The truth in numbers
Donald Trump’s presidential win last week truly was historic for many reasons, but a review of the statistics published in the wake of the 2016 election show a bigger story: Republican didn’t win the election so much as Democrats lost it.
While the official numbers have yet to be certified, the turnout in this year’s election will be the lowest in 20 years. Much has been made of how white middle-class voters came out in force in Rust Belt states to elect Trump as the next president, and that’s not necessarily false, but it also over-simplifies the facts.
Democratic turnout plummeted compared to both Obama campaigns. As of Saturday, Clinton had earned more than 60.8 million votes — enough to retain her lead in the nation’s popular vote — but that pales in comparison to the 69.5 million and 65.9 million votes that Obama pulled in 2008 and 2012 respectively.
Trump also has not done nearly as well as some of his vocal proponents might think. In fact, he’s earned fewer votes than Mitt Romney did in 2012 — roughly 60.2 million as of Saturday to Romney’s 60.9 million, despite an increase of about 10 million registered voters.
When you begin to look closer at the all-important battleground states, the numbers are even bleaker for Democrats. Campaign officials routinely said that Clinton would have to fare as nearly as well as Obama did to succeed, relying upon young, minority and female voting blocs for her to overcome Trump’s white male base.
In Michigan, Clinton got 13 percent fewer votes than Obama. Trump got 7 percent more than Romney. In Pennsylvania, Clinton got 5 percent fewer votes than Obama, while Trump got 9 percent more than Romney. In Wisconsin, Clinton got 15 percent fewer votes than Obama, and although Trump did slightly worse than Romney, it was a state that was home to Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan. What caused these drops in the most important places? Primarily, core Democratic voting groups likes blacks and Hispanics didn’t vote along party lines for Clinton as many assumed they would. As Pew Research notes, “Clinton held an 80-point advantage among blacks (88 percent to 8 percent) compared with Obama’s 87-point edge four years ago (93 percent to 6 percent). In 2008, Obama had a 91-point advantage among blacks.”
The young also did not come out for Clinton nationwide as they had for Obama, as Clinton held an 18-point advantage on the youngest voters compared to Obama’s 23-point advantage — perhaps evidence that they didn’t view Clinton as the change they saw in Obama or even her primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders.
So while the “white-lash” theory may be popular, the truth behind Clinton’s defeat appears to lie in the fact that voters were just not passionate enough about her to get out and actually vote for her, and those who did cast ballots weren’t as loyal to the party as they were in recent elections.
As much as Democrats may not want to take the election as a repudiation of the Obama administration, it’s hard not to. After eight years of hoping, many Democratic voters clearly felt that the “change” promised to them was not tangible enough and either voted for Trump or stayed home on Election Day.
Just take a look at the county-level results map of America to realize just how conservative the nation is still. About 90 percent of America’s continental landmass voted Republican — in fact, one could drive from the Gulf Coast tip of Florida to the Pacific Coast in Washington without entering a county that voted Democratic. Clinton’s biggest support, like most Democratic campaigns, is largely contained to metropolitan cities and their suburbs.
The 2016 election should serve as a wake-up call that the global society that Obama has laid out is not the desire of all Americans. In order for Democrats to re-enter federal power in 2018 or 2020, the party will have to reassess what the goal of its supporters is, and that may not be the same as a decade ago.