TRAHANT REPORTS— Over the years I have joked about Indian country being included in the Electoral College. Each tribal nation should have a vote and a say about the next president of the United States. (Of course it would have to be a much larger college. But in a country of 323 million that would make a lot of sense). Plus it would be so cool to hear the reading of votes from tribal nations.
While that’s fun to think about, the way the 2016 election map is starting to take shape, and Native American voters could actually help deliver as many as 50 electoral votes out of the 538 total. That’s because six states with a significant Native population are also close enough where every vote could be the difference.
Those states on my list: Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Let’s look at the numbers.
A look at the polls shows a tight race (again). The Real Clear Politics average of polls has a Hillary Clinton lead of 1.7 percent, 47.2 percent to 45.5 percent for Donald Trump. That shows that more Republicans sticking with Trump despite what would be disqualifications in any other election year. Paul Ryan’s statement captured that discomfort perfectly on Tuesday when he said, “I already voted for our nominee.” There is no name needed in that sentence.
But in any election what matters is who votes.
According to the U.S. Election Project more than 28 million people have already done so. And, as I have written before, one number that I am interested in comes from the three states that break down returned ballots by gender. Women, so far, have cast 56 percent of the ballots in those states, up from 53 percent from four years ago. (African Americans, on the other hand, have turned in fewer ballots than when Barack Obama was a candidate.)
North Carolina has 15 electoral votes. The Census Bureau reports that 122,000 people consider themselves American Indian and 184,000 alone and in combination with other races.
The Elon University Poll shows North Carolina in a statistical tie. “Among likely voters, Clinton has 42 percent of the vote while Trump has 41.2 percent, with 8.7 percent saying they are still undecided in the race,” the poll showed.
The poll also showed that the gender gap is shrinking, with 55 percent of women voters planning to vote for Clinton, compared to 61 percent during the second Elon Poll nearly a month ago. Men continue to prefer Trump by a 56-44 split.
“North Carolina is still very much in play for both Trump and Clinton,” said Jason Husser, director of the Elon University Poll and assistant professor of political science. “The Old North State is continuing its tradition as a source of true toss-up electoral votes.”
One thing I like about the Elon Poll is that it publishes cross tabs. Most of the demographic breakdown was limited to white and black. But 39 people in the poll identified themselves as “other,” at about 5.5 percent of those surveyed, but it wasn’t a big enough pool to get a sense of what the “other” is thinking.
Wisconsin polls have consistently showed a Clinton lead in the state. A recent one by Remington Research Group pegs Clinton at 46 percent, Trump at 42 percent, Gary Johnson at 4 percent, someone else at 3 percent, and 5 percent undecided. The Remington poll includes whites, African Americans, Hispanics, and the “other” in that poll is 4 percent.
Trump campaigned in Wisconsin this week and has plans to return again.
The Native vote program has been growing in the state. The Native Vote program, a partnership with Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters Institute and tribes in the state, saw turnout increase by one percent in 2012 from 2008. “But on the reservations we saw 2 percent, 6 percent, and even 14 percent increases,” the Native Vote program reported. “The Menominee reservation even reached an astounding 90 percent voter turnout, and the Lac du Flambeau and Menominee newspapers announced that they had record turnout levels.”
Polls in Nevada also reflect a dead-heat. (The average of polls show Trump with a one-half point lead.) Two Nevada tribes were successful in getting a federal court order for early voting locations and Friday nine more tribes asked for additional polling locations, according to the Reno Gazette Journal. The filing said some tribal members in remote communities had to drive 275 miles roundtrip to cast a ballot. Native Americans are about 1.6 percent of the state. But even a small percentage is important in a state that’s tied.
Arizona and New Mexico are on different paths. Both have a long tradition where the Native Vote has impacted elections.
The Secretary of State in New Mexico publishes a list of Native American precincts, detailing where the Native vote has the most numbers. But there remains a significant gap between registered voters and those who actually turnout. In 2014, some 66,000 people were registered to vote while only 26,000 cast ballots.
New Mexico, like Wisconsin, is a state that Clinton has lead for a long time, but that Trump is trying to make competitive. One challenge for the Republican is that the state’s former governor, Gary Johnson, is polling around 7 percent. Johnson was a Republican and is now the Libertarian Party nominee.
Even in New Mexico there are no polls that include Native American voters.
Arizona is a state that Democrats would like to flip, turning a reliable Republican state into a Democratic one. If that happens the coalition will include voters from tribal nations. Clinton already has a track record here. During the primary, Navajo voters picked Clinton and challenged the narrative of Indian country’s support for Bernie Sanders by more than 17 points. Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye recently endorsed Clinton and the campaign recently said there are some 25-field organizers working to bring out Native voters.
“Tribal communities have swung a lot of elections in Arizona,” Charlie Galbraith, a member of Navajo Nation and a political adviser to both the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee said in Buzz Feed last week. “In an election that will be razor thin, getting out the vote in Navajo Nation could turn the state blue.”
And now, Alaska, the wild card.
A poll by Craciun Research showed a Clinton lead of four points, 47 to 43 percent, over Trump. That’s just one poll. And it defies the state’s recent history. Still. It makes you wonder.
Two key points: The Alaska Native vote and gender.
The poll identifies Alaska Native voters by geography. It cites “the unprecedented endorsement of Clinton by the Alaska Federation of Natives board. In the rural North and Northwest regions of the State, the poll shows Clinton is beating Trump by a margin of almost 5:1, 74 percent to 15 percent.
Second: “The gender gap is at levels not experienced in the recent past with women supporting Clinton by a margin of 17 percent.”
A shout out to Craciun Research. I love that the Alaska Native vote is measured. Would it be so across the land.
Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports.