You're Fired! The Unexpected Trump Victory

The reaction of the world to the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States of America has justifiably been one of shock. Political pundits universally predicted an almost certain election of Hilary Clinton. The anti-establishment Trump was seen as being too radical, too divisive, ignorant, racist, and sexist, and seriously lacking in business and political acumen. How then, was he elected? Has the United States of America really shifted that far to the nationalistic and extreme right? Perhaps, as one self-serving 'blog poster has claimed, absolutely devoid of empirical evidence, it was a result of too much "political correctness"? [1].

Fortunately the idea that people voted for Trump because others called him out on mocking disabled people, bragging about sexual assault, banning people from immigrating because of their religion, and accusing ethnic groups of being rapists [2] is just nonsense. Decent people did not agree with Trump's behaviour and that is reflected in the vote. More sober people (or at least, sober the morning after) have actually looked at the results and have conducted a proper data analysis. Indeed, there is an increasingly wealth of information on the subject because so many political pundits made incorrect assessments. The navel-gazing has been impressive in its own right, but at least there is well-considered evaluations which can be used to counter the usual random self-supporting nonsense that masquerades as considered opinion trawling through the ashes of an election result. More controversially there are logical conclusions which can follow from these evaluations that have prescriptive value.

How Wrong Were The Pundits?

On the eve of the election, FiveThirtyEight gave Clinton a 71.4% chance of winning [3], which included marginal electorates such as Florida (55.1-49.9), North Carolina (55.5 to 45.5), and a popular vote of 48.5% for Clinton, and 44.9% for Trump. Of the major pollsters this was still the most accurate evaluation - the New York Times summary article [4] is certainly worth reviewing, especially in terms of how various pollsters considered the chance of various states changing which mattered and the supposed paths to victory. All identified certain and obvious states as key marginals; Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, for example. FiveThirtyEight at least recognised the electoral importance of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin as states that could tip the election, but they gave Clinton's margin of victory as 77.0%, 78.9%, and 83.5% in those states respectively. If those estimates proved to be correct, Clinton would have won. As the results come in, a mere 112,000 vote difference total across those three states would have meant a different result.

One notable exception to the swathe of predictions was Michael Moore [5]. In July he made the following primary reason on where Trump would win as President, and most importantly, why:

I believe Trump is going to focus much of his attention on the four blue states in the rustbelt of the upper Great Lakes – Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Four traditionally Democratic states – but each of them have elected a Republican governor since 2010 (only Pennsylvania has now finally elected a Democrat). In the Michigan primary in March, more Michiganders came out to vote for the Republicans (1.32 million) that the Democrats (1.19 million). Trump is ahead of Hillary in the latest polls in Pennsylvania and tied with her in Ohio. Tied? How can the race be this close after everything Trump has said and done? Well maybe it’s because he’s said (correctly) that the Clintons’ support of NAFTA helped to destroy the industrial states of the Upper Midwest. Trump is going to hammer Clinton on this and her support of TPP and other trade policies that have royally screwed the people of these four states.
In 2012, Mitt Romney lost by 64 electoral votes. Add up the electoral votes cast by Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It’s 64. All Trump needs to do to win is to carry, as he’s expected to do, the swath of traditional red states from Idaho to Georgia (states that’ll never vote for Hillary Clinton), and then he just needs these four rust belt states. He doesn’t need Florida. He doesn’t need Colorado or Virginia. Just Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And that will put him over the top. This is how it will happen in November.

Whilst the actual election results serve as undeniable evidence for the matter of where there is also the issue of why. Alternative interpretations has been offered, in particular the claim that rapid ethnic demographic changes in these states were the cause of a backlash and support for Trump's anti-immigration policies. Even before the election, the Wall Street Journal made such an argument [6]. According to their own criteria, those counties that had the biggest demographic shifts should have also seen the biggest movement towards Trump - and of course there is an element of expectation in this. Large ethic demographic changes do result in a portion of the population who are resentful or nostalgic towards how things "used to be" (whether good, bad, or indifferent). According to the article Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota as would suffer big swings to Trump due to these changes.

