December 29, 2016
This year’s vote already has been analyzed many times in an attempt to learn how it came out as it did. Some of those analyses were based on early, incomplete data, and were correspondingly misleading. Exit polls, even assuming them to be reasonably accurate, have been interpreted as disclosing various reasons for the result. Here’s a look at the election based on final numbers, which make sweeping interpretations more difficult. (Comparisons by year are between this election and that of 2012; all numbers pertain to the presidential election. Until noted otherwise, the electoral vote numbers assume that electors voted as they pledged to do so).
The total national popular vote was 137,053,916, up 6.05% this year. National voter turnout (percentage of eligible voters) was higher, at 58.9%, compared to 58.0%.
Trump won the electoral vote 306 to 232; 270 are required to win. Clinton’s electoral vote was lower than Obama’s by 100, 232 to 332.
Trump won 56.88% of electoral votes to Clinton’s 43.12%; Clinton won 48.043% of popular votes to Trump’s 45.953%. Clinton won more popular votes than Trump by 2,865,075. Clinton did not win a majority, but 54.047% voted against Trump.
Clinton’s national popular vote was lower than Obama’s, 65,844,954 to 65,918,507. Trump’s national popular vote was higher than Romney’s, 62,979,879 to 60,934,407. Clinton’s national popular vote margin was 2.09% compared to Obama’s 3.86%.
Clinton’s popular vote percentage exceeded Obama’s in 12 states plus D.C., and fell below it in 38. Of the 13 gains, 7 were in jurisdictions that she won, all of them Democratic in 2012 and 2008. None of the other 6 brought her close to winning that state. Of the 38 declines, the rate was more than 10% in 8 states, above 15% in 3.
Total votes increased in every blue state except Hawaii, and in every red state except Iowa, Mississippi, Ohio and Wisconsin. Turnout was higher in some blue states, but lower in others. The same was true of red states.
"Other"(third party and independent) votes amounted to 8,229,083 (6.004% of the national total), much increased from 2,384,728 (1.85%) in 2012.
Many states voted as they had in 2012; 24 states with 206 electoral votes went Republican both times; 19 states and D.C. with 232 Democratic. Maine, which gave its 4 electoral votes to Obama, split its votes this time and awarded 1 to Trump. Clinton lost 6 states which Obama won, and won none that he lost. The six losses were crucial; see next item.
The election turned on 7 "battleground states," Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Clinton did not win any of them. Obama won all of those states except North Carolina; Clinton lost it by a wider margin. Here are the results:
Those 6 switches and Maine’s 1 gave the election to Trump with votes to spare: 206 + 99 + 1 = 306.
Clinton’s losing margin, expressed in votes, in battleground states and those which proved critical, was as follows:
Compared to 2012, total votes and turnout in battleground states, expressed in percentages, were as follows:
Related to turnout is the "undervote," the number of ballots containing a choice for various races but not for President. Those voters who skipped the presidential line were more numerous this year in most states. In battleground states for which the information is available, the numbers are as follows:
In 4 battleground states, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the total number of votes for Stein (Green) and Johnson (Libertarian) exceeded the margin by which Trump beat Clinton. In three states, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the Stein vote alone exceeded that margin. In one, Florida, Johnson’s votes alone did so. In North Carolina, the total "Other" vote did.
Unemployment rates in battleground states are as follows; in "Rank," the state with the lowest rate would be no.1 :
|Average, all states||4.71%||7.37%|
The actual electoral vote was 304 for Trump, 227 for Clinton. Neither candidate gained any votes from the other. Seven votes were thrown away: 1 each to Bernie Sanders, John Kasich, Ron Paul and Faith Spotted Eagle, and 3 to Colin Powell. Ironically, given the attempt to persuade electors to desert Trump, he lost only 2, Clinton 5. Washington had the dubious honor of producing the most defections, 4, the majority of the Clinton defections, 3, and the oddest vote (Faith Spotted Eagle).
This mini-drama did not change the outcome and did not alter the overall or state-by state pattern described above.
As 44 states and D.C., with 438 electoral votes, were in the same column in both elections, much of the result probably was historic party preference rather than a reaction to these candidates.
Counting spending by the presidential campaigns and "single-candidate super PACs," Clinton outspent Trump about 2 to 1. By most accounts, she had a more substantial and better organized campaign but, at least in retrospect, its strategy appears flawed, focusing attention in the wrong places. Her candidacy did not excite people; Trump’s did, and it doesn’t help to point out that it did so for wrong reasons.
Mrs. Clinton did not do well in battleground states. She lost those seven by close to a million votes. Eliminating Ohio, the margin is a half million; omitting North Carolina, which perhaps never was in play, the deficit still is a third of a million.
If we drop Florida and Iowa, the remaining popular vote margin becomes tiny, but the electoral vote result was fatal. A shift of 77,774 votes in the three remaining battleground states (Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, totaling 46 electoral votes) would have given the election to her (232+46=278). To win the popular vote by 2,865,075, but lose the election by 77,744 is as clear an indictment of the electoral college as one could want.
