Election 2016 by the Numbers: Hillary’s Loss Was Largely Self-Inflicted

This was a failure by the Clinton campaign to persuade and turnout key voter groups they knew they needed to win the election.



I try to base my political opinions and expectations on numbers, polls, and quantitative analyses. However, the conclusion I reached on Monday was that Hillary Clinton would become our next President and on Wednesday I was left looking like an idiot. What happened?

The polls and models all said she was the prohibitive favorite and it made numerical sense that if she could turn out a variation of the Obama coalition, then maybe she could even beat her polling averages. Her campaign focused on turning out minorities and millennials and persuading college-educated whites to vote for her on the premise that Trump was unfit to be President. That did not happen. You may have heard some variation of the narrative that Trump won on a revolution of the intolerant, that after eight years of a black President the whites wanted to take back their country.

Are their racist, sexist, and xenophobic parts of the Trump movement? Yes, and it disgusts me. However, to think his victory was an affirmation of the worst parts of his candidacy or even an affirmation of Trump at all is to be sorely mistaken. This was a failure by the Clinton campaign to persuade and turnout key voter groups they knew they needed to win the election. I argue this because Trump performed similarly to Romney nationally which is enough to remain competitive, but was proven inadequate to win in 2012. If Clinton could have replicated the Obama 2012 coalition, she would have won the presidency. A closer look at the numbers shows her failure to do so cost her the election.

Starting with Trump’s performance, right off the bat you see his 47% share of the popular vote was equal to Mitt Romney’s in 2012. In the simplest of terms, if she could just have replicated Obama 2012, or even two points fewer than his four point margin of victory, she would be the President-elect. Obviously she failed to do so. Trump’s strong appeal to non-college educated whites (often called working class whites) who are disproportionately concentrated in the battleground states improved his chances in the Electoral College. In MichiganOhioWisconsinIowa, and Pennsylvania over 40% of the electorate was composed of said working class whites and Trump won over 60% of the demographic in each state. In 2012, Obama understood he needed to limit his losses with working class whites and turn out enough minority voters to win these states. That meant optimizing both turnout operations in  counties like Wayne, Cuyahoga, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia, but also persuasion campaigns in counties populated with working class whites. In order for Trump to win, Clinton had to underperform in both areas.

Michigan is the perfect example of failed turnout. Obama beat Romney in Wayne County (home of Detroit) by about 400,000 votes as opposed to Clinton’s margin of around 300,000. Trump only won Michigan by a statewide margin of 20,000 votes. Why couldn’t she get enough of the largely African-American county to come out to vote for her? It looks as if Clinton took Wayne County, and Michigan as a whole, for granted. Clinton hadn’t visited Michigan (or Wisconsin) since the primaries, spent comparatively little on advertising, and only sent Obama on the last day when internal polls spelled trouble. She treated these Midwestern states as if they were California or New York, forgetting that they were polling within the margin of error. The state hadn’t gone red since 1988 and surely it wouldn’t turn red for a racist clown, Clinton’s team thought. But consistently winning a state by 5 points is not a firewall, it’s a job well done by the previous campaigns.

When Clinton did achieve the requisite turnout of the Obama coalition, she still lost due to a massive defection of working class whites. Losing over 60% of this demographic across Midwestern states put her in a massive hole and with no other votes left to bring her back. Even with a large and sophisticated ground game, turning out millennials and minorities is a difficult task given their low propensity to vote. Clinton needed to hedge against lower millennial and minority turnout by persuading enough working class whites to keep her afloat.

Instead she chose to disregard their struggles, play identity politics, and portray herself as the shinier of two turds. The result: over 400 counties that voted at least once for Obama chose to vote for Trump in 2016. Counties like Lorain, Trumbull, Kenosha, and Racine went from voting Obama by 10,000+ to narrowly voting Trump. Even amongst white women, Trump won a majority of voters and matched Romney’s 2012 totals, including 62% of white working class women. There are several potential explanations, but clearly campaigning against Trump’s sexist comments didn’t deter a majority of white women from choosing him. These shifts across the Midwest are surprising because clearly these working class whites approved of Obama, a symbol of tolerance and progress, but for some reason didn’t think the same of Clinton.

I am not happy about the outcome of the election. I think Trump is generally uninformed on the issues and his scandals regarding sexual assaults, Trump University, and Gonzalo Curiel prove that he only cares about himself and not the people. So I decided to vote for Clinton. The overarching message of her campaign was that Trump was unfit to be President and in retrospect, I think that was the confounding variable that caused her many electoral mishaps. She argued against change in a change election. Whether it was Trump, Bernie, or even Obama in 2008, Hillary Clinton declared herself as the only person qualified to hold office. She expected voters to hand her the presidency out of fear that her insurgent opponent would ruin the country without putting in the necessary effort to convince them.

As stupid, impractical, and dangerous as his claims were, Trump still offered solutions to people’s problems. Clinton didn’t respond with a breakthrough vision and expected a coronation predicated on the rejection of Trump. Her lackluster performance with voters she expected and needed to receive support from was the cause of her loss and she has no one to blame but herself.

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About Jai Padalkar

Jai Padalkar was a contributor to the Michigan Review.