How Donald Trump Won the 2016 US Presidential Election
Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US presidential election came as a surprise to all, including Trump supporters. The aftermath of the election included political experts and various major news sources attempting to figure out how they were wrong and how Trump managed to beat Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College. Perhaps the most shocking part about Trump’s win was that he managed to not only crack, but completely obliterate the “Blue Wall” within the Electoral College, turning assumed Democratic safe states against the party of Clinton. While the mainstream media and the Democratic party blamed groups such as the FBI and Russia for Clinton’s loss, Clinton’s supporters, at least immediately after the election, were quick to blame third-party candidates. Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, the two most prominent third party candidates in the election, were blamed for pulling votes away from Clinton. They were accused of winning the necessary votes that Clinton needed to beat Trump in key states. If Johnson and Stein hadn’t run, they argued, then Clinton would’ve pulled through and crushed Trump in both the popular and the electoral vote.
None of Trump’s accomplishments mentioned above, when taking a closer look, are surprising. Furthermore, none of the things Clinton supporters blamed her loss on are legitimate. Let’s look at the obliteration of the Blue Wall. The Blue Wall is, or was, rather, a group of 18 states that were won by the Democratic presidential nominee every time since 1992, with the addition of the District of Columbia. Together, the Blue Wall states and D.C. have 242 electoral votes in the Electoral College. A candidate needs 270 to win. In other words, any Democratic nominee only needed to fight for at least 28 electoral votes to win the presidency. These 28 votes could easily be won with Florida or a combination of two other swing states (excluding New Hampshire, which only has 4 electoral votes).
In 2016, however, the Blue Wall cracked. The 242 electoral votes that were presumably guaranteed to Clinton were reduced to 195. To everyone’s surprise, Trump managed to win Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, three Blue Wall states, plus an extra vote from Maine, which hasn’t split its electoral vote since 1828 (and hasn’t voted Republican since 1988). Cracking the Blue Wall was an amazing accomplishment for Trump.
Lesser-known but equally important accomplishments include the fact that Trump is the first person since 1952 to be elected president without holding any prior government office. In addition, he is the first to be elected president without any military or political experience.
Clearly, the gravity of these feats is tremendous. Knowing about them, one should be further intrigued about how Trump won the election. Theoretically, there are three main causes for his victory, but first, one should examine the two main reasons given by the Clinton campaign, and then realize that both reasons are easily debunked.
Immediately after the election, the Clinton campaign blamed its candidate’s loss on the poorly-timed FBI investigation into her infamous email scandal. The claim is that the FBI’s decision to reopen the investigation just before the election deterred many people from voting for Clinton. The campaign claimed the FBI discredited its candidate and affected her popularity enough to pull the necessary votes needed for her to beat Trump. This claim is not only politically motivated, but plain wrong.
When examining the 2016 campaign season as a whole, one can see that Clinton’s popularity was already low. When looking at every single opinion poll taken by major polling groups from January 2016 to election day, one can see that Clinton’s favorability rating exceeded her unfavorability rating in only two polls. Furthermore, the two polls in which Clinton’s favorability rating was higher than her unfavorability rating were taken between 29 October and 3 November, after the FBI reopened its investigation (it was reopened 28 October).
While the campaign pointed fingers at the FBI, Clinton’s supporters, the public, put blame on the two leading third-party candidates, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein. Using the 2000 presidential election to back their claim, they argued that Johnson and Stein pulled enough votes away from Clinton in key swing states for Trump to win. This, also, is false.
First, Johnson ran on an economically conservative and socially liberal platform, thereby attracting voters from both the Clinton and Trump wings. Most, and certainly not all, of the votes won by Johnson were pulled from Clinton. Second, it is foolish to blame those who voted for Johnson or Stein while failing to identify Clinton as a poor candidate. This is not an opinion; the favorability polls back the fact that Clinton was a poor candidate.
But let’s, for a moment, assume that Johnson and Stein didn’t run. The claim by Clinton supporters is that if neither of the two leading third-party candidates ran, she would’ve virtually won all of Stein’s votes and about half of Johnson’s votes. The states (apparently) that would’ve then flipped to Clinton are Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Combined, the states have a total of 114 electoral votes, allowing Clinton to win 341 votes to Trump’s 197. Hypothetically, that is.
