he report presents a torrent of interesting statistics.
Why did Hillary Clinton lose? Everyone seems to have a theory as to why the presumptive favorite in the 2016 presidential race lost a close contest to Donald Trump. Some attribute it to FBI Director Jim Comey’s unprecedented, public intervention in the race just days before the voting. Others cite the Clinton campaign’s failure to put enough resources into blue states like Wisconsin and Michigan, which flipped to Trump red on November 8. Still others look at the failure to boost minority turnout, one that might have cost Clinton the mere 80,000 or so votes she needed to win the electoral college.
The topic is likely to be debated for years.
Already, though, a host of recent articles and studies have offered insights into the election that are worth considering even if they’re not conclusive. Let’s take a look.
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid.A new analysis of the election from The Atlantic and the Public Religion Research Institute avoids the usual emphasis on economic anxiety, instead focusing on what it calls cultural anxiety to explain the real estate mogul’s strength among voters. It found, perhaps not surprisingly, that fears about immigration—feeling like a stranger in their own country—were much stronger predictors of whether someone would vote for Trump than worries about the economy. The study also found that party loyalty counted for a lot. Despite predictions that a significant number of Republicans would break from Trump after the divisive GOP primaries and after so many prominent Republicans—from the Bush family to MItt Romney—deciding not to endorse him, party ID was highly predictive. If you were an identified Republican, white working-class voter, you were 11 times more likely to vote for Trump than if you weren’t.
The report presents a torrent of interesting statistics. More than half of the white working-class voters surveyed said they believe whites face as much discrimination as racial and ethnic minorities—a view that’s sharply at odds with college-educated Americans, of whom more than 70 percent believe racial and ethnic minorities face greater discrimination.
The bottom line: Democrats may not be able to win back these voters simply with an appealing economic message, but may have to address their concerns about immigration and the changing culture.
Black turnout dropped especially in swing states. A new study using a slew of voter data and neighborhood information suggests that the black voting rate dropped dramatically nationwide, while the white rate inched up from 2012—and that trend was accelerated in swing states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. (Asian and Hispanic voting increased, too.) It was enough so that Hillary Clinton would have won had it not happened.
Precisely why the black rate dropped is matter of interpretation. The left-leaning Demos institute is pointing to data that indicate the black drop-off rate was greater in states with restrictive voter ID laws that disproportionately affect minorities. We can’t be entirely sure what accounts for the dropoff in minority voting in the study itself, but any increase in white voting and decrease in minority voting is bad for Democrats. No Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of the white vote since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
Nate Cohn, an analyst at The New York Times , is raising questions about the it-was-Comey thesis, pointing to a poll that showed Clinton starting to shed support in advance of the Comey letter. Is it possible that Clinton was heading for a fall anyway? In a series of exasperated tweets, Silver contends that the data show it really was the Comey letter and that any pre-Comey dropoff in the polls was the kind of outlier data that are normally found after election—not a previously unrecognized bit of proof that Clinton was heading for a fall anyway.
Causation is always harder to prove than correlation. Knowing precisely what caused Clinton’s excruciatingly close loss to Trump in the electoral college even as she won the popular vote by a margin of more than 3 million votes will likely be debated for some time. There’s no question that missteps by the campaign and a longtime problem with her trustworthiness that was exacerbated by sloppy media coverage made Clinton more vulnerable than she should have been after the convention. The dump of purloined emails, which U.S. intelligence agencies claim was led by Russian sources, muted the effect of release of the Access Hollywood tape on which Trump is heard discussing the sexual assault of women. The Comey letter was the coup de grace that cost Clinton the election. Like a game of Clue or an Agatha Christie novel, there are countless suspects in who killed a Hillary Clinton presidency, but unlike those murder mysteries there’s really more than one actual murderer. Silver makes a compelling case that without the Comey letter she likely would have won. Clinton is right that Wikileaks also led to her loss. But it’s also true that had she run a stronger race, she might have survived those heavy blows. Autopsies in politics are seldom conclusive.
Clinton faced unique circumstances, but there are lessons from these polls for the 2020 Democratic aspirants. White working-class anxiety won’t be assuaged by a growing economy or an “economic message” alone, a la Bernie Sanders, because much of it is based on cultural anxieties about immigration, affirmative action and a sense that America has changed for the worse. And trust problems—often more fostered by GOP charges and fueled by the press—are very hard to overcome for any Democrat. In addition to Clinton they plagued presidential nominees Al Gore and John Kerry, who also came tantalizingly close to winning their races. (Kerry, it’s often forgotten, came within around 100,000 votes in Ohio of winning the presidency.) It took all of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama’s exceptional political skills, meanwhile, to muscle through charges about their honesty, and they were elected and re-elected because of their ability to galvanize minorities while holding on to enough white voters.