I've been following the aftermath of the 2016 presidential elections in the United States over at my blog with no small amount of concern. I acknowledge, in the interest of openness, that I would have personally preferred an election victory by Clinton over Trump, rooted in my belief that she would be better equipped to handle issues--including demographic ones--better than Trump. Still, it is quite noteworthy that, as I noted last week, statistical projections were wrong in predicting the outcome of the vote. William H. Frey did a good job of outlining just what happened.
Among votes counted at this time, exit poll show Republican Trump bested Democrat Clinton by a net of 6,414,252 votes among voters over age 45. As for voters under age 45, Clinton received a net of 6,679,191 votes more than Trump.
Although this national young/old split is fairly even, older voters made deciding numeric differences in Trump’s favor for consequential swing states, especially in the Rust Belt. This differs from the two previous presidential elections when the younger voters gave Barack Obama his wins.
The Democratic leaning young adult vote is now driven by racial minorities who made up 37 percent of voters under age 30 in the 2016 election. In contrast, whites constituted 78 percent of the voters over age 45 and 87 percent of those over age 65. On Nov. 8, whites in these age groups showed the strongest support for Donald Trump in almost every swing state that he won.
The educational profile of these older whites is notable—65 percent are not college graduates. These so called “non college whites” were the major engine for Trump’s surge with high turnout and strong voting preferences. Non college whites comprised 37 percent of all voters and favored Trump over Clinton by more than 2 to 1.
Whites, especially older whites, were responsible for reversing past Democratic expansion in the Sun Belt states of Florida and North Carolina, as well as for capturing previously Democratic leaning northern states: Iowa, Michigan Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
I very much recommend an article by Harry Enten at Five Thirty Eight, "‘Demographics Aren’t Destiny’ And Four Other Things This Election Taught Me". Demographics, as you would expect from the article's title, are clearly not everything.
The country is getting more diverse. That’s indisputable. But some analysts had argued that increasing racial and ethnic diversity meant that Democrats would have a durable, structural advantage in presidential elections. That was never true, and the results in 2016 show why. Trump was able to win, in large part, because he won over a lot of northern white voters without a college degree — in states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, for example. Many of these voters had cast ballots for Obama twice. Trump’s more populist message likely helped him outperform recent GOP nominees with these voters.
Political parties, in other words, are dynamic — their coalitions change. Some people, including me, were surprised that it was Trump who was able to attract these voters to the GOP. But no one should have been surprised that the country’s growing diversity didn’t guarantee Democratic victory. Only two years ago, in the 2014 midterm elections, Republicans were able to win big nationally among an electorate that was just as diverse as it was in 2008, when Democrats scored a blowout victory. A lot of Democrats dismissed that win as merely a product of a whiter, older midterm electorate. They shouldn’t have.
And, no, Democrats won’t be safe even as the electorate becomes more diverse. Republicans could do even better with white voters. In some Southern states, for instance, GOP candidates win close to 90 percent of white voters. Who’s to say that won’t happen in the Midwest? Alternatively, Republicans could improve their standing with nonwhite voters. In heavily Latino Texas, for instance, Republicans have long done better with Latino voters than Republicans have done nationally.
For the reasons Enten gives, Ruy Teixeira's argument in Vox that this is a last gasp of the white majority is unconvincing. As CNN exit polls show, Hillary Clinton was strongest in demographics--the young, and African-Americans and Latinos--which have had relatively poor turnout. (I won't get into issues of voter suppression, not that these help, at all.) Francis Wilkinson's Bloomberg View article "Demography Slays the Democrats", is perfectly correct in noting that simply waiting for demographic change to create a permanent Democratic Party majority is not enough. It will have to do politics better.
For better and worse, Democrats are stuck with the core they nurtured: nonwhites and liberal, college-educated whites. It's not clear how they build on that base at the moment; instead they will have to rally it.
Fear is already coursing through those constituencies. Racial minorities and liberal women are terrified of Trump and the ugly culture he has unleashed. Gays and lesbians fear his running mate. They all fear the Supreme Court that Republicans have held in reserve for Trump, like a corner table at a favorite restaurant.
Demographics turned out to be an insufficient offense. Democrats will have to do better than wait for the hands of the clock to reward them with millions of new voters. They will have to embrace direct democracy; representative democracy appears to be a closed door.