[update below] [2nd update below]
Yesterday was tough. For me and everyone. I couldn’t listen to my usual radio news programs and did not turn on the idiot box to watch the news. And I couldn’t bring myself to open Le Monde. The banner headline: “Donald Trump Président des États-Unis.” Quel cauchemar. Today is a little bit better but not really. I have been reading post-mortem analyses, though, plus examining the results and exit poll data. Here’s some of what one learns:
- Everyone knows by now that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. She’s presently at 47.7% and Trump at 47.5%, with an advance of some 280K votes. But once all the mail-in and provisional ballots are tabulated—notably in deep blue California and Washington state—her lead will widen to perhaps 1.5 million votes, even 2M. Her percentage will break 48 and with Trump’s dropping below Mitt Romney’s 47.2 in 2012. The spread between Hillary and Trump will be wider than that of Gore over Bush in 2000 (539K votes and 0.5%). Now this won’t change a thing in terms of the result of course, but it is nonetheless important to know that the election was not a repudiation of Hillary. And with Trump on track to underperform Romney’s numbers—60.9M votes, with Trump presently at 59.8M—one can hardly argue that the American electorate has jumped on the populist bandwagon. And there is no indication, at least not yet, that Trump attracted large numbers of new voters or habitual abstainers, unlike Ross Perot in 1992, whose candidacy caused voter participation to spike, with 13M more voters casting ballots than four years prior. The final turnout number of this election will be below that of 2012 (129M).
- Hillary underperformed Obama’s 2012 score (51.1%) by some 3% and, projecting to the definitive result, by around 5 million votes (Obama received 65.9M). Some of Obama 2012 voters no doubt stayed home—blacks and millennials; we don’t yet know the extent—but much of Hillary’s shortfall, as one may see in this great NYT map, came from white working class voters in the Rust Belt who defected to Trump. It was a failure of pollsters, but also of the Clinton campaign and its internal polling—or algorithm—that the scale of this movement wasn’t detected.
- It had been an assumption for much of the campaign, including by myself, that significantly more Republican voters would not vote for their candidate than Democratic voters defecting from theirs. But not only did Republican voters return to the fold (90%) but did so more than Democrats who voted for Clinton (89%). And while defecting Democrats no doubt voted in their overwhelming majority for Trump, many #NeverTrump Republicans look to have voted for Gary Johnson or stayed home rather than cast a ballot for Hillary.
- The numbers make it clear: there was no Trump wave. His voters were those who always vote Republican plus a sufficient number of white working class Democratic defectors to put him over the top in Rust Belt states that were part of Hillary’s supposed firewall. And Hillary lost because her campaign failed to recognize the danger to that firewall. The bottom line: Trump was elected, as Scott Lemieux reminds us, exclusively on account of America’s archaic, nonsensical electoral system, a.k.a. the electoral college.
A few of the many worthwhile postmortem commentaries:
New York mag’s Jonathan Chait, “Republicans won power, but they didn’t win America.” Not that Republicans care about the latter, of course. The former is what’s essential.
The Nation’s Joan Walsh, “Everything we thought we knew about politics was wrong: The country will survive, probably. But it could fundamentally change.”
Vanessa Williamson of the Brookings Institution, “What the Tea Party tells us about the Trump presidency.”
My friend Monica Marks posted an excellent commentary today on her Facebook page, on the white working class, which I am copying-and-pasting below. Monica, who currently resides in Istanbul and is completing a doctoral thesis at Oxford University on the Islamists in Tunisia, hails from a working class family in eastern Kentucky, so has a unique personal perspective on some of Trump’s voters:
Democrats lost because the “liberal elite” forgot the white working class. This narrative casts bigotry & misogyny as symptoms of neoliberalism, the underlying disease. But is it accurate?
If I didn’t hail from America’s white working class, I’d probably be an ardent purveyor of this narrative. But I come from America’s WWC, and it rankles me. Here are a few reasons why:
(1) Studies of Trump supporters’ median income, which may or may not reflect the final statistics, indicate the average Trump supporter is better off than most Americans, with an annual income of approximately $72,000.
We’re waiting on the final data, but we know from last night’s voting patterns that many well-off Americans in wealthy districts voted for Trump, too. Many white people of all economic backgrounds voted for Trump. Whiteness, not income, may be the dominant unifying factor, indicating that other variables, like racist outlooks, education, geography, etc. may have had more explanatory power.
