The 2016 presidential election has got to be the most surprising upset in presidential election history and the most devastating to progressive politics.
On November 18, pollster Fred Yang, partner with Hart Research Associates, addressed the Women’s Democratic Club of Montgomery County to attempt to shed some light on how so many pollsters could not have seen this disaster coming.
He made a valiant effort.
To begin with, Mr. Yang pointed out that the four points in the national polls Hillary Clinton was up on Election Day were within the margin of error. Accordingly, the pollsters weren’t actually wrong. Not a very satisfying explanation. Mr. Yang went on, however, to point out that the real question that needs to be answered is why she had dropped from outside the margin of error to within that margin of error at the time of the election.
To that question there are no easy answers.
Mr. Yang did agree that F.B.I. Director James Comey’s letter likely had a major impact but he also pointed out that it really shouldn’t have been close enough for that impact to have cost her the election. The lessons of this election must go well beyond the Comey letter if Democrats are to change the course of elections as we approach 2018 midterms and the next presidential election in 2020.
Here is some data to think about that Mr. Yang shared during his presentation. First, Hillary Clinton won the nationwide popular vote by more than 1.5 million votes. That would indicate that, technically, the pollsters were not wrong. Not much consolation, though, considering it is Donald J. Trump who is the president-elect. So where did the election go wrong?
According to Mr. Yang, it happened not in the red states or even the swing states. It happened in three very blue states, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Moreover, what happened in strong Democratic pockets around the entire country are indicative of what went so horribly wrong.
In Wisconsin, for example, she lost by only 11,000 votes. The problem: there were 23,000 fewer votes cast in Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s major city, than in 2012. The same can be said for the other states. It all boiled down to turnout. Because of lower turnout in the big cities like Detroit and Philadelphia and the surrounding urban suburbs, Clinton could not make up the difference in those key blue states. Add to this the fact that there was greater turnout for Trump than Romney in 2012 in Red America and you have the formula for a Republican win.
The question then is not how Hillary Clinton lost the election. The answer to that is simple; it is lack of turnout.
As Mr. Yang points out, the black voters who came out in droves for President Obama in 2008 and 2012 simply did not come out in the same numbers for Hillary Clinton even though she won the black vote by a significant margin.
The real question that must be answered is not the how but the why. The answer to that question is simply that her message did not resonate with a large segment of the electorate. The best example provided by Mr. Yang was Elliot County, Kentucky. In every presidential election from 1868 to 2012 this county voted Democrat. This is not surprising since the number of registered Democrats in this county outnumber Republicans by 10 1/2 to one. In 2008, President Obama beat John McCain 61 percent to 39 percent in this county. In 2012, President Obama beat Mitt Romney by a margin of 50 to 47. In 2016 Trump won by a margin of 70 to 26. That about sums it up.
Mr. Yang was gracious enough to field a string of questions from the audience. Regarding a question on how Bernie Sanders supporters voted, Mr. Yang indicated that there were not many Democrats who didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton. He did not see this issue as significant.
A question was asked as to whether the polls were able to identify any racist aspects. Mr. Yang was only able to note that 90 percent of Trump’s vote was white.
Regarding the issue about the F.B.I. Director’s impact on the outcome, Mr. Yang pointed out that 13 percent of the voters made their decision within the two days leading up to the election. Accordingly, the Comey letters certainly did impact the election, but, as previously mentioned, the election should not have been so close for it to have had such an impact.
Regarding voter suppression, Mr. Yang recognized that there was, indeed, lower voter turnout by African-American voters but whether to attribute the lower turnout to voter suppression or simple apathy is anyone’s guess.
As for Maryland, Mr. Yang gave quite a descriptive assessment. He likened the election to an infection that contaminated most states but somehow managed to totally miss Maryland. This was evidenced by our elections of Chris Van Hollen, Jamie Raskin, John Sarbanes and John Delaney by rather huge margins to go along with the presidential election which saw Hillary Clinton win almost two-thirds of the Maryland vote. Of particular note is that Chris Van Hollen was able to win Baltimore County by some 16 percent over the Republican from Baltimore County. Bravo Maryland!