US election

How Trump Won

By November 9, 2016 No Comments

By Alex Lange, JKL Political Analyst

Donald Trump has stunned the world by reaching at least 279 electoral college votes (possibly more), carrying him across the finish line. His victory has sent shock waves through the American political system and will have consequences, many of which are not fully understood yet or will become clear in the coming weeks leading up to his inauguration in January.

Clinton entered Election Day with an advantage in the polls, but those polls appear to have significantly underestimated the level at which Trump’s core voters would turn out to vote. Thanks to what looks like a surge of white voters with less than a college education, and also by winning college educated white men, Trump received enough of the vote to flip states that Clinton could not afford to lose.

The winning difference compared to Mitt Romney’s performance in 2012 came by Trump winning in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. These were states that were identified as must-win for Clinton and unlikely for Trump to win, based on polling.

Trump’s strong message as a game changer who will return jobs lost through trade deals while keeping foreign threats at bay, resonated strongly in the Midwest and in the so-called Rust-Belt states. Trump’s margin increased most in areas with predominantly white voters, while Clinton failed to mobilize minority voters and young voters at levels sufficient to replicate Obama’s performance, especially in Florida.

Trump managed to both drive up turnout with his right-wing populist message of change, and also to bring typical Republican voters who had concerns about his character into his column because of strong partisan tendencies. He essentially married two different phenomena: right-wing populism, and highly polarized partisan politics.

By winning Florida and North Carolina, Trump moved into striking distance of the 270 electoral college votes that he needed to secure his win. A single large state in which Clinton was favored to win then became enough to put him over the top. If current results hold, he ended up winning not one, but three.

Much will be made of Clinton’s weaknesses as a candidate and the last-minute issue of her emails being investigated by the FBI once again. The problem with that analysis is that with the ultimate outcome of the elections so close (about 1% in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and 0.3% in Michigan), basically any single issue can be pointed to as having tipped the election.

But the defining feature of this victory for Trump will be that he was carried across the finish line by primarily white voters with less than a college education who feel that their way is life is under threat, thanks to his message of being a game changer.

There will be much to examine in the coming days and weeks.