Half of America woke up to mourning in America following the election of Donald Trump. Reactions varied. Americans in denial pursued efforts to undo the election by rigging the Electoral College vote. Others, angry and frightened took to the streets to protest #not my president. All struggled to understand how a hate filled, insensitive, racist, bully won.
Exit polls belie the popular explanations of “whitelash” and widespread racism. Compared to 2012, the Republican white vote advantage did not increase. Rather it was the minorities voting Republican that increased. A long history of framing Republicans as racist and describing our country as filled with racists backfired. The cry of wolf wasn’t believed. To paraphrase Salino Zito’s insightful comment in a piece written for the Atlantic: Clinton supporters took Trump literally but not seriously, while Trump supporters took him seriously but not literally.
The Trump victory resulted from the lower economic tier leaving the Democratic Party. Democratic victories depend on overwhelming support of this demographic to overcome the Republican advantage in all other income groups. In 2012 Romney bested Obama in income levels above $50,000. The President won because the under $50,000 income group voted overwhelmingly for him by a 22% margin. In 2016 the margin narrowed considerably to 9%.
The lower class shift to the right is part of a world-wide phenomenon in developed countries like Britain, Germany, and France. The issues are the same, lost wages and uncontrolled immigration. Globalization and technological advances creates winners and losers. Capitol is fluid, labor is not. Emerging market laborers benefit from large capital inflows from developed countries while laborers in developed countries suffer. Dwindling employment opportunities exacerbated by perceived increased job competition from recent immigrants.
Trump addressed the plight and suffering of the blue collar workers, campaigned in their districts, and promised to fix immigration and return lost jobs to America. Clinton did not.
The uplifting Democratic Convention messaging of liberal democratic values – inclusiveness, diversity, multiculturalism – was out of sync with the working class circumstance. Lacking economic stability, aspirational goals are a very low priority.
Clinton’s lengthy government experience was a negative for the working class who culturally distrust government. Trump’s message that the political system is corrupt and rigged against the little guy resonated with them. Clinton was the perfect foil -- fabulous wealth achieved not by hard work in the private sector but by leveraging her political connections, use of a separate secret email server for government communications then lying about it in public, and being under FBI investigation for pay for play schemes.
Clinton provided no personal vision for governing the country. Rather she yoked herself to the President’s legislative agenda, believing that his popularity had coattails. The President’s high approval rating masked a simmering discontent within the country beyond the tepid economic recovery that primarily benefited the moneyed class. Obamacare was the Achilles heel. Disliked from the start, more unpopular with time. Promises of keeping your doctor, lower healthcare costs, and improved care, proved strikingly untrue.
The shift towards Republicans began in 2010, right after the passage of Obamacare, and has continued with every election since. The size of the shift is enormous. Obama’s presidency began with 60 and ends with 48 Democratic Senators. The House shift went from 257 to 197 Democrats. A comparable large shift in power occurred at the state level.