republican vote until at least the March 1st Super Tuesday primaries, when voters in twelve states cast their votes. What makes all of this so stunning is that Trump is winning over 30 percent of the Republican vote while saying things that would bring most Republican candidates down (e.g., claiming that George W. Bush was responsible for 9/11). Republican voters may not agree with Trump’s methods, but as his victory last night in this deeply conservative and religious Republican state suggests that they like his anti-establishment message.
Hilary Clinton did what she needed to do yesterday in Nevada — put her devastating loss in New Hampshire behind her. While her margin of victory over Bernie Sanders was only 5 percent, it will be enough to buy her time. This will help cement her lead in next Saturday’s Democratic primary in South Carolina. Still, Bernie Sanders comes out of Nevada with a better-than-expected showing, especially, among Hispanic voters. Indeed, when you look at the voter entrance polls there are two things that jump out: Sanders’ strong showing among younger caucus-goers (winning over 80 percent of them) and the surprising level of Hispanic support, particularly among younger Hispanics. His support among young Hispanics may be overstated, but not so his support among younger Democratic voters generally. Indeed, Clinton’s inability to connect with younger voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, and now Nevada is a serious weakness.
Anti-establishment sentiment continues to run strong, on both sides. On the Republican side, Donald Trump’s success and importantly, Jeb Bush’s defeat, underscores just how frustrated their voters are with the party’s leadership in Washington. Whether some Republican candidate other than Trump can capitalise on this remains a big question. On the Democratic side, concerns about ‘insiderism’ are likely to continue to dog the Clinton campaign. While she scores very high with Democratic voters on knowledge and experience, she does poorly on measures of trust and honesty; many think her ‘too cozy’ with Wall Street. This may not prevent her from winning the Democratic nomination, but it could come back to haunt Clinton in a general election that is likely depend greatly on each side’s ability to turn out its political base.
Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of USAPP – American Politics and Policy, nor the London School of Economics.
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Peter Trubowitz – LSE US Centre
Peter Trubowitz is Professor of International Relations, and Director of the LSE’s US Centre. His main research interests are in the fields of international security and comparative foreign policy, with special focus on American grand strategy and foreign policy. He also writes and comments frequently on US party politics and elections and how they shape and are shaped by America’s changing place in the world.