In the aftermath of the presidential election, everyone’s got their favorite reason for why Hillary Clinton lost, and thus, what should be done moving forward. Surprisingly, these accounts correspond neatly with the pundit’s political preferences: move left, move right, blame the media, whatever.
In fact, this election was a complex system, and no one factor put it over the top. So I thought it would be interesting to count up as many of them as I could, and lay them all out there, if only to say that it’s not any one of them in isolation. Let me know what I’ve missed – I’m sure it’s plenty! Ready?
1. White working class voters. We’ve heard this a lot, so I won’t go into it here. Blue-collar white voters are now solidly Republican – or at least, solidly pro-outsider such that they’ll vote for a nativist/Republican outsider over a Democratic insider. Arrogant coastal elites don’t understand the heartland, and so on. This is Michael Moore’s favorite reason, which makes sense, because he’s been pushing this message for thirty years.
2. White fragility and privilege. Another way of putting #1, though, is that millions of voters were willing to put up with xenophobia, nativism, and misogyny so that they could have an outsider in office. Anyway, let’s not romanticize the economically-dislocated Trump voter. In fact, the median income of a Trump primary voter was $72,000; a Clinton voter’s was $39,000.
3. The Supreme Court. Evangelicals – 35% of the U.S. population and over half the Republican Party – voted for Trump because of the Supreme Court, first and foremost. Arguably, the current vacancy on the Court inspired them all the more – it’s not unreasonable to say that but for Antonin Scalia’s death, Clinton would’ve won.
4. Failure to turn out the base, part one: people of color. Across the country, Clinton got 2 million fewer voters than Obama. Some of these may be due to voter suppression (see below), but surely big parts of the Democratic base were not inspired by Clinton the candidate. Version one? African-American voters didn’t turn out as much, and 30% of Latinos went for Trump.
5. Voter Suppression. But maybe POCs didn’t turn out for Clinton because they were prevented from doing so. The data here is tricky. In Wisconsin, the margin was 27,257 – and as The Nation’s Ari Berman pointed out, there were 300,000 registered voters without ID. But as Vox retorted, most of those voters probably weren’t going to vote anyway, and the number of actually challenged voters was quite small. Then again, just in Milwaukee, 41,000 fewer people voted in 2016 than 2012. Those are mostly Democratic voters. And if they were dissuaded or prevented by voter suppression, Wisconsin is in play. So is North Carolina. There were malfunctions in Durham, and sharp cutbacks in early voting in predominantly African American parts of the state. Black turnout was down about 10% from 2012, but that’s not enough to account for Trump’s victory margin of 3.8%, or 177,529 votes. Even if most of those lost black votes were suppressed rather than simply not cast for Clinton, it’s probably not enough of a margin to swing the state. So, as hideous and retrograde as race-disparate voting restrictions are, this would only have swung 10 electoral votes.
6. The Electoral College. Yes, the Democrats have won 7 of the last 8 presidential elections by popular vote. But the electoral college is an intentional vestige of federalism. We’re not one nation, undivided; we’re fifty states. Also, everyone knows the rules of the game – it’s not quite fair to complain about them afterwards.
7. Russia #1. Hello! Russia hacked Clinton’s and the DNC’s emails. Those emails, published by WikiLeaks, affected the campaign. Hello! Russia helped Trump win! Hello?
8. Russia #2. Did Russia hack election machines too? Well, there’s no evidence of that yet, but I’m leaving this here as a placeholder.
9. Misogyny. Too many people are just not ready for a female president. Also, as per that great Jimmy Kimmel sketch, Clinton has to manage her presentation all the time to account for sexist expectations. So of course people find her less than genuine (see below).
10. Racism. True “deplorables” provided around 25-30% of Trump’s votes. As one tweet after the election said, “I will never again underestimate how far some people will go to preserve whiteness.”
11. Hillary Clinton’s actual credibility problem. The foundation, the emails, the political calculations, the legitimate doubts people had about her credibility. It’s not all made up. Plus, look, she’s not the best politician. She has a tin ear sometimes, and says the wrong things. The word ‘deplorables’ for example.
12. Hillary Clinton’s perceived credibility problem. But wait a minute, those problems are tiny compared with Trump’s! The whole email “scandal” turns out to be nothing, and only came to light because of a Republican witch-hunt on Benghazi. It’s fair to blame this loss on perception rather than reality – and a perception created by smart, craven GOP tactics.
