2016 What happened, and what now?
“Run Donald, run.” I said that whenever the topic of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign came up going all the way back to the start of the primaries. Why? Because it seemed obvious to me that Hillary Clinton was going to be the Democratic nominee, for all that I strongly supported Bernie Sanders, and that Donald Trump was the GOP nominee that Hillary Clinton matched up best against. To make it clear, I was wrong. Terribly wrong. For the past week I’ve been wading through the exit poll and turnout data trying to figure out what happened, and why. Here are my thoughts, worth every penny you paid for them.
What happened? Well, at one level that’s easy. Donald Trump won the election and will almost certainly be the next president of the U.S. But that’s not all that happened, most importantly Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. More people voted for her than voted for Donald Trump, for all that that does not matter in who gets the office it matters very much in understanding what happened. The US voters choose Hillary Clinton but didn’t do it by enough of a margin to overcome what actually is a rigged system. Trump is right, it’s just that it’s rigged to favor rich white men like him, which is why he’s now president even though most people voted for Hillary Clinton.
What happened? In order of importance.
First: The details will come in another post but the short story is that the Electoral College did what it was supposed to do and made votes that come from the rural areas of the country count for more than votes from the urban parts of the country. It’s literally true that a vote for president from Alaska counts more than a vote for president from California. We’ll come back to that later but the biggest contributor to the coming Trump presidency is the Electoral College and any discussion of this past election that does not mention that is incomplete at best.
Second: It’s also simply true that we suffered from depressed turnout this election. Fewer people voted for Donald Trump, the winner, than voted for Mitt Romney, the loser, four years ago. Each four year election cycle, given population growth, one should expect to see more voters turn out, if participation rates remain constant. But that didn’t happen in 2016 as voter turnout looks to be coming in right around 50%, currently, which would put it something like eight points down for 2012. High turnout votes favor the Democrats, low turnout votes favor the Republicans, it’s just that simple.
Third: Now having said that it’s also true that Hillary Clinton could not hold together the traditional Democratic base of voters sufficiently to win the Electoral College. I expected that white men would support Donald Trump, I didn’t expect white women would as well. When compared to the 2012 election blacks shifted to the GOP ticket by seven points. Hispanics by eight points and asians by eleven points. People making under $30,000 per year shifted to Donald Trump by 16 points. Women as a whole shifted to the Democrats by only one point. People who identified as Democrats shifted to the GOP ticket by five points in 2016.
And there you have it, the three biggest inputs to what happened, specifically Donald Trump winning the 2016 election and becoming the United State’s President Elect. Now on to;
Why it happened.
Let me be clear on this point, I don’t have a lot of confidence in the why as much as the what. In fact I’m not sure how much confidence in the why anyone should have because, at heart, to answer that question one has to peer inside the minds of millions of voters and figure out why they behaved in the way they did. Truthfully we generally don’t know why we personally we did what we did and I’m no exception, let alone figuring out why someone else did what they did. The science of decision making is more and more showing that we make decisions not for any rational cognitions but because of the biological process going on outside our conscious awareness. For all I know folk voted the way they did because this election cycle coincided with a bloom of common gut bacteria across the population and that gut bacteria, in turn, made folk more likely to vote Republican. Having said that I’m as opinionated as the next guy and I’ve got some ideas on the why that I’ll share with you.
Let’s start with sexism, right off the bat. Hillary Clinton’s sins were maximized while Donald Trumps’ were minimized throughout this campaign. He was caught on tape bragging about committing sexual assault, she has been cleared after countless investigations, and she was the one people though was, ‘crooked.’ She ran as an extension of Obama’s administration but when it was a woman at the head of it instead of a man even self identified Democrats didn’t maintain their voting behavior. Men shifted to Trump by seven points. As the famous saying goes, women have to do everything men have to do but backwards and in high heels. Call me what you will I have no better explanation for this behavior than sexism in our culture.
Next let’s move to voter suppression in all its forms. From government sponsored activities like reducing the number of polls to cutting back on the hours they were open and implementing voter ID laws to private efforts like spreading the myths that how people vote doesn’t matter or that all of the candidates are the same. There are a host of contributors to the collective effort to discourage people from voting and that confluence of forces combined to drop turn out by something like 6 to 8 points from 2012 (the numbers are still being tallied as I write this.)
