The alliance of the Trump White House, the Koch donor network, and the Congressional Republicans it controls has won a huge victory, passing another big tax cut that will once again balloon the deficit, the same result achieved by Nixon and Ford, Reagan and Bush I, and Bush II--leaving a mess for the next Democratic President to clean up, and creating more pressure to cut the size of the federal government. Donald Trump may yet add new dimensions to the crisis in American life, but with respect to the tax cut, he has merely continued the ongoing, 40-year trend of our politics and economics, which is rooted in the most profound historical changes. In the wake of this milestone, however--and building on the revealing (I thought) analysis of the Alabama election which I did last week--I decided to look more carefully at last year's results, which I had never done before. I realize now that the research I have done so far is incomplete, and I might finish it at some point down the road, but it still makes certain things unmistakably clear. Here, in summary form, are my conclusions.
1. The 2016 election was marked, as much as anything, by an erosion in the support for both of our two major political parties--but especially of the Democrats. While the total popular vote for President increased by 4.5% over 2012, the Republican share of that vote fell by -1.1%--and the Democratic share fell by -2.9. Minor parties, mainly the Libertarians and to a lesser extend the Greens, increased their share from 1.8% in 2012 to 5.8% in 2016.
2. Different parts of the country moved in significantly different directions between 2012 and 2016. While Hillary Clinton did substantially worse overall than Barack Obama, winning 48.1 % of the national vote compared to his 51%, she did better in some states, including California, where she did 2.2% better, and Texas, where she gained 1.8%. On the other hand, She did an astonishing 4.3% worse in her home state of New York, even though she still carried it handily, by 59% to 36.5% . This is where I might have done more research--I do not have this data, as yet, for every single state. But it is very clear that Clinton owed her margin of the popular vote to the votes of deep blue and in some cases deep red states (such as Texas)--not to swing states.
3. In the states that decided the election--both the ones that were identified as purple (Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, New Hampshire, Colorado, Nevada, and Ohio) and the ones that were wrongly assumed to be firmly in the Democratic column (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota)--Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Democratic Party got the proverbial crap beaten out of them. That speaks, presumably, both to the weakness of his candidacy at a personal level and to the ineptitude of her campaign, which failed both to recognize the danger in some of those states, or to out campaign the Republicans in the states they actually focused on. Donald Trump increased Mitt Romney's share of the vote in those states by .7% overall; Hillary Clinton's share fell -4.5% from what Barack Obama earned in 2012. And Clinton lost support relative to Obama not only in the states that cost her the electoral vote, but in the purple states she carried, including New Hampshire, Virginia, Colorado and Nevada.
Let us look at the swing states one by one.
In Pennsylvania, Clinton earned fewer votes, in absolute terms, than Obama in 2012, even though the overall vote in the state increased by 7.2% Trump increased the Republican share of the vote by 1.6% (to 48.2%); Clinton's share fell from Obama's 52% to 47.5%
In Ohio, the fall in the Democratic vote share was the second-highest among the swing states, an almost incredible -7.1%. Trump on the other hand increased the Republican share by 4%. Turnout overall was down 1.5%.
Virginia and Colorado were the only two swing states in which Donald Trump did substantially worse than Mitt Romney--minus 2.9% worse in each of those states. Clinton's share of the vote also fell below Obama's in those two states, and in Colorado, it fell even more than Trump's did (-3.3%), but she still won them both. (The minor parties obviously did very well in Colorado.) In New Hampshire, where Clinton won by the narrowest of margins, Trump posted an impressive gain of 4.5% while she lost -5.1%.
North Carolina was another state where the total vote increased but the shares of both major parties fell. Once again, Clinton's fell more (-2.2% compared to -0.6%), and she lost worse than Obama. In Florida the total vote showed one of the largest increases in the nation, 11.2, and Trump virtually held on to Romney's share while Clinton dropped -2.2%. The Democratic failure in a state where turnout increased so much is a frightening sign.
That leaves Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota--the rust belt. The Democratic share of the vote in those states declined by -6.9%, -10.2% [sic!], -6.4%, and -6.6%. The Republican share grew by 2.8%, 5%, and 1.3% in Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin, but declined by -0.6% in Minnesota, where Clinton hung on for a narrow victory.
Now Clinton did win the popular vote against Donald Trump. I do not agree with those who think that that fact deligitimizes Trump's win. Not only did he win according to the rules of our Constitution, but we also have no idea what would have happened had the two candidates actually been competing for a plurality or majority of the popular vote. More than that, however, Clinton's victory in the popular vote should not be allowed to obscure another significant fact. Barack Obama in 2012 won 51% of the total popular vote, to 47.2% for Mitt Romney. Clinton won only 48.1%, to 46% from Donald Trump. Trump did a better job of holding on to Romney's votes than Clinton did in holding on to Obama's. Meanwhile, the minor party share increased from 1.8% in 2012 to 5.8% in 2016. That is a sign of a collapsing political system.
2020 is a long way off, but in my opinion, these results still provide important lessons for Democrats. First of all, they cannot get back into the White House by getting stronger either in deep blue states or n deep red ones: they have to focus on the rust belt and southeastern states where they lost the last election. Their establishment, represented in 2016 by Clinton, did not energize voters in those states, including the ones in which they won. Secondly, they need to face the painful question of whether sexism cost Clinton the election in those states, and if it looks like it did, they have to make a hardheaded political calculation that they need a male candidate in 2020. Just writing that sentence, I know how angry it will make many blue state Democrats, but the point of politics--expecially at an historical moment like this one--is to win. Lastly, there is a bonanza of voters--more than enough to swing an election--out there who have tuned out both parties. It would behoove the Democrats to pay attention to them.