In one way, I’m not THAT surprised. I had been following Nate Silver’s 538 website’s poll-based statistical modeling of the election which was giving Trump about a 30 percent chance of winning. And while other sites were saying things closer to what I wanted to hear (the guy a lot of Clinton supporters pointed to was Sam Wang, who declared based on his models in October that if Trump got over 240 electoral votes, he would eat a bug…..not sure if that bug has been eaten yet), Nate’s explanations of his model’s assumptions and considerations (including how Hillary’s electoral college position relative to her popular vote position was relatively weak) made a lot of sense to me.
But still, I can’t say that as I watched the results roll in on Tuesday night that I wasn’t in a state of shock. I had taken some comfort that in the last day or so before the election polling had seem to be swing back to Clinton. Besides, errors work both ways and I kept reading about how early voting and Clinton’s superior “ground game” was going to make a huge difference, so maybe Clinton would actually win much bigger than predicted! After all, a guy like Trump….this reality show celebrity unqualified self-centered boor could never actually get enough votes to win the highest office of the land, right?
Yet here we are. Donald Trump won the election, he will be the next President. How did we get here? First things first. This was a very, very close election. In fact, Hillary won the popular vote. Trump won several states (MI, PA, WI) by razor-thin margins. A very small voting shift back to Hillary would have led to a comfortable Clinton electoral college win. Many, many, many things could lead to a mere 1%-2% shift in results, so it’s likely when one person says it was one thing and another person says it was another thing, quite likely both can be right, at least as contributing factors. And anything that contributed at all could be combined with other factors to get to 1% to 2%. Plus factors are not necessarily independent of each other.
Still, in an effort to make sense of it all, I’m going to blog some thoughts….even if it is a bit scrambled, maybe incoherent, and may have jack squat to do with anything. After all, Trump won the votes of 60 million people……..the number of reasons behind those votes rationally have to be just about infinite. So who really knows? Still, I’m confused….so as self-therapy I’m going to write:
- Candidates don’t matter that much – One thing that a lot of us thought was that Trump was such a historically bad candidate, so apparently unqualified, so offensive, that he would lose traditional Republican voters….not so much that they would vote Democrat instead, though that is something that at least used to be possible. But that they would vote third-party or maybe leave the choice blank. But the polling never indicated any sort of collapse of support, at least never for any length of time. But Trump will end up with just about the same number of votes as Mitt Romney received. In hindsight, I’m not sure that most votes aren’t just set in stone, and we all are now part of team D or team R and most will just support the team. Therefore the baselines for major party candidates may be pretty set and differences in voting may only be at the margins now.
- Tolerance for ‘isms’ (racism, sexism,heterosexism, etc.) – These factors had to at least be discounted by Trump voters. Though I have a steady job and am doing well, so maybe it’s easy for me to say that these should be pretty darn big considerations. Perhaps for those who aren’t in a good situation, and feel that the powers that be aren’t doing enough for them, maybe it’s easier to discount the negatives if you think somebody will come in and blow it all up to help you…at some point you just start looking out for number one and are less concerned about the plight of others.Of course, just because Romney and Trump both are going to have about 60 million votes doesn’t mean it’s the same 60 million. Trump had to lose SOME votes for these reasons, and perhaps just made those numbers back up with those who have more racist, sexist, etc. tendencies. Anecdotally, I can say that I did run across a Facebook conversation in which at least two people posted that they didn’t think a woman should be “commander-in-chief” period. As it turns out those two people were women. Attitudes like this really do still exist, and it’s not just men.But Trump didn’t pick up any EXTRA votes. It’s Hillary that’s going to have 6 million or so less votes than Obama, and that’s why the margins are closer. (11/20 edit- They are still counting votes and Hillary is now within 2.5 million votes of Obama. Her popular vote lead is over 1.5 million votes. It’s not difficult to imagine that she may be within 2.0 million votes of Obama before all is said and done. And her popular vote win could well be over +1.5%. Not that any of this matters, but since I mentioned Hillary was going to be 6 million short of Obama, I thought I should make this correction.)