(2) Besides letting the white middle and upper classes off the hook, this narrative really obscures a lot of good work that Democrats’ policies have done for the white working class, and lets the WWC off the hook for having really bad judgment.
Disclaimer: I’m acutely aware of my own subjectivity here, because my class background powerfully shapes (and perhaps muddles) my views on these issues. I’m a product of the WWC. My father is a floor cleaner & window washer. My mother was a housewife, but since divorcing eight years ago works a caretaker & house cleaner. Neither finished high school. They earn about $25K and $17K respectively. They do not and have never received any government benefits. They live in eastern Kentucky, an epicenter of white poverty.
I’ve seen first-hand how Democrats’ policies help my own parents. Obama’s Affordable Care Act provided both my parents with health insurance for the first time in their lives. The premiums were high, and there were flaws in the system, but it was definitely progress. The ACA helped WWC families like mine– it was a signature achievement of the Obama administration, and one the GOP is now very determined to roll back (they might succeed, leaving my parents uninsured again).
Democrats have also articulated more policies aimed at economically rejuvenating Appalachia’s coal fields than Republicans. HRC’s website articulated a thoughtful plan for retooling workers in coal country. Trump had no plan at all.
Instead of feeding pablum to the masses — Islamophobia, racism, fear of “the other” writ large, religiously inflected opioids — Democrats offer real policies, many of which could improve WWC lives. Though life has transported me some distance, I still feel deeply tethered to the WWC. I’m less inclined to make excuses for them and to pity than my friends raised in middle and upper middle class backgrounds. I don’t expect them to read the New York Times every day. I do expect them to see through the nonsense the GOP — and especially Trump — has fed to them. And I definitely, definitely expect decency from them. Decency which Trump so obviously didn’t have.
Many liberals and leftists today will be asking themselves where they went wrong. That’s not just good, it’s absolutely necessary. Facts may uphold the neoliberalism / abandoned WWC thesis. I’m very open to the possibility that I’m blinded by my own subjectivities here. It’s personal for me to the extent that I find it extremely difficult to distill cogent analysis from my still-percolating anger at the folks I grew up with, who I always wished would rechannel their rage from away from the phantasm whipping boys of Islam/ LGBT people/ “feminazis”/ “godlessness” etc towards economic policies that actually shape their realities.
But perhaps it’s also possible that, in a liberal/leftist rush to self-blame and find neoliberalism lurking around every corner, we’re denying these people, my people, their racist & misogynistic agency.
This election might not have been entirely defined by bigotry, but bigotry does seem to have played a huge role. As did other factors that aren’t necessarily economic, like being a low-information voter/ reliant on conspiracy theories & rumour-laden blogs; being socially and/or geographically distant from minority communities most vulnerable to Trumpism, etc.
Just a small contribution to a complex discussion surrounding the “why” of all this. We should also remember that we cannot separate the conversation re: Trump’s election from Brexit, or from the rise of racist & anti-immigration / anti-globalization far right parties elsewhere in Europe.
UPDATE: WaPo reporter Chris Cillizza examines “The 13 most amazing findings in the 2016 exit poll.” And these 13 are:
- Trump won the white vote by a record margin.
- There was no surge of female voters.
- There was no surge of Latino voters.
- Education mattered yugely in your vote choice.
- Trump did better with white evangelicals than Romney.
- Trump didn’t bring lots of new voters to the process.
- The economy was the big issue and Clinton won it.
- This was a change election. And Trump was the change candidate.
- Obamacare was a wind beneath Trump’s wings.
- Trump’s personal image was and is horrible.
- Clinton’s email hurt her.
- This was a deeply pessimistic electorate.
- People didn’t think Trump lost the debates as badly as I did.
N..B. There is disagreement over the Latino vote, with the Latino Decisions Election Eve poll finding that Latinos backed Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by a 79-18% margin (as opposed to the 65-29% margin in the National Election Pool exit poll).
2nd UPDATE: To the above 13 findings above may be added the huge turnout in rural America for Trump. On this, see the analyses in the NYT’s The Upshot, “The election highlighted a growing rural-urban split,” and in Politico, “Revenge of the rural voter.”