Why Trump Won, A Reminder

So we’ve got a lot of people acting as though the election of Donald J. Trump represents a seismic shift in the American electorate and–just maybe!–a prelude to the Fourth Reich. This is just a reminder that the data don’t bear that out.

It’s not exactly news–Slate Star Codex carried it right after the election–but it bears repeating. So here’s the update from Matt Bruenig: The Boring Story of the 2016 Election.

Donald Trump did not win because of a surge of white support. Indeed he got less white support than Romney got in 2012. Nor did Trump win because he got a surge from other race+gender groups. The exit polls show him doing slightly better with black men, black women, and latino women than Romney did, but basically he just hovered around Romney’s numbers with every race+gender group, doing slightly worse than Romney overall.

However, support for Hillary was way below Obama’s 2012 levels, with defectors turning to a third party. Clinton did worse with every single race+gender combo except white women, where she improved Obama’s outcome by a single point. Clinton did not lose all this support to Donald. She lost it into the abyss. Voters didn’t like her but they weren’t wooed by Trump.

Bruenig goes on to explain why this narrative is so underplayed. Which is: nobody likes it. I’ll let you read Bruenig’s analysis on this point (I basically agree with it), but here’s the point: any discussion of what’s happening in American politics should adhere to the basic facts. Trump did a little worse than Romney. Clinton did a lot worse than Obama. Ergo the defining factor was Clinton’s deep unpopularity.

Last thought: she’s been in the press a lot since the end of the election. It even sounds like she wants to try again. Will she try? Will she succeed (in getting on the ballot)? What will that look like?

3 thoughts on “Why Trump Won, A Reminder”

  1. This analysis neglects the shift in who actually voted (particularly on the Republican side). Part of the reason the pre-election voting was so off is that it is focused on “likely voters.” The Republicans got a lot of “unlikely” voters out for 2016. Otherwise, he would not have done as well.

  2. “The biggest surprise of the 2016 election…was that, once Trump became the Republican nominee, the vast majority of Republicans brought themselves to vote for him in spite of everything. Long-term panel data collected by the firm YouGov suggest that more than 90% of people who thought of themselves as Republicans or Republican leaners in 2011, well before Trump emerged as a significant political figure, voted for him in 2016—about the same proportion as for other recent Republican nominees, according to the American National Election Study. Add in some less-educated Democrats and (especially) Independents who were more relaxed than the New York Times thought they should be about Trump’s various violations of democratic and ethical norms, and it is not hard to get to 46% of the popular vote, Trump’s share. Thus an extraordinary campaign produced a remarkably ordinary election outcome.”

    – Christopher H. Achen, Larry M. Bartels, Democracy for Realists: Why Election Do Not Produce Responsive Government (Princeton University Press, 2016), 338-339.

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