Most of the initial election analyses are focusing on social group differences, such as college-educated vs non-college-educated, men vs women, and various combinations thereof. Some of these are really important, such as Clinton’s significant weakness among white Americans that corresponds to her profound strength among people of color. This is an important pattern. But abstractly talking about social group differences only gets us so far. What were people thinking, and how does that help us make sense of Trump’s win? Based on the national exit polls, here are my thoughts.
It’s Still The Economy, Stupid. An axiom in political science is that perceptions that the economy is good helps the incumbent party, while perceptions that the economy is bad helps the challenging party. Two-thirds of voters said the economy is poor, and two-thirds of them voted for Trump. Only one-third said the economy is good, and three-quarters of them voted for Clinton. In terms of voters’ personal financial situation compared to four years ago: 31% said they are better off now, and ¾ of them voted for Clinton; 27% say they are worse off, and 78% of them voted for Trump.
The Supreme Court Mattered. A lot to conservatives, and especially Evangelical voters. 21% of voters said the Supreme Court was the most important factor in the vote; 56% voted for Trump, to 41% for Clinton. The visceral intra-Christian conflict over Trump seems to have ultimately resulted in white “evangelical or born again” voters voting for Trump at an overwhelming 81%.
Anger Trumps Love. We all know these two candidates were very strongly disliked, and were even unpopular among their own partisans. Several points are worth mentioning.
- Two-thirds of voters said that neither Clinton nor Trump were honest and trustworthy. Among the 25% of voters who said they “disliked the opponent” 51% voted for Trump and 39% voted for Clinton. This matches earlier polls that showed that a large portion of Trump voters (up to 45%) were mainly voting against Clinton.
- Voters who prioritized the issues of immigration and terrorism voted strongly for Trump; the 25% of voters who want illegal immigrants deported voted 84% for Trump.
- 69% of voters were dissatisfied or angry about the federal government, and 58% of them voted for Trump. 29% of voters are satisfied with the federal government, and they voted 76% for Clinton.
- 47% of voters say Obamacare went too far, and 83% of them voted for Trump.
- Two-thirds of voters say the country is on the wrong track (69% voted for Trump), while only one-third say the country is heading in the right direction (90% voted for Clinton).
- A plurality of voters (39%) wanted a candidate to bring about change, and 83% of them voted for Trump.
Campaigns matter. It took the fall campaign, debates, barnstorming and all, to convince people to vote for Trump. People who decided their presidential vote in the last month of the campaign voted Trump 49% and 39% for Clinton. People who decided prior to September voted 52%-45% for Clinton. 82% of voters said the debates mattered to their vote, and those voters split their votes evenly between the two candidates.
Polls mis-estimated turnout. It turns out that polls that estimated GOP turnout to be as low as it was in 2008 and 2012 were wrong; they underestimated the size of Republican turnout, though they accurately estimated Democratic turnout (at about 37% of the electorate). Because so many of the state polls were so close at the end (FL, NH, NC, OH, PA) a small change in turnout rates (slightly higher than expected among Republicans and slightly lower among Independents) ended up flipping the states from the polling averages. Because so many analysts were using polling averages (including me) we missed the underlying shifting that was going on on the ground. Michigan is a great example, in which the campaigns’ internal polling clearly showed the race as much closer than the publicly available polls were showing. That’s why both campaigns were there so much in the last 10 days of the campaign.
Party Identification still matters. Pre-election polls showed only about 85% of Republicans intending to vote for Trump, but he ended up with 90%. They came home.