The data does not support their claim, however. Comparing the Trump result to Romney and the Clinton result to Obama, according to the current results the following pattern emerges:

2012 elections	Democrat			Reublican 
Indiana 	1,152,887 	43.93% 	– 	1,420,543 	54.13% 	
Illinois 	3,019,512 	57.60% 	20 	2,135,216 	40.73% 
Iowa 		822,544 	51.99% 	6 	730,617 	46.18% 
Minnesota 	1,546,167 	52.65% 	10 	1,320,225 	44.96%
Wisconsin	1,620,985 	52.83% 	10 	1,407,966 	45.89%

2016 elections	Democrat			Republican
Indiana 	1,024,180 	37.87% 	– 	1,544,609 	57.12% 	11
Illinois 	2,982,415 	55.41% 	20 	2,121,573 	39.41% 	–
Iowa 		650,780 	41.71% 	– 	798,923 	51.21% 
Minnesota 	1,364,067 	46.41% 	10 	1,321,120 	44.95% 
Wisconsin 	1,383,926 	46.94% 	– 	1,411,432 	47.87% 	10

In Iowa and Indiana, where Trump's vote increased significantly it is, however, still less than the decline in Clinton's vote. This is even more apparent where Trump's vote was relatively the same (Minnesota, Winsconsin) or even declined (Illinois), but where Clinton's vote fell by 40,000 votes (Illinois), 180,000 (Minnesota), or even an incredible 240,000 (Winsconsin). Even the best, most cherry-picked mico-example that the WSJ cited (Trempealeau County) where whilst Trump gained, Clinton lost more. Overall, on every test case provided, the WSJ is wrong in the assumption that one could claim that the change in political colour was primarily due to an aggressive anti-immigration campaign led by Trump.

If demographic changes in the Great Lakes regions resulted in far less significance that some would assert, then the question is raised whether the existing proposition that the election result was more due to a Clinton loss rather than a Trump win merits further investigation. To bring this matter to consideration the results from three further states can be considered which changed from Democrat to Republican; Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania:

2012 elections 	Democrat			Republican
Michigan 	2,564,569 	54.21% 	16 	2,115,256 	44.71%
Ohio	 	2,827,710 	50.67% 	18 	2,661,433 	47.69% 	
Pennsylvania 	2,990,274 	51.97% 	20 	2,680,434 	46.59% 	

2016 elections	Democrat			Republican
Michigan 	2,264,807 	47.33% 	– 	2,277,914 	47.60% 	16 	
Ohio 		2,320,596 	43.51% 	– 	2,776,683 	52.06%  18
Pennsylvania 	2,817,409 	47.60% 	– 	2,890,633 	48.84% 	20 	

Once again the data is consistent. There is significant gains for Trump in all three states (Michigan, +160,000, Ohio +115,000, Pennsylvania +210,000), but two of the three cases they are smaller than the losses suffered by Clinton (Michigan, -300,000, Ohio -507,000, Pennsylvania -173,000).

The Realisation

Facts are stubborn and over the past several days the pollyanna interpretations of the election has simply lost their ability to convince. Suddenly, there has been an interest in the working class of the Lakes region again. After all, when compared with the rest of the country, for what it is worth (not much) Clinton convincingly won the popular vote, and Trump's vote was (at last count) only marginally better than Romneys. Michael McQuarrie sensibly points out [7] that Trump explicitly rejected the proposal to win social groups that supported Obama in a form of a grand coalition. Instead, he targetted an "old economy" versus "new economy" approach.

When workers were in unions alongside others who had different color skin, holding together a viable multiracial working class coalition was possible. But unions have been destroyed, with the Democratic Party complicit, and stunning economic decline has made it easy for narratives of zero-sum competition between different social groups to take hold. Democrats have offered precious little to prevent people in the Rust Belt from feeling embattled and forgotten. More to the point, the Clintons are avatars of free trade, financialization, and identity politics, a triumvirate of characteristics that associates them pretty directly with what many people associate with the causes of Rust Belt decline and crisis.

Naomi Klein, in a thoroughly evocative manner, notes that the blame for Trumps victory will be placed at all sorts of sources, but the one that matters is the embrace of neo-liberalism [8]. Beyond the literary skills, the data supports the proposition. Klein begins to point to prescriptive solutions, "what it takes to do battle with fascism is a real left. A good chunk of Trump’s support could be peeled away if there were a genuine redistributive agenda on the table. An agenda to take on the billionaire class with more than rhetoric, and use the money for a green new deal. Such a plan could create a tidal wave of well-paying unionised jobs, bring badly needed resources and opportunities to communities of colour, and insist that polluters should pay for workers to be retrained and fully included in this future". An accurate comparison is drawn of how Trump appealed to the working class but with the wrong solutions compared to a neoliberal Democrat who presumed their support with little consideration and further uncertainty for such people is stark.

