A week ago today, Wisconsin, very uncharacteristically from an historical perspective, exhibited a big fall-off in voters participation. In 2012, 3,068,434 people voted. This year it was just 2,944,620, fully 4% fewer. Trump is just over 25,000 votes ahead (with a whopping 152,943 3rd party votes (6.9%). In 2012, Obama won the state comfortably with a 6.9% margin. This year, Clinton appears to have lost it by just under 1%– a 7.9% margin shift away from the Democrats. Over the weekend, the NY Times took a look at what happened in one Milwaukee black neighborhood where voting participation was down, in one district they looked at, down by a staggering 20%. Short version: “We got a gangster in the chair now… [but] both of them were terrible. They never do anything for us anyway.”
As Democrats pick through the wreckage of the campaign, one lesson is clear: The election was notable as much for the people who did not show up, as for those who did. Nationally, about half of registered voters did not cast ballots.
Wisconsin, a state that Hillary Clinton had assumed she would win, historically boasts one of the nation’s highest rates of voter participation; this year’s 68.3 percent turnout was the fifth best among the 50 states. But by local standards, it was a disappointment, the lowest turnout in 16 years. And those no-shows were important. Mr. Trump won the state by just 27,000 voters.
Milwaukee’s lowest-income neighborhoods offer one explanation for the turnout figures. Of the city’s 15 council districts, the decline in turnout from 2012 to 2016 in the five poorest was consistently much greater than the drop seen in more prosperous areas– accounting for half of the overall decline in turnout citywide.
…Mr. Albrecht, of the election commission, said other factors contributed to the decline in turnout. This was the first general election under new state laws that required voters to produce an approved photo ID card, and that stiffened the requirements for new voters to prove their residence. This was particularly onerous for the poor, who move often.
Mr. Albrecht said he believed this change had cost several thousand people in the city their vote.
“To me that’s very significant,” he said. “It takes away from the fairness and integrity of the election.”
Although two federal district courts had ruled that the photo ID law discriminated against African-Americans, who disproportionately lack the approved IDs, the law was applied on Election Day after an appeals court stayed one of the decisions. Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican who backed the laws, has said they have no impact on voter participation, and Mr. Albrecht allowed that their effect on Milwaukee’s turnout would not have erased Mr. Trump’s victory in the state.
Perhaps the biggest drags on voter turnout in Milwaukee, as in the rest of the country, were the candidates themselves. To some, it was like having to choose between broccoli and liver.
Nationally, more people voted in 2016 than had in 2012– 129,075,630 in 2012 and 132,505,224 in 2016, so an increase of 2.7%. Texas has the biggest increase, up 11.8%. Mississippi had the worst drop-off, down 9.5%. States that voted more in 2016 than in 2012
• Texas 11.8%
• Florida 11.1%
• Arizona 11.1%
• Nevada 10.6%
• Oregon 10.6%
• Oklahoma 8.8%
• Colorado 7.6%
• South Carolina 7.1%
• Kentucky 7.0%
• Delaware 6.7%
• North Dakota 6.6%
• DC 6.0%
• Idaho 5.8%
• West Virginia 5.6%
• Connecticut 5.5%
• Arkansas 5.4%
• Vermont 5.3%
• Georgia 4.9%
• New Jersey 4.8%
• New Hampshire 4.7%
• North Carolina 4.4%
• Illinois 4.3%
• Indiana 4.0%
• Maine 3.9%
• Pennsylvania 3.8%
• Rhode Island 3.6%
• Virginia 3.3%
• Nebraska 2.7%
• Wyoming 2.7%
• Montana 2.2%
• Massachusetts 2.0%
• Alabama 1.9%
• Louisiana 1.8%
• South Dakota 1.7%
• New Mexico 1.4%
• Michigan 1.3%
• Tennessee 1.3%
• Missouri 1.1%
• Washington 0.6%
• New York 0.6%
• Minnesota 0.3%
These are the states with less voter participation in 2016 than in 2012– and three of them were swing states where millions of dollars were spent to gin up participation and enthusiasm– Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa, all three of which went for Obama in 2012 and flipped to Trump this year.
• Mississippi -9.5%
• California -7.6%
• Ohio -4.6%
• Wisconsin -4.0%
• Utah -3.2%
• Iowa -1.1%
• Hawaii -1.1%
• Kansas -1.1%
• Alaska -1.0%
• Maryland -1.0%
So what do these numbers mean? Let's look at a few. In 2012 there were 7,993,851 votes cast in Texas and this year there were nearly a million more– 8,934,718. In 2012 57% of the votes in Texas went to Romney and 41% went to Obama. This year most of those new voters went to Clinton. Trump won the state with 52.6% and Hillary took 43.4%. Now let's look at a couple of crucial swing states; Florida first. 8,474,179 Floridians voted in 2012 and, again, almost a million more voted this year, 9,415,638. In 2012 it was very close– Obama 50% and Romney 49%. They were separated by about 74,000 votes. This year Trump won with 49% and Clinton took just 47.8%. The separation was over 110,000 votes. The 3rd party vote– 298,273 (3.2%)– could have swung the state into the Democratic column had it gone significantly for Clinton.
