The party’s direction has changed considerably since then. White moderates and conservatives have been shrinking as a percentage of self-identified Democrats, according to the pre-eminent General Social Survey. After Gore’s run in 2000, they have made up less than a plurality of all Democrats. You simply cannot win a Democratic nomination by relying on only moderate and conservative white Democrats.
Indeed, Sanders’s base of white liberals has become a larger percentage of white Democrats amid the decline of moderates. Last year was only the second time in the past 40 years in which they made up a larger share of the Democratic base than white moderates/conservatives. This explains a lot of the enthusiasm for Sanders in states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, where whites make up more than 90 percent of the Democratic base.
It’s Clinton, however, who is best positioned to take advantage of the recent demographic shift in the Democratic Party. Clinton has picked up well over 60 percent of the vote among nonwhite Democrats in recent polls from CNN/ORC and Fox News. Sanders has languished in single digits among nonwhite voters. That’s very good news for Clinton given that nonwhites now make up nearly a majority of the party.
Indeed, nonwhite, specifically black, voters were the key to Obama’s primary victory in 2008. He was able to combine them with liberal whites to overcome Clinton’s initial lead. Unless someone like Sanders can increase his appeal to nonwhite voters, or Webb is able to combine moderate/conservative whites with nonwhite voters, Clinton is likely to march to the nomination, just as Obama did.