by Bill Barclay
The winner of the 2016 presidential election is going home; the loser is going to the White House. Yes, that’s right: Clinton received more votes than Trump. We have to insist on this reality.
We have to insist on this reality, not because we do or don’t like Clinton, but because we need to start – now – on making Trump an illegitimate president: so he serves only one term. We have to insist on this reality because D.C. insiders such as Paul Ryan are already speaking of a “mandate.” Yet Trump will be only the 4th president elected with fewer votes than his opponent. We have to insist on this reality because, while a president was elected with a minority of the vote only twice between 1850 – 2000, it has now happened twice in the last 5 presidential elections.
The 2016 Voting Demographics
So, what were the parameters of vote distribution that determined the Electoral College outcome in Trump’s favor? First, there was the largest gender gap since exit polls began: 24 points. Clinton won women by 12 points and lost men by the same margin. But the gender gap is not what many understand it to be: Clinton lost white women by 10 points, doing a little bit better than Obama’s 14 point loss in 2012. She did, however, win white women with a college degree, probably the first time for a Democratic presidential candidate since Johnson in 1964 (Johnson was also the last Democratic presidential candidate to win the majority of white women voters). Clinton actually improved over Obama in states such as California and Massachusetts
The difference for Clinton was also not really a composition of the turnout problem. Whites were actually a slightly lower share of the electorate in 2016 than 2012, African-Americans were also slightly smaller while Latinos were up slightly. It was a slightly poorer performance across a range of voting groups that cost her an Electoral College victory. She won unmarried women and men (barely in the last case) and even married women. She won African-Americans and Latinos, voters under 45, and voters from households with incomes below $50,000. It was not the poor who turned on Clinton; it was the Trump voters with incomes higher than average (and higher than Clinton voters) who worried that the “American Dream is no longer reserved for whites.” But, in each case she did just enough worse than Obama in 2008 and 2012 to lose crucial swing states.
But what else can we learn from the 2016 election basics? I think there are two important realities that we need to understand. First is what Elizabeth Drew labeled “the [troubling] ignorance of the electorate.” When only 1 in 3 Americans can name the three branches of government that is cause for concern. But when in a 2010 survey, less than 40% could correctly identify the party in control of Congress, that is alarming. Second, sexism is alive and well among a large portion of the electorate. This is implied when looking at the gender gap in greater depth: It is essentially a white voter gender gap. The gender gap widened, but not because Clinton significantly increased the share of white female voters supporting a Democratic presidential candidate. Instead, the share of white male voters supporting her declined sharply from Obama’s 2012 performance. And many voters believed accusations against Clinton, absent any empirical basis while at the same time giving Trump a pass on much more serious – and well documented – flaws (as I write Trump is scheduled to testify in one of the many fraud suits against his various ventures). Third, this also means that identity politics is also alive and well. Whites vs non-whites, women vs men, youth vs old. And finally, the fickle 5% are always a problem in country so closely divided. Trump carried – and carried heavily – the significant share of voters who were unable to make up their minds until the last 8 weeks of the campaign.
The Antinomies of Liberalization
Everything I’ve written to date is easily found by rummaging through the web. But now, let me speculate a bit about the larger picture. How do we understand the 2016 election?
There are (at least) two striking features of this election: the amazing success of an obscure senator from Vermont and the election of a “Republican” who ditched many of the cherished conservative shibboleths, such as free trade and balanced budgets.
Then former came close to getting the Democratic nomination while the latter became the GOP nominee and president. Both were “outsiders” in the parlance of our rulers. So, why did they both do well?
The popular explanation on the left is a rejection of neoliberalism. In fact some leftists have claimed that only Clinton was a neoliberal candidate. However, like Mark Twain’s, I think the death of neoliberalism is greatly exaggerated. Trump accepts and actively promotes most of the core economics of neoliberalism: wages are too high, the minimum wage is harmful for US competitiveness, unions are an obstacle to economic competitiveness, and deregulation will produce economic growth.
Rather than a critique of neoliberalism, Trump’s politics are a combination of economic nationalism with social conservatism. In this political combination he differs from Thatcher, Blair, and Cameron as well as both (Bill) Clinton and Obama. Thatcher, often seen as the leading figure in the emergence of neoliberal world view, combined economic liberalism (in the 19th century sense of the word) with social conservatism. Blair, Cameron and Clinton added social liberalism to economic liberalism.
The parts of the neoliberal policy framework that Trump rejects are free mobility of labor across borders – his anti-immigrant politics and perhaps (in a largely fact-free campaign Trump’s positions are not always clear) free international movement of goods and services – his attack on the TPP, China, etc.
Trump’s election, or even if he failed to win, his strong support when coupled with the Brexit vote, may indicate that we are at or near the end of the most recent era of globalization. Just as World War I and Great Depression ended the globalization of the 1870s – 1920s, the financial panic of 2008 and the Great Recession may signal the ending of this era. If I am right, politics will become more challenging but also offer new possibilities.