For those you left numb and disbelieving over the recent election of a President Trump, consider that Hillary Clinton won the 2nd most number of votes ever in a Presidential election and 2 million more than her opponent.
Of course that did not get her elected, due to the quirks of the electoral college system. It’s actually a system I admire in that it forces nominees to travel around the country (or at least the dozen or so swing States) rather than just rack up votes in their most populous areas.
Unfortunately for Clinton, she racked up some amazing votes in States she was always going to win, and others she was bound to lose, mainly around the coast. She won California by 3 million votes, which would not have meant any difference to the electoral college outcome compared to winning it by just solitary vote. She lost Texas and Arizona, but scored far better there than Obama did 4 or 8 years earlier. It did not matter, she still did not get one solitary electoral college vote from these places. Nor did Obama.
A week on, we can see a clearer picture. Trump’s narrow path to victory lay in flipping Clinton’s so called ‘blue wall’ of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, where he collectively won the combined 3 States by only 107,000 (less than 0.1% of the total votes case). They are worth 46 electoral college votes. Add that 46 to Clinton’s likely 232 votes and she sails over the 270 winning post, and is President.
She lost Michigan by less than 12,000 votes. The fact that Clinton won 2 million more overall does not matter one jot. Trump threaded the needle by the slimmest of margins where it mattered. He was very fortunate, a few tens of thousands of votes the other way and we’d be analysing things very differently.
I say ‘fortunate’ because the electoral college map was always stacked against him, and he was pandering to a diminishing number of the electorate – whites. They represent 72% of the population, and falling. The majority of babies born in the US today are non white. In the 1980s, whites made up 84% of the population. Trump had to win a huge proportion of this vote to win, and he had to win them in the right places, which is what he (just) did. You might call it a brilliant strategy, maybe it was. It did not make for a pretty campaign, but it worked. It all had to come off for him, and it did.
Consider the maths for Obama in 2012. He lost the white vote 39% to 59% to Mitt Romney, but he won the non white vote by a whopping 60 points. That adds up to 50.2% of the total vote, and 47.8% for Romney. Plus Obama won them in the right places – Iowa, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, … the blue wall. Clinton already knew (weeks out) she was well behind in the first two and Florida was on a knife edge, but she did not realise she was behind in the other 3, until it was too late. She never even visited Wisconsin. Trump won all 6 and shot to more than 300 electoral college votes.
So it was wafer thin. Yet Trump won fair and square, that’s the system.
So, we are left with two very large amorphous groups of the electorate – one, so annoyed at their lot, GFC, their changing country (they don’t like change, hence ‘Make America Great Again’ appealed) and everything else that they would cast a vote for someone they may not like, but who was telling them he would blow up the system (#draintheswamp), throw the whole lot out and only he could fix it because he was the ultimate outsider. They were more likely to be white, non college educated and rural. And then there’s another large group, which is larger, who did not vote this way, a coalition of college educated, city dwelling whites and non-whites who appreciated Obamacare and wanted more affordable college education. Both these two policies only appealed to a minority on Clinton’s side, and did not interest the others.
After 8 years of Obama, they wanted change, and Clinton could not run on change. Trump could, and did. Boy, did he. After 8 years of W Bush, the country wanted change, and Obama personified it. Brilliantly. After 8 years of Bill Clinton, and the scandals that ended it, the country wanted change, and Bush was change. 8 years earlier Bill had represented a cool, younger change to the old and crusty Bush senior. Reagan was change from the washed up Jimmy Carter, who in turn had been change from the Watergate-plagued 1970s Republicans…
So the wheel has turned. It has not resolved the issues, nor the divisions. But the other side will have their turn for now. I wish Hillary all the best in her retirement. As Donald himself says, she deserves a vote of thanks for her 30 years of service. I hope Trump ends up being better than we fear, because the world could do with a little less fear and uncertainty right now.
We’ll see. I reckon it will be fascinating watching, no matter what. Get the popcorn ready.
UPDATE (Dec 23rd 2016) – Clinton won 2.9 million more votes than Trump)