Why Did Trump Win?
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Donald Trump shocked many when he won the presidential election. He came into the Republican primaries as an underdog, became the Republican nominee for president, and overcame even bigger odds when he won the presidential election against Hillary Clinton. In fact, Nate Silver, a prominent statistician and writer, gave Trump a 28% chance to win the election on his website FiveThirtyEight; even that number was significantly higher than many preliminary polls. The big question that many are asking is, “How did Trump win?” What demographics did Trump appeal to that gave him the edge in those important swing states? Through statistics gathered from a number of (mostly) unbiased news sources, I will attempt to shed some light on these questions. Keep in mind that extrapolations from the data are speculative–there are still many unanswered questions There is no one right answer, but the facts stated in this article would be crucial in gaining a better understanding of how Trump won.
Firstly, Trump appealed to white, non-college educated voters.
Among them, there was a +39 point margin of support towards Trump, compared to only +25 points towards Romney last election. Thus, there was a huge shift of non- or partially-college educated white voters towards Trump. This shift may have helped Trump win many key swing states, such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, which all have white voter populations of well above the national average. The vote among white college graduates and postgraduates shifted a little bit towards Hillary since the last election, but Trump still had a larger influence on non-college educated white voters.
Even more surprising to many, however, were the election results by race.
Clinton lost support from minorities compared to Obama last election, and many of those votes went to Trump instead; he actually gained more support from minorities than Romney last election, gaining about 5 points on average. Although minorities largely voted Clinton, the increased support for Trump was a surprise to everyone, as he had made controversial remarks towards minorities throughout his campaign. There is not a definite explanation for this, but one contributing factor may be that minorities that supported Obama in the previous election did not vote for Clinton, if at all.
Lastly, Clinton underperformed among women voters.
Before the election, many expected that Hillary would counter Trump’s increase in white, male support by garnering more support from women. Although Hillary had a slight increase in female support compared to Obama, it did not outweigh Trump’s male support. This was also a bit surprising, considering Trump had also made derogatory remarks towards women. An explanation of why Clinton underperformed would require closer analysis of women demographics.
Trump won white, female voters by 10 points, and he won white, non-college graduate, female voters by a huge 28 points. As expected, he dominated the male vote as well. Thus, there are underlying reasons as to why she did not have enough female support, or rather, why Trump had more female support than expected. Further exploration into those reasons would be beyond the scope of this article.
However, even though Trump saw an increase in the percentage of white, black, Asian, Hispanic, and female voters since Romney, he still lost the popular vote to Clinton. The only conceivable way that such a result could happen would be if Clinton lost more support than Trump lost, which is exactly what happened. What exactly is going on here?
The only cause of this lack of support would be a decrease in voter turnout, especially for Clinton. In 2016, Trump got 61.0 million votes to Clinton’s 62.1 million, and still won the Electoral College vote despite losing the popular vote. Trump got nearly the same amount of votes as Romney, but Clinton got about 4 million votes less than Obama?. How did Clinton lose all of those votes?
One theory for the cause of this dropoff is a decrease in voter turnout, which was at a 20-year low for the election; only 55.4% of eligible Americans showing up to vote, according to CNN. Granted, that number will increase a little bit once all the provisional and overseas ballots are counted, but it would still be much lower than the turnout in 2012, when 60.0% of eligible Americans voted. Despite this downturn, however, there was a higher turnout rate in swing states, most of which Trump won. For example, Florida cast about 9.4 million votes this year compared to 8.5 million in 2012. Although there was a relatively high turnout rate in swing states, the low overall turnout was caused by the low turnout rates in uncompetitive states. 64.2% of eligible Americans voted in swing states, while only 56.8% did so in uncompetitive states.
A possible reason as to why Clinton saw a decrease in the popular vote was the decrease in turnout in very Democratic states, such as California, which saw a staggering 8% drop. Thus, more Trump supporters showed up in swing states to swing the Electoral College vote towards him, but there were less Clinton supporters that showed up in states that they knew they would win.
Another theory includes the roles of third-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein in this election. Together, they were responsible for roughly 4% of the total popular vote. Although they did not gain any Electoral College votes, they may very well have influenced the outcome in key swing states. There is currently not enough evidence to conclude that either Trump or Clinton would have won if they had played a lesser role, but once more information comes out, their role will become more clear. For the time being, there is only evidence that more voters affiliated with an independent party voted for Trump than Clinton:
According to an exit poll by Edison Research, 48% of those affiliated with an independent party voted for Trump, compared to 42% for Clinton. The remaining 2% of Democrats and 3% of Republicans and the 10% of independent voters either did not respond, or voted for a third party candidate. Because that proportion is unknown, it remains to be seen how many people who identified with those three parties actually voted for a third party candidate.
In conclusion, a combination of these four causes allowed Trump to barely win the election against Clinton. Trump outperformed Romney in nearly every demographic, especially white, non-college educated voters. Combined with an increased turnout of swing state voters, Trump was able to snag many close swing states. Clinton, on the other hand, did not meet expectations in terms of women and minority voters. Of course, there is still the question of how those 4% of third-party voters factored into the election, and whether they tipped the election in Trump’s favor.