Trump's approach to protect American industrial workers - through a 45% tariff on Chinese goods, 35% on Mexican goods, and tax-cuts that are heavily biased to favour high income earners - is likely to cause massive damage to the US and even the world economy, costing up to four million US private-sector jobs and causing a recession [9]. It is, of course, a clumsy, ham-fisted, approach that Trump is suggesting - that they way to deal with China's low wage economy is to make Chinese goods more expensive by way of a tariff - without consideration of the effects of the loss of trades and loss of consumer wealth. The alternative of investment in high-skill, high-paying industrial jobs - is something that genuine economic superpowers such as Germany understand quite well as it retrains and restructures its own industrial sector. There was nothing, absolutely nothing in the Clinton platform that addressed their issues, even if they couldn't vote for Trump, they saw no reason to get up and vote for Clinton.

Prescriptive Solutions

For some, some form of electoral reform is necessary in the United States. There are, of course, some oustandingly anti-democratic and distorting features in the U.S. electoral system. The lack of an independent electoral commission has allowed for the most gross implementations of gerrymandering [10], voter suppression [11], voluntary voting, voting on a work day, and of course, the overwhelming prevalence of winner-takes-all voting systems in the archaic electoral college. Actually changing the Electoral College by constitutional amendment is difficult, to say the least, although the proposal of a National Popular Vote Interstate Compact does have some popularity and possibility [12], although it is a long way from success. An Federal electoral commission for state boundaries and to end voter suppression should also be brought forth, although it will suffer the same issues and resistance.

Others have raised the issue that Bernie Sanders would have won if he was the candidate [13]. Whilst some have run close to messianism in this approach, a review of the data based on primaries do tend to support this view that Sanders would have won where it mattered. Although it must be quickly recognised that the Republicans would have run a savage 'red scare' campaign against him, and we cannot say how successful that would have been. Certainly perhaps one of the biggest strategic errors of the campaign, not appointing Sanders as the Vice-President candidate, as he had certainly managed to motivate a large number of the population with his powerful and honourable politics.

Liberal-technocratic electoral reform is indeed helpful and should be sought after. Quality candidates who can inspire and get people out of the door to the campaign hustings and ultimately the polling booth are also essential. But most importantly, is to have practical policies that provide economic security and welfare. From the ashes of this, most policy-free election that has been witnessed in living memory and perhaps in the entire history of the United States - one thing is absolutely clear: you cannot win without at least paying attention to those who have been economically and politically disenfranchised, and that primarily means the working class.

By way of conclusion, recognition is given to the great Canadian literary artist Leonard Cohen who died the day after Trump was elected. His words and career will be for many far more inspirational than that provided by politicians but have a particular resonance for the circumstances.

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows


[1] Robby Soave, "Trump Won Because Leftist Political Correctness Inspired a Terrifying Backlash", November 9, 2016

[2] Amanda Terkel, America Elected A Man Who Said 'Grab Them By The P***y' Over The First Female President, November 9, 2016

[3] FiveThirty Eight, Who will win the presidency?, November 8, 2016

[4] Josh Katz, Who Will Be President?, 2016

[5] Michael Moore, Trump Will Win, July 2016

[6] Janet Adamy, Paul Overberg, Places Most Unsettled by Rapid Demographic Change Are Drawn to Donald Trump, Wall Street Journal, November 1, 2016

[7] Michael MacQuarries, Trump and the Revolt of the Rust Belt, November 11, 2016

[8] Naomi Klein, It was the Democrats' embrace of neoliberalism that won it for Trump, The Guardian, November 9, 2016

[9] Marcus Noland, Gary Clyde Hufbauer, Sherman Robinson, Tyler Moran, Assessing Trade Agendas in the US Presidential Campaign, Petersen Institute for International Economics, September 2016

[10] Christopher Ingraham, This is actually what America would look like without gerrymandering, Washington Post, January 13, 2016

[11] Vanessa Williamson, Voter suppression, not fraud, looms large in U.S. elections, The Brookings Institution, November 8, 2016

[12] Chris Bowers, The surprisingly realistic path to eliminating the Electoral College by 2020, Daily Kos, November 9, 2016

[13] Zach Cartwright, If anyone doubts Bernie Sanders would’ve crushed Trump, show them this, US Uncut, November 10, 2016

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