When you conduct a campaign relying on language that encourages otherisation, derision and open hatred of other groups you will find that a few speeches about ‘coming together’ will do little to heal the deep divisions.
I sat up on election night with The Hist to watch as the election results poured in. It was easily the most harrowing experience I have had with election results even though I am an Irish citizen with no real plans to emigrate. The memory that will stick out to me for a long time was the slowly dawning horror that Clinton was never going to catch up, culminating in an American friend of mine swiftly exiting the room in tears. It has obviously been said time and again why Trump was a terrible candidate and I don’t think anyone wants to read another article about that at this point. We can all see now that the polls were incredibly off, we can see that despite the fact more people disliked Trump than Clinton they still voted for him. The biggest shock for a lot of us is the demographics, that 53% of white women voted for a man who was caught on tape boasting of sexually assaulting women, is difficult to comprehend. A series of graphs are shown below, based on data from the New York Times and the CNN exit polls, detailing how voting patterns changed from 2008 to 2016*.
Regardless of rhetoric, Trump’s focus wasn’t on income, it was on ethnicity and that is the key distinction.
The first looks at the change in voting patterns of white voters. Trump won an overwhelming majority of the votes from Whites without college degrees, who tend to be low income. In the past low-income voters, as I will show in the next graph, tend to vote overwhelmingly democrat, the perception being of course that Republicans look out for the interest of the rich and Democrats the interests of the less well-off. Regardless of rhetoric, Trump’s focus wasn’t on income, it was on ethnicity which is the key distinction. In a country where whites make up 69% of the voter base, winning the white vote was key to winning this election. Trump may not have appealed to white voters with college degrees to the same extent, but with a margin of support of about 40 points, Trump had a massive advantage. The data for previous elections is broken down only by race, not by race and education, hence why for those years only the overall white vote is shown on the graph.
Where Obama had made gains Clinton made some big losses and where Clinton improved on Obama’s record the difference wasn’t as great.
The next graph notes a seismic shift in how different income patterns voted. It’s worth mentioning the obvious correlation between income and education – those of a lower income tend to also have less education. Having seen the less educated whites vote Trump, we see a similar shift in the voting patterns of income brackets under 49,000 dollars per annum. This is a massive loss for Clinton – though middle and higher income groups begin to shift towards the centre, the loss of the lower income brackets who make up roughly 36% of the voter base was a key blow when the election results were tallied. Where Obama had made gains Clinton made some big losses and where Clinton improved on Obama’s record the difference wasn’t as great. Anger over the way neo-liberalism and the mainstream parties have left the lower income groups behind as free trade destroyed the American manufacturing industries finally bubbled to the surface. Trump tapped that anger with his populist rhetoric and it paid off.
Florida vitally went to Trump, both through the loss of some of the minority vote and through Trump’s massive success amongst white voters.
The third graph looks at the minority vote; this was one of the major upsets of the night. When a candidate denounces Mexican immigrants as drugs smugglers, rapists and other criminals you would expect to see a larger reaction both within the Hispanic community and other ethnic minorities. Clinton still solidly won the votes of Blacks, Hispanics and Asians. She lost ground on what Obama had achieved however, and of course, even though Hispanics are on track to become the ethnic majority in many states by 2050, the minority vote wasn’t enough. Florida vitally went to Trump, both through the loss of some of the minority vote and through Trump’s massive success amongst white voters.
As much as the white vote won Trump the presidency, the female vote or lack thereof lost it for Clinton.
The final graph is the starkest and most shocking. In 2008 the male vote was split more or less evenly between the Democrats and the Republicans, in 2012 they started to drift Republican and in 2016 Trump built on that with a large majority of men voting for him. I already mentioned the tape that should have sunk the Trump campaign, on top this we saw more than a few women come out and accuse Trump of sexual assault. A case almost made its way to court, due post-election, in which a woman had accused Trump of raping her at the age of 13. She had maintained her anonymity, backed out of a TV interview and eventually dropped the case. For such allegations to be brushed off by a presidential candidate is, like this election, an anomaly. For these allegations to have so little effect on the female vote is bewildering beyond belief. I mentioned earlier the 53% of white women voting for Trump. Clinton failed to get these women on board and missed a vital chance to gain a massive lead purely off this. As much as the white vote won Trump the presidency, the female vote or lack thereof lost it for Clinton.
These graphs certainly don’t tell the whole story. We must keep in mind the massive division between the rural and urban areas in America. Even when projected to win, Clinton’s optimal electoral map featured a sea of red in the central states. Within the battleground states, the fight was between the big population centres leaning democrat and the more numerous but less populated republican areas surrounding them. Trump’s campaign has divided the country like no other. In an exit poll from Fox, 82% of people said they just wanted it to be over. When you conduct a campaign relying on language that encourages otherisation, derision and open hatred of other groups you will find that a few speeches about ‘coming together’ will do little to heal the deep divisions. Trump is lucky that Clinton has the grace to bow out and accept defeat in a way that he signalled he would not. The armed militias that had been banding together will be mollified by his victory. Though the graphs tell a story of shifting voting patterns, the deep divisions between groups is also evident. Eyes will turn to movements like Black Lives Matter and to the continued tensions between law enforcement officials and African American communities. Wednesday was a grim day to wake up to, but it will probably get worse before it gets better.
*Editor’s note: these polls are not definitive and have shown errors in the past but should give fairly accurate information on the voting patterns of different groups.