Trump didn’t rally whites

The pres­i­dent-elect’s share of white votes was ac­tu­ally pretty av­er­age for a Repub­li­can

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By An­thony Mar­cav­age “The great en­emy of truth is very of­ten not the lie — de­lib­er­ate, con­trived and dis­hon­est — but the myth: per­sis­tent, per­sua­sive and un­re­al­is­tic.” — John F. Kennedy An­thony Mar­cav­age is a lawyer in Wash­ing­ton; his email is mar­cav­age@

Last week’s elec­tion shat­tered myths around the im­pact of data, money and or­ga­ni­za­tion in na­tional pol­i­tics. Yet Don­ald Trump’s sur­prise vic­tory has given rise to another myth, one that is per­sua­sive at first glance, but false, and if left unan­swered threat­ens to fur­ther tear our so­cial fab­ric.

The myth pre­dates Elec­tion Day, but was summed up and given legs by CNN’s Van Jones, who, in dis­be­lief at Mr. Trump’s vic­tory, stated that peo­ple of color had suf­fered a “white lash” from vot­ers. It has now be­come con­ven­tional wis­dom among many com­men­ta­tors and Democrats that Don­ald Trump won be­cause white vot­ers flocked to him due to an­i­mus to­ward mi­nori­ties.

The Na­tional Elec­tion Pool’s exit polls, how­ever, tell a dif­fer­ent story. First, con­trary to con­ven­tional wis­dom, Don­ald Trump got a slightly smaller share of white votes than Mitt Rom­ney, his un­suc­cess­ful pre­de­ces­sor. He also re­ceived the same share as Ge­orge W. Bush in 2004, and just three points more than John McCain in 2008 dur­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s land­slide elec­tion. Sec­ond, Mr. Trump scored a higher His­panic (+2), Black (+2), and Asian (+3) voter share than Mitt Rom­ney. In short, Don­ald Trump’s per­for­mance with white vot­ers was av­er­age for a Repub­li­can, and he per­formed some­what bet­ter than Mr. Rom­ney among non-white vot­ers.

The same is not true for Hillary Clin­ton, how­ever. Ms. Clin­ton lost His­panic (-6), Black (-5), and Asian (-8) voter share at rates more than dou­ble Mr. Trump’s gains, mean­ing that these non-Clin­ton vot­ers chose third-par­ties or left their choice for pres­i­dent blank more of­ten than they voted for Don­ald Trump.

Turnout fur­ther chal­lenges the myth. When the count­ing is done, Hillary Clin­ton will have re­ceived up to 4 mil­lion fewer votes than Barack Obama in 2012. Yet Don­ald Trump scored turnout very close to the GOP av­er­age over the past four cy­cles — about the same as Mitt Rom­ney, slightly more than John McCain and slightly less than Ge­orge W. Bush in 2004. The­claim that Don­ald Trump turned out large num­bers of newly reg­is­tered dis­af­fected white vot­ers is not re­flected in the num­bers.

The myth also fades when we con­sider the white vot­ers most ma­ligned as xeno­pho­bic, namely those from “small city and ru­ral” pop­u­la­tion cen­ters, as des­ig­nated on the exit poll. Im­por­tantly, this group as a whole made up 4 per­cent less of the elec­torate in 2016 than in 2012, once again chal­leng­ing the no­tion that Mr. Trump in­spired large num­bers of new vot­ers from the heart­land. In 2016, Mr. Trump only gained three points of voter share with this di­min­ished group over Mitt Rom­ney in 2012.

Hillary Clin­ton was there­fore not de- feated by Don­ald Trump’s in­creas­ing white sup­port — there was none — but rather by Obama vot­ers of all races who chose to stay home on Elec­tion Day or vote against her, of­ten for third par­ties. Had Ms. Clin­ton achieved any­thing near Pres­i­dent Obama’s sup­port in 2012 (never mind his mas­sive 2008 to­tals), she would have won in a land­slide.

Why does this mat­ter? Be­cause myth has po­ten­tial to be­come re­al­ity. If dis­cour­aged Democrats con­tinue to con­sider a vote cast for Mr. Trump as ev­i­dence of racism and xeno­pho­bia, Repub­li­cans will nat­u­rally re­spond with hos­til­ity to their ac­cusers. This cy­cle of in­sult can only lead to in­creased divi­sion, un­rest and dys­func­tion in Wash­ing­ton.

To be sure, the of­ten in­cen­di­ary rhetoric of Don­ald Trump and his slow re­jec­tion of ex­trem­ist sup­port are at the root of this false nar­ra­tive. In this way the can­di­date did his tens of mil­lions of well-mean­ing sup­port­ers an enor­mous dis­ser­vice and ex­posed them to this at­tack. Yet the charge of racism, one of the most se­ri­ous in our so­ci­ety, should not be lev­eled ca­su­ally at mil­lions. Democrats and many in the me­dia are choos­ing an easy myth rather than hard anal­y­sis, and in do­ing so are de­grad­ing many of their fel­low cit­i­zens, wors­en­ing divi­sion, and miss­ing the fact that Hillary Clin­ton lost, not due to racism or xeno­pho­bia, but be­cause mil­lions of Barack Obama’s vot­ers did not sup­port her.


A white con­struc­tion worker ex­changes a fist pound with a black Trump sup­porter out­side Trump Tower in New York.

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