Photo Credit: Landon Nordeman for TIME
For those who have somehow eluded the 24-hour news cycle, on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, the United States of America elected Donald J. Trump to be its 45th President. That night was a night of heartbreak for many Democrats (Tom alone went through almost an entire fifth of gin). It was also night of great surprise to many of those who predict election results. FiveThirtyEight predicted that Clinton had a 71.4% chance of winning, with some even giving Clinton better numbers. So now that the dust has settled and Donald J. Trump has emerged victorious with 290 definitive electoral college votes, we now have to ask how so many, including this blog, were so far off. I mean, who doesn’t like doing some Wednesday morning quarterbacking?
This writer’s opinion is that the blue collar vote was not taken as seriously as it should have been. A key visualizer for this is Pennsylvania, a state which has had a crippled manufacturing sector since 1994. Many in Pennsylvania blame this on the effect of NAFTA and similar trade changes. Politifact reveals that:
“According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Pennsylvania’s manufacturing sector saw a loss of 20,000 jobs between 1994 and 2001, the first few years after NAFTA… Job losses accelerated greatly starting in 2001 after China was accepted into the World Trade Organization. Manufacturing jobs in Pennsylvania went from 856,000 in 2001 to 655,000 at the end of 2007, before the recession. After bottoming out at 557,000 in January 2010, Pennsylvania has about 568,000 manufacturing jobs now.”
This is a disastrous effect on a state’s economy. Between 1994 and 2010, Pennsylvania has lost 308,000 manufacturing jobs, 308,000 jobs that supported many middle-class families that drained out of Pennsylvania as a result of policy changes that led towards a more globalized economy. While Politifact rated the claim that NAFTA was a cause of enormous economic impairment to Pennsylvania as mostly false, I do not imagine that did much to appease those who saw it as the first step towards over 300,000 jobs being siphoned from their home.
Now, why is this important? The Clintons were and are the leading and lasting faces of NAFTA. I believe that many blue collar voters saw Hillary and saw another threat to their livelihoods. So rather than go for a candidate who may have their job taken away from them, they went for the candidate who said he will bring manufacturing jobs back to the USA. This wave of feeling swept through many states that have, or had a large amount blue collar jobs. As a result, those voters were motivated to get to the polls as they saw an annihilator and a savior of their livelihoods. (Some even believe that white blue-collar workers who voted for Obama a few years ago were taken by Trump.)
Many of these same people have felt constantly pushed to the side, ignored, and marginalized by both the Democratic and Republican party establishment. These voters did not see their futures in Jeb “Please Clap” Bush or other candidates that were seen as establishment. They saw candidates like Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, candidates who validated their feelings of persecution, whether founded or not and went all in. They did not want politicians who have benefited from or created the status quo in the Republican Party, they wanted change. In exit polls that asked what quality in a candidate matters most, a plurality of voters, 39 percent, said “can bring change.” Trump captured 83 percent of those votes. As we learned in 2008 when a comparatively inexperienced Barack Obama ran against John McCain, a man who had been in Congress since 1983, we saw that hope and change motivated voters to show up and cast their ballot for the change candidate. When looking back at the 2008 presidential election, it is hard not to see that the inverse has just occurred. After Tuesday, it seems Hillary fell victim to some, if not many, of the same themes and strategies that Obama used to defeat McCain. Remember, hindsight is always 20/20.
In contrast to this underweighting of voters, there were many key demographics that were taken for granted as a sure vote for the Democrat because they’ve done so in the past. While Millennials overwhelmingly supported Clinton, their turnout was lower than it was four years ago for Obama. For African American voters: Clinton held an 80-point advantage among blacks (88% to 8%) compared with Obama’s 87-point edge four years ago (93% to 6%). In 2008, Obama had a 91-point advantage among blacks. While the Latino vote favored Hillary, Trump outperformed Romney in this demographic. This is an almost inexplicable result as many of Trump’s more infamous moments involve derogatory remarks towards Mexicans. This same story plays out for nearly every demographic where typically-Democratic demographics stayed home. These groups that Democrats rely on for votes just did not show up as many would have assumed. This greatly disadvantaged Hillary as Trump now had a lower bar to climb to overtake Hillary.
Lastly, this writer believes that no one really saw Trump as a Republican candidate. His cult of personality, slap fights with key Republicans, and the Party’s shunning of Trump placed Trump in a place where he stands best, by himself. We must never forget that Trump is a master of media. By having himself perceived as separate from the Republican Party, many who were disenchanted with the Republican establishment had someone they could get behind. While this was happening, those who were more establishment had the time to either bicker or convince themselves that Trump was their best choice. At the end of the day, Trump still has the (R) next to his name. Trump was able to weave his way between being the Republican nominee and the outsider who wasn’t part of the Party. This ended up being an especially dangerous combination of perceptions that led to Trump dividing the party while still receiving votes from its entirety.
What we must learn from this election is that we cannot rely on past turnout for a party. This should continue to point towards the thought that voters don’t show out in force for a party, but show out for a candidate. It is clear that Democrats were neither energized nor excited about Hillary. Instead of fighting for her core constituencies’ vote, Hillary seemed to take the approach of highlighting Trump’s message in an attempt to make him seem unelectable. We now see that this was a disastrous error. The simple fact is that if Hillary’s core demographics were excited and wooed, turnout in key demographics would not have been so comparatively low to four years ago. In addition, we cannot underestimate the effect of a perceived threat to one’s livelihood. All of us watched Trump brush off scandal after scandal, coming away virtually unscathed. While due in part his mastery of the media, this also comes from many of his supporters not caring about what many, and this writer, believe to be campaign-ending sentiments. These seemingly single-issue voters made more of an impact than some may have thought.
This writer acknowledges that there were many other causes for Trump’s rise to the Presidency, but I believe that these contributed most to the success he saw on Tuesday night .
For many of us we now see a rise of a political leader who embodies the antithesis of all that we hold dear and believe the be truly American. While we mourn our loss here, it should only embolden our convictions to try and make change where and whenever we can.