Let’s assume their theory is true. All the states listed above, with the exception of North Carolina, have posted official results. They give the total number of votes won by Clinton, Johnson, Stein, and Trump. We can transfer all of Stein’s votes and half of Johnson’s votes to the votes Clinton won in each of the listed states. Below are the actual results:
Florida (29 electoral votes)
Iowa (6 electoral votes)
Michigan (16 electoral votes)
Ohio (18 electoral votes)
Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes)
Wisconsin (10 electoral votes)
Now, I’ve assumed that neither Johnson or Stein ran and added all of Stein’s votes and half of Johnson’s votes to those won by Clinton. Here are the new results:
Florida (29 electoral votes) (flipped to Clinton victory)
Iowa (6 electoral votes) (remains for Trump)
Michigan (16 electoral votes) (flipped to Clinton victory)
Ohio (18 electoral votes) (remains for Trump)
Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes) (flipped to Clinton victory)
Wisconsin (10 electoral votes) (flipped to Clinton victory)
As you can see, if neither Johnson or Stein ran, Clinton would’ve won, according to the claim, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Winning these states would’ve brought her total electoral vote up from 227 to 302. This means that Clinton lost because of the third-party candidates. That is, if you stuck with those calculations, which are incorrect. Yes, if all of Stein’s votes and half of Johnson’s votes were added to those from Clinton, she would have more votes than Trump in four of the mentioned states. However, many fail to consider the other half of Johnson’s votes. If we are to assume that Johnson did not run, we cannot count only the half that allegedly would’ve voted for Clinton. We must not forget the entire other half of Johnson’s votes. Where would they go?
We agreed to assume that the theory put forth by Clinton supporters was correct. Part of that theory states that half of Johnson’s votes would’ve gone to Clinton had he not run. This implies that the other half would’ve gone to Trump. Below, I have listed the results again, factoring in the other half of Johnson’s votes. Listing the results again and performing more calculations is, no doubt, a pain, but I do it to prove irrefutably that Clinton would’ve still lost the election if neither Johnson or Stein ran. I’ve only performed the calculations for the four states that flipped for Clinton in the previous calculations. The new calculations show:
One can see that if we factor in Johnson’s other half, Clinton would still lose Florida. This would leave Trump with 275 electoral votes, still enough to win the presidency.
The impact made by third-party candidates in the election was not the reason for Clinton’s loss. Blaming her loss on those who voted for third-party candidates is also foolish. The polls show that Clinton was an unpopular candidate, and her low approval numbers don’t even factor in the Wallace effect (which I discuss later). Hillary Clinton simply lacked the characteristics sought for by liberal voters. She was, in fact, a horrible choice for nominee.
What made Clinton lose, if not Johnson, Stein, the FBI, or Russia? There are two prevailing theories. The first theory is that liberal turnout wasn’t high enough to push Clinton through in key states. Low liberal turnout can be attributed to A) Clinton’s failure at getting her supporters excited to vote or B) liberal voters’ heavy reliance on polls and mainstream media, which all pointed to Clinton winning by a landslide. The latter would’ve discouraged liberals from voting. It is highly likely that both A and B are correct.
The second theory involves what I call the Wallace effect. In 1968, the presidential election was between Republican nominee and former Vice President Richard Nixon and Democratic nominee and current Vice President Hubert Humphrey. A third major candidate eventually emerged. Governor George Wallace of Alabama ran as an American Independent, calling for segregation and other racist, nationalist policies to be reinstated. At the time, many Americans did not agree with Wallace, and because of this, the significant minority who did agree with him were embarrassed about their views.
When polling organizations surveyed people in the South, many answered by saying they favored Wallace over the Republican Nixon, which would’ve made sense. However, because many did not want to admit that they actually favored Wallace, the polls drastically underestimated the percentage of votes Wallace was expected to win. The result was that Wallace pulled off upset victories in several southern states, winning 45 electoral votes (plus another faithless electoral vote from North Carolina) and 13.5% of the popular vote. Upset victories due to inaccurate polls, which in turn are due to altered responses based off of guilt are what I call the Wallace effect.
This effect could have played a large role in the 2016 election. Many in key swing states might very well have been embarrassed about their support for Donald Trump and therefore gave inaccurate responses to polls.
Finally, one could argue that both theories played significant roles in the election, going hand in hand with each other. The guilt possibly experienced by Trump supporters could have caused inaccurate poll results, which overestimated the margin of victory for Clinton, which ultimately led to low liberal turnout because everyone just assumed Clinton would win.
It is no surprise Clinton won the popular vote. Polls were accurate for the national attitude. The Wallace effect had a bigger impact in individual key states, perhaps because many of these key states were part of or oriented toward the Blue Wall. In other words, the fact that many of these key states had a recent history of voting for the Democratic nominee caused embarrassment or guilt among Trump supporters.