Sunday, November 13, 2016

Unpopular Trump

In some true sense Democrats got shellacked in the just completed election. Republicans will control the presidency, both houses of Congress and, soon enough, the Supreme Court.

Much analysis in the punditry now fixates on how Democrats lost their way by trying to ride a long changing demographic wave and over-emphasizing Trump's flaws, while failing to understand that working class voters, especially whites, were tired of being left behind. True enough, this was a "change election."

But how big, really, was the mandate for change? Consider:

Hillary Clinton has a lead in the popular vote that will continue to grow as additional votes are counted in heavily Democratic states such as California, New York, and Washington; that lead could reach nearly two million. Clinton will likely end up with around 1.5 percent more of the popular vote than Trump. (Which is close, by the way, to the margin by which Clinton lead in national polls in the final days. Keep that in mind if you're tempted to think the pollsters got things badly wrong.) As some commentators have put it, Clinton won the vote but lost the election.

[Note: An earlier version of this post referred to a current Clinton lead of 1.8 million in the popular vote, but my source for that figure, The Huffington Post, now says that was a "projection," not a then-current count. As of Nov 16 the Cook Political Report pegs Clinton's lead at almost 1.2 million. Update: Nov 23, 2016 - Politico now reports that Clinton's popular vote lead has passed 2 million. Update: Dec 1, 2016 - Clinton's popular vote lead is now more than 2.5 million. Her percentage of the vote is 1.9% higher than Trump's, a margin better than 10 previous presidents. Update: Dec 15, 2016 - Clinton's popular vote lead is now 2.86 million. She received 2.1% more of the popular vote than Trump.]

Hey, that's how it works in the U.S. (And can you imagine how Trump would have reactedthe system is rigged!were the tables reversed?)

But consider this too:

Trump's win in the electoral college was, effectively, by a mere 107,330 votes. That's the combined margin by which Trump won Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michiganthree "blue" states Clinton was expected to win but didn't, and whose loss cost her the election. [Update: Dec 15, 2016 - The latest tallies have Trump winning these three states by a combined total less than 78,000 votes. Here are the results for Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.] Yes, indeed, rural white working class voters were absolutely crucial to flipping these three states and sealing the outcome, but the margin as a share of the national vote was tiny. Had Clinton won 55,000 Trump votes in the right proportions in those three states, she'd now be president elect.

Or this:

Democrats managed a net gain of two seats in the Senate and and a handful in the House. Not nearly what they were hoping for, to be sure, but not an overwhelming repudiation either.

As "change elections" go, this one was long on impact but short on mandate. What's undeniably true is that the country remains deeply, profoundly, divided. It will be fascinating to watch how President Trump and the Republicans proceed to govern. And watch we shall.



Update: Nov 14, 2016Dean Baker explains that white voters are over-represented in the electoral college because smaller states are whiter and less ethnically diverse, and small states get disproportionately more electoral votes relative to the size of their populations than do larger states. To take an extreme example, Wyoming (which is largely white) gets one electoral college vote for every 195,000 residents, whereas California (which is only 38 percent white) gets  one electoral vote for every 711,000 residents.

Copyright (C) 2016 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved

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