It has been argued that voter suppression tipped the balance. There doesn’t seem to be any way to verify that claim, but suppression exists, and provides another reason not to perpetuate the electoral college. Of the critical states, the Wisconsin vote is the most likely to have been affected.
Media coverage and debate questions, emphasizing scandal and ignoring more important issues, tended to help Trump, as did the Comey circus and misinformation roaming around the internet. It was a mistake for Clinton to get into a slanging match with Trump; he’s better at it, and it helped push the media into he-said-she-said mode, but again it’s difficult to know how many voters these factors influenced.
Low turnout has been blamed for Clinton’s loss but, as shown above, national total votes and turnout were up. In battleground states, the only possible correlations between low turnout and the result are in Wisconsin and Michigan, and in the latter, the total vote was up. Undervoting — casting a ballot not including a presidential vote — was up generally and in some battleground states; it could have been significant in Michigan. Lower turnout and increased undervoting could reflect dissatisfaction with the choices offered by the Republicans and Democrats.
"Other" votes were up sharply, clearly reflecting that dissatisfaction. If all Stein voters had voted instead for Clinton in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Stein’s votes exceeded the Trump margin, Clinton would have won the national electoral vote. It’s true that anyone not wanting Trump as President should have voted for Clinton, but we can’t change what they did. Any argument that third party votes cost Hillary the election is based on guesses as to what third party voters might have done if they were not third party voters. This isn’t 2000, which turned on the result in one state, in which the margin of victory was 537 votes, and the Green party candidate drew 97,488.
In Florida and North Carolina, the total "Other" vote this year exceeded Trump’s margin — in Florida, Johnson’s alone did — but any theory that Clinton could have won those states depends on moving significant numbers of Johnson’s or other non-Stein votes to her, an even more speculative outcome.
The election was decided in the battleground states, but whether that was due to employment, economics in general, racial resentment, gender or any of the other theories offered is not obvious. Illegal immigration numbers are not relatively high; according to 2014 figures, of those states only Florida exceeds the national average for percentage of the population. The racial mix varies widely.
Unemployment is not notably high in those states, except for Pennsylvania, and is significantly lower in each than it was in 2012. However, resentment at the closing of plants, the loss of jobs and stagnant wages may well have been a factor. If so, it is late in appearing, but Mitt Romney would not have been as able as Donald Trump to capitalize on it, and the contrast between Obama’s promotion of TPP and Trump’s supposed opposition to free trade would resonate. It’s possible to argue that a single, specific factor determined the outcome in a given state, for example low turnout in Wisconsin, but none of the measurable factors will reach across enough states to reverse the national result.
A demand for change (not always clear about or to what), a sense of decline, disdain for government and for liberals, even a sense of desertion, seem to have been major themes favoring Trump. He was seen by his fans as an agent for change who had no involvement in government; his party is very much involved, and in a way that has done little good for ordinary people, but very few seem to realize that.
One of Hillary Clinton’s problems was that she represented to some voters the social-issue focus of the left, a policy at times seeming to be a fixation on the minority group of the moment, but to others she represented the financial establishment. Centrism can work, but not if it alienates both flanks. Here, the two reference points coalesced into the "elite," and Trump played to the resentment of that class. He is very much part of the financial elite, and a manipulative player, but his followers didn’t notice that either, or somehow discounted it.
In 1976, Carter won when Democrats still could count on the South, at least with a Southern candidate. That remained true in diminishing degrees for the two Clinton wins in 1992 and 1996. In 2000, Al Gore, from Tennessee, could not carry that state or Clinton’s Arkansas, although he won the national popular vote. The Southern-red pattern applied this year.
Assuming that Republicans will retain the Romney/Trump states and their 206 electoral votes, and that a future Democratic candidate will retain the states won by Clinton this year and their 232, the next Democrat, in order to reach the magic 270, must win 38 votes from the 7 battleground states which were lost. Two of those states, Ohio and Pennsylvania, add up to 38, and several other combinations of two or three produce more than 38. Four of those states were lost by margins of 1.2% or less, and three, totaling 46 votes, by 0.8% or less. The situation Democrats find themselves in is serious, but not hopeless. However, they need to rid themselves of the notion that all they need do is wait for demographic change.
In order to win the next election, Democrats must turn their attention away from identity politics. Concern for civil rights and liberties must remain a major focus, but in a way that cannot be dismissed as "political correctness," as it was by the Trump campaign. It’s tempting to suggest a return to Bill Clinton’s "it’s the economy, stupid," mantra, but his version would be a retreat rightward. Certainly economic issues must be at the forefront, but not in the coziness-with-Wall-Street mode; they must be oriented toward working people, for example by raising the minimum wage, by creating disincentives to moving jobs overseas, and by revised tax policy to lessen inequality. Vote suppression must be ended. On the federal level, those policies must remain aspirations for the time being, but they should be noisy ones. In the states and locally, some progress can be made.
Democrats must find a way to relate positively to small towns and rural areas; it’s difficult to win the presidency based only on the city vote, at least while the electoral college survives. As long as "Democrat" is seen to equate to "urban elite," they will have an uphill battle.
86. Election numbers are taken from
87. Numbers for 2016 are for October
2012 numbers are the annual average