- Rural versus Urban Divide – Republicans have been winning rural areas for quite some time. But in previous elections, there were some sections were Democrats could pull wins in some rural counties, namely in the Midwest. Obama won Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, and Pennsylvania. But even in 2012, the advantage in these states began to slip. And now in 2016, they pretty much all flipped to Trump. These are all states Clinton lost and it’s because she literally won only the big cities in these states. Whether this is a systematic shift…these are just GOP voting areas now, or whether this is just unique to Trump, that he appealed to the “white working class” voter with his generic anti-trade ‘I’ll bring the jobs back’ rhetoric which at least meant that he paid attention to them (Clinton didn’t even set foot in Wisconsin and only reached Michigan at the last moments) remains to be seen. But it appears there really were voters who voted Obama who voted Trump this time.
- Voters Vote On Gut Feel – It’s not like voters study for the test. Who has time for that? So there’s probably not a lot of research done. I think nowadays too, we are much more into identity politics. It makes it easier if we just know what side we are on. Then we can just go vote for our side. Plus to the extent we do go for research, we do so based on the same identity politics that feeds into preconceived narratives. Going to Drudge Report, Breitbart, and Fox News is going to give you a much different look at the race than going to Huffington Post, Mother Jones, and MSNBC. It probably really impacts your view of how big of a deal Clinton’s e-mails and Clinton Foundation were versus Trump’s University, Foundation, sexual misconduct, lack of payment of workers, etc. and even if you were aware at all of some of these things. We aren’t all operating on the same information, and that information is incomplete.
- Elections Are Simply Exercises In Marketing – Clinton had many wonderful position papers on her website, very detailed plans regarding what she would try to get accomplished as President. But that doesn’t win elections. I think Trump almost has no talent. But there is one thing he does about as well as anyone, market the brand “Trump”. Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams had been arguing all year that Trump was the more persuasive candidate. While he may well have been more lucky than good in his prediction that Trump would win (after all, he predicted a “landslide”, losing the popular vote can hardly be called a landslide win), he probably had a good point that simple superior messaging can hide flaws and make facts matter a whole lot less. Conning people is not admirable, but it is a skill. Clinton could raise the heck out of some money, but if you can’t translate that money into messaging, it doesn’t matter.
- Other stuff – James Comey raising that they found more e-mails except they didn’t and it was never a new issue anyway but it was reported like it was. The many free hours of coverage that Trump generated meant Trump didn’t have to worry that much about fundraising. That our system is conditioned to make elections close (all incentives, whether it’s media coverage or political advisors all push for close elections). The electoral college allows the possibility to win the popular vote and still lose the election. Minorities may not have shown up quite in the numbers as they had in the past couple of Presidential elections. Hillary didn’t quite win the percentage of minority votes that Obama did. On and on and on…….
- Black Swan? – I was reminded by a Facebook post (simply put by posting a picture of a black swan) of one more theory. Black Swan events are an idea developed by Nassim Taleb to describe surprise major events that seems rational in hindsight (and what is everything written above if not a rationalization) but never prospectively. Now I think the Trump win was somewhat predictable by the time November rolled around. But I don’t think anyone was calling this two years ago, or really even when Trump first announced his candidacy. (People would do will to REMEMBER this next time they hope a “weak” candidate wins the nomination for the opposition party! You NEVER know! The country is much better served by having STRONG choices from all sides!) – 11/20
Or maybe it’s none of these things. Regardless, what will Trump’s Presidency look like. If you are like me and think Trump is a con man, there’s already evidence pointing in that direction. For all of his anti-establishment rhetoric, the people he is bringing onto his team is in fact the establishment. Also, if you are like me and think Trump was a lot more interest in winning the election than he is in actually running the country, then we need to start thinking about what a Mike Pence presidency might look like as he may be the defacto President (he’s already in charge of the transition team). That would likely mean a very, very sharp turn toward right-wing conservatism.
However I do hope that maybe, just maybe that Trump will actually do a good job. That would be what is best for the country. He keeps surprising me, maybe for once it can be a surprise for the better.