If I may polish the ruby in my forehead I do also think a big chunk of the voting public simply wants change. They don’t really care about the direction of that change, they don’t really understand that to get lasting change they have to vote new people into congress, but they want change. Badly. And for all his negatives Donald Trump could lay claim to be the change candidate while Hillary Clinton, in no way, could.
In fact, any analysis of this election also has to include that Hillary Clinton, for all that she won the popular vote, had some set of negatives that cost her among the Democratic base that, in turn, cost her the Electoral College vote and the election. Her status as the consummate insider, her habitual secrecy, her tin ear and tendency to gaffs that, understandably, inspired her campaign to keep her under wraps. Her stupid decision to have a private email server likely cost her this election, for all that her campaign was better ran than Trumps from the start.
Now, while I’m not all that confident of all of the above, I am confident that many of the other stories being told about this election are simply off base. No, this was not a rising up of whites, we only shifted to Trump by 1 point, collectively, when compared to 2016. No, this was not a big idea race with the US population rising up against globalism, for example. Idea races inspire lots of people to come to the polls and lots of 1st time voters, something we aren’t seeing this time around.
No, this looks to be your standard partisan election when the bulk of the people who came to the polls are the ones who come every time, the ones who care, the ones who identify strongly with a party. And among those people, Hillary Clinton could not win convincingly enough to overcome the effect of the Electoral College.
At heart, here was my mistake. I thought Donald Trump would motivate the Democratic base more strongly than Hillary Clinton demotivated them. And, as the data shows, that did not happen. In a low turnout election, it’s hard to argue that anyone was motivated, across the board, for all that there clearly were pockets of higher than usual turnout. But, at heart, my error was in thinking the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency would drive more lefties to the polls than the contempt of Hillary Clinton would keep away. I knew Donald Trump would get fewer votes than Mitt Romney, I just didn’t think Hillary Clinton would get this many fewer votes than Obama did.
In short we have to take the Electoral College out of the process. I’ll write a full post about the why and how of that later but for now know that most of the objections to doing so aren’t true. No, we don’t need a constitutional amendment to make the popular vote the vote that seats the president. No, getting rid of the Electoral College will not give two states, three metro areas, or whatever small unit of territory listed the ability to pick the president. And no, the electoral college does not protect us from the Tyranny of the Majority. In fact it’s about to inflict us with the Tyranny of the Minority. But that’s a meaty topic for another entry. For now go check out http://www.nationalpopularvote.com where you can support an effort that’s already over half way to eliminating the possibility that the Electoral College could split from the popular vote. Give them some love and urge your State legislators to do the same.
Mid term we have to mobilize. There is a great story about FDR giving a speech to the NAACP, back in the day. The speaker before FDR gave a barnstormer of a speech advocating for the end of Jim Crow and racial justice on multiple fronts. When FDR came to the mike he said, in essence, “I agree with everything the first speaker said. Now, as president, if we are to achieve these things you must make me.”
We have to make Donald Trump be a better president than he wants to be via our protests, our participation in the system, and, should it come to that, our active civil disobedience. But, for now, give your time, money, and support to the ACLU, NAACP, National Popular Vote Movement, Planned Parenthood, Southern Poverty Law Center, BLM, and/or opposition group of your choice. Just make sure whoever you support is preparing to participate in the US system of governance via their opposition to Trump’s campaign promises.
There are protests happening in every city, go join one. And while you are there make friends. Look at it as a networking opportunity because, in the final analysis, results in the US political system demand collective action. We have to band together to form coalitions that can not be ignored.
Longer term we have to vote. Specifically in 2018 and 2020 and we have to give as many local states seats to Democrats as possible in that latter election because that’s the class that will draw district boundaries. These past few elections the majority of people have voted Democratic and the majority of seats (congress and the president) have gone Republican because of the rigged system we have allowed to continue. Between gerrymandering and the Electoral College we, as a nation, have turned our back on the idea the one person should have one vote. It’s time we the people changed course and re embraced that simple notion. One person, one vote.
So there you have it, what I think happened in 2016, why I think it happened, and what you can do about it. Thanks so much for asking. :)