13. James Comey. Clinton’s personal favorite reason. And there’s some truth to it: if you look at the tracking polls, it was indeed Comey’s totally bogus, probably illegal disclosure about continued email investigations that stopped Clinton’s momentum. And exit polling shows that people who made their mind up in the last week overwhelmingly made it up for Trump. It seems certain that but for Comey, Clinton would’ve won.
14. The Clintons and the DNC rigged the primary. The Clintons and their friends muscled out real primary contenders (no one counted on Bernie) in their quest to return to power. Had Joe Biden or a number of other Democrats run, they might’ve won the nomination, and they’d have creamed Donald Trump. Pride goeth before a fall.
15. Failure to turn out the base, part two: progressives and millennials. Continuing that theme, the insider Clinton couldn’t rally the Bernie Left to her cause, and they were further alienated when it came to light that, indeed, the DNC had conspired to favor Clinton over Sanders. (See Russia, above.) So progressives and younger voters stayed away in droves.
16. Petulant progressives. Another way of saying that, though, is that coddled progressives and millennials couldn’t grow up, suck it up, and vote for an imperfect candidate. Being “uninspired” is a two-way street. Do people really have to be “inspired” to save the country from an unstable, dangerous xenophobe?
17. Jill Stein. Relatedly, Jill Stein voters cost Clinton the states of Wisconsin and Michigan. Wisconsin margin: 27,257 votes; Stein tally: 30,890. Michigan margin: 11,837; Stein Tally: 50,686. So, yes, it is true: 2016 is a repeat of 2000. However, that is not quite enough to swing the election; with those two states blue, it’s Trump 280, Clinton 258.
18. Gary Johnson. Depends how you want to slice this. On the one hand, most of Gary Johnson’s voters were probably #nevertrump Republicans. On the other hand, if they were really #nevertrump, they should’ve sucked it up and voted for Clinton. If Johnson voters had gone for Clinton, she would have taken Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona. Game over.
19. The Media! Everyone’s favorite villain. Given the four years to come, it’s probably best not to go undermining the media too much, since that’s Trump’s game. But it’s true that Trump got a ton of unearned media time throughout the campaign, and the media engaged in a ton of false equivalence – for example, the Clinton Email Nothingburger was treated as equally damning as Trump being accused of sexual assault by a dozen women, failing to release his tax forms, failing to call out abject racism and antisemitism among his supporters, and, you know, everything else. Media Culpa.
20. The Other Media! Let’s not forget the impact of conservative talk radio, Fox News, Breitbart, and the rest of the right-wing media universe. Whatever blame the mainstream media gets, surely these guys deserve a lot more, especially when it comes to those voters in reason #1.
21. Trump is a great salesman. We know Donald isn’t a good businessman, but he knows how to sell people, that’s for sure. Who would’ve thought that he could get away with not releasing tax returns – hell, with clearly not paying income tax for over fifteen years? Face it, the guy is a sales genius.
22. Eight is Enough. Let’s remember that Clinton was offering more of Obama, and the only time that’s worked since World War II is when America elected George H.W. Bush to give us some more Reagan time. And that was against Michael Dukakis. Usually, eight years of one party is enough for most Americans. A true outsider candidate made the vote for “change” even more appealing.
23. Bad Data. Clinton’s team had some of the same bad data that Five Thirty Eight, Sam “Bug Eating” Wang, and others had. That data undercounted white first-time voters – didn’t see them as “likely” enough – and led to some key mistakes, like not campaigning in Wisconsin.
24. Anti-Globalization. Clearly, Trump’s win must be seen together with Brexit and the rise of the hard right around the world. There is a worldwide backlash to globalization going on – and, I think, to information technology and how it’s changed our lives – and this is one symptom of that larger shift. Humans are craving the way things used to be, and rejecting the cosmopolitan elites who changed all that.
25. It’s Not Fair. Finally – as conservatives have been crowing this week – it’s not fair, but people don’t like Hillary Clinton. It’s just the case. It’s partly sexism, partly the right-wing attack machine. But at the end of the day, nearly every election since Watergate has been won by the person you’d rather get a beer with. Unfortunately, for a whole lot of people, that dude has an orange toupee.