Saturday, November 26, 2016

What just happened?

The Democrats just had a gut wrenching electoral defeat that will take America years to recover from, but why? What the hell just happened? Who are these shameful fools that voted for this vile conman? I have been trying to get inside the minds of Trump voters for months, and now, horrendous as the results were, at least we have some data.

There have, of course, been many think pieces investigating the loss, and explanations seem to settle on a couple of main themes. There is the idea that Hillary lost the white working class. There is the counter proposal that it had little to do with class, but instead whites rejecting Clinton out of a conservative, racist, misogynist backlash12. I lean towards saying it more accurate cultural divide is more rural vs urban than it is conservative vs liberal, but are the two becoming the same? Other ascribe the difference to less talked about markers such as education. Or is it simply that Hillary was an unlikeable establishment candidate, hamstrung by her own mistakes and decades of Republican attacks.

Looking at the exit polls (New York Times, CNN, Washington Post) a few things come out. Aside from how Hillary won more votes than any presidential contestant in history other than Obama. Yet she still lost Florida and North Carolina, in addition to Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, not to mention Ohio and Iowa. Turnout was down, by CNN's estimate a lower proportion of the population voted than in any election in the last twenty years.

Compared to 2012, the gender gap increased slightly with five percent more men voting more for Trump than men for Romney, and more one percent women for Hillary than women for Obama.

The education gap increased significantly. Those with college or postgraduate degrees voted Democratic by eight more points than in last presidential election. The education divide is especially significant when combined with race. Whites with college degrees shifted ten points to Democrats, and whites without degrees shifted 14 points to Republicans.

People earning under $50,000 a year, though they did vote primarily for Hillary, voted more Republican than in 2012. Those earning between $50,000 and $200,000 voted for Trump by a very small margin, but voted more Democratic than in 2012.

The overall contours of the racial divide appear similar to 2012, with whites voting primarily Republican, and non-whites voting Democratic, though all racial groups voted slightly more Republican.

The above give some credence to the theory that it was the lack of support amongst the white working class that cost Hillary the election, but I find it hard to say that it was the primary reason. It does depend on your definition of working class, some would say that working class is mostly in the income range of $50,000 to $80,000. Either way, Those earning under $50k still voted primarily for Hillary, if by a lower proportion than previously. Those earning between $50k and $100k voted more Democratic than in 2012, but still voted for Trump 50% to 46%.

If Hillary had had the same support among the income under $50k demographic as Obama did, she may have won the necessary states. However, you could also say that about the votes she won from blacks and Latinos. Both could simply fit under the explanation of a lack of Democratic voter enthusiasm.

I find less evidence that it was a white revolt. White voters apparently only voted one percent more for Trump than they did for Romney. There was significantly more racist rhetoric used on the campaign trail, but I would hazard that more revealed existing cultural divides then brought about new ones.

In the end, I find the rural/urban divide to be the most powerful summary explanation.

As in recent elections, rural voters went Republican, urban voters went Democratic, and suburban voters were fairly close. The NYT exit polls I linked to irritatingly lack the arrows indicating transitions from 2012, but they cover the topic here. The divide is significant and continuing to grow. Due in large part to this, the number of people living in landslide counties that voted for one party over the other now stands at 60%.

There are of course many causes for the election outcome. Economics, and the declining standard of living in the middle and lower classes is a significant factor. The Democrats should have done a better job of addressing this, but I do not view it as the fundamental divide, though it likely contributed to enthusiasm. The Democrats push far harder for the poor and working classes than the Republicans do, and it has largely been the Republicans in Congress preventing Obama from taking further action on this the last few years. There is definitely cultural and racial resentment, that is partly attributable to economics with people wishing for jobs, but I believe far more of the cause goes to the rural vs urban divide, and the cultural splitting of America.

As a partisan leftist/liberal Democrat living in San Francisco, Trump voters seem culturally alien and terrifying. I say this despite having some long ago friends from high school from back home and possibly even some relatives who voted for Trump. These days, my social circle has essentially nil Republican voters. Across this cultural divide the two sides rarely talks to each other, they view different media, and believe their own facts. It looks like the best explanation for this is the actual physical divide between urban and rural citizens. The cultural divide is increasingly a result of the different sides living in different neighborhoods, in different counties.

A book I enjoyed tremendously a few years ago, The Big Sort, still holds a lot explanatory power today. The author Bill Bishop has some good thoughts on how the trends he noted in 2004 have continued in 2016. I highly recommend it to anyone with a concern for the US. It provides a wealth of data about how communities have become more politically and culturally homogenous over the last forty years as we sort ourselves out, and the effects thereof on political extremism.

I fear for what happens next. The entire world may be drifting right. America is becoming more divided, culturally and economically, and Trump and the Republican Party seem hell bent on increasing the divide.

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