In 2012 Obama won a decent victory in Pennsylvania, where he beat Romney 52-47%. This time, over 220,000 more votes were cast and Trump won the state 48.8% to 47.7%, about 60,000 votes. There were 212,680 3rd party votes cast (3.6%) and, again, if they had gone significantly to Clinton, she would have won the state.
The only swing state were Clinton performed better than Obama was Arizona, where Obama lost by a 9.1% margin and Clinton lost by a 3.6% margin, with a huge 11.1% increase in voters, over a quarter million more votes cast.
Aside from Arizona, there were 11 states where Clinton did better than Obama, one (Utah) being an anomaly (a 30% increase) that probably means nothing for the future. The increase in Texas (6.7%) is more heartening and the increase in California (5.9% isn't meaningful in presidential elections but might prove significant in local races if the trend holds and grows.)
Monday, urbanologist Richard Florida had a tentative analysis ready for why the election went so dismally wrong: a combination of class and geography. He isn't obsessing over the most common narratives that “Clinton lost because of lower Democratic voter turnout, especially among minorities; Trump mobilized the white working class and was able to breach the ‘blue wall’ in the Midwest; 2016 realigned the electorate along regional lines… The bigger reality,” he wrote, “according to my own analysis is that the 2016 election follows the same basic contours of class and location– the same divides of knowledge and density– of the last several election cycles… Rather than being a significant break with the past, this election reinforces the nation’s existing divides between richer, more highly educated, more knowledge-based states and less advantaged, less diverse, and whiter ones. More than anything else, I would argue, the 2016 election hardened these long-standing divides.”
Class was and is the central feature of America’s political divide. Clinton support was concentrated in states with higher wages (.82), greater shares of college grads (.77), and greater share of the workforce in knowledge, professional and creative jobs (.72). Trump support was concentrated in states with lower wages (-.81), smaller shares of college grads (-.81), and smaller shares of the workforce in knowledge, professional, and creative jobs (-.73.) These correlations are all greater than for the past two election cycles.
Trump support was highly concentrated in states with greater concentrations of the working class (.79), similar to Romney in 2012 but up somewhat from McCain in 2008. Clinton support was highly negatively correlated with a larger blue-collar share of the workforce (-.77). Again, this was roughly on par with Obama in 2012, but greater than Obama in 2008.
An even more interesting set of results turn up for unionization. While the working class states went for Trump and against Clinton, the effect of unionization was the opposite. States with more union members favored Clinton over Trump. Clinton support was positively associated with the level of unionization across states (.46), whole Trump support was negatively associated with it (-.44). These correlations are slightly weaker than the past two election cycles.
Most analyses of America’s class divide juxtapose these two classes, the new knowledge class and the older working class. But few look at the largest class, the service class, which is made up of nearly 70 million American workers, or 45 percent of the workforce who earn low wages in retail shops, office and clerical work, and food service. Clinton support was stronger in states where the service class is larger (.32), while Trump’s support was weaker (-.33).
While Democrats may be considering strategies to win back the white working class, they might do well to remember that the 70 million member, multi-ethnic service class is more than double the size, and makes a fraction of the income.
Density and urbanization remain key factors in America’s political divide.
Clinton support was positively associated with both density (.71) and the share of the state that is urbanized (.63), while Trump support was negatively associated with both (-.61 with density and -.54 with the urbanized share). These correlations are roughly similar to 2012 but somewhat greater than in 2008.
On the flip side, Trump support was positively associated with states where a larger share of people drive to work alone [Hate Talk Radio impact alert], a proxy indicator for sprawl (.53), while Clinton support was negatively associated with it (-.46).
Housing is another feature of America’s political divide. Trump support was positively associated with states where the share of residents who own their own homes is higher (.61), while Clinton support was negatively associated with it (-.63). These correlations are up substantially from 2012 and even more so from 2008. Housing prices appear to have played an even bigger role. Clinton support was higher in states with more expensive housing (with a correlation of .75 to median housing values), while Trump’s was negative (-.80).
…For many of America’s urban dwellers, the Trump victory is a huge, depressing blow. But the evidence suggests it is not as strange of an event as it seems. America is a deeply divided nation along the lines of class and geography. Those divides are not going anywhere.
The much bigger question is: Can we– or how can we– survive as such a divided nation? I for one find it hard to fathom experiencing another similar election. What happens if we continue to swing back and forth between red and blue? Is it time to think about some sort of mutual co-existence strategy for these two very different Americas? If so, that could very well mean devolving power from the federal to the state and local levels, in ways that more explicitly recognize and respect the great differences between these two nations.
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Sinclair Lewis