Thursday, 10 November 2016

2016 US Presidential Results: Primary Warnings

As we all conduct our polling and forecasting post-mortems and try to figure out just how Donald Trump won the US Presidential Election on Tuesday, I propose turning our attention back to primaries for a potential explanation.

On the night, news that Clinton was really struggling in Michigan and Wisconsin were almost the final nail in her coffin - the Rust Belt was abandoning her when her earlier failure to pick up Florida and North Carolina meant that winning these states was crucial. Eventually it turned out that even Pennsylvania would turn its back on the Democratic nominee. The Blue Wall had crumbled.

In theory, that shouldn't have happened. These states have been solidly Democrat since the 1980s, and polls conducted there suggested Clinton had a sizeable lead. So much was her confidence, that Clinton did not once visit Wisconsin, and appeared in Michigan just a handful of times, and sent only surrogates in the final weeks in an attempt to see off Trump's advances there.

But of course it did. Wisconsin voted Trump, and Pennsylvania followed. Iowa flipped back to the Republicans, along with Ohio. Clinton seems to have just about scraped a victory in Minnesota, but Michigan is still on a knife edge as we move into Thursday.

While some might have found this surprising, there was a clear pattern: Clinton was struggling in Northern States where Bernie Sanders either won or ran her to the wire in during Primary season. The map below demonstrates this perfectly.

County-level Primary Results: New York Times


Looking at those North East and Mid-Western states, we are instantly reminded that Sanders in fact won Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. He ran Clinton down to the wire in Iowa, and was much closer to Clinton in Pennsylvania than the polls were predicting. Sanders also won in New Hampshire - another State where Clinton is currently still unable to claim as the count goes down to the final few precincts.

It's not that Clinton is struggling in all States that Sanders collected in the Primary contests: she's done very well in Vermont, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington for example. But where Clinton has struggled, particularly in the Mid-West and North-East, it seems to correlate very highly with Sanders support (with the exception of Ohio).

What does this mean? Have Sanders supporters in those States abandoned her and stayed at home - or worse turned out and voted Trump?

Possibly, maybe in the case of a few. But far more likely I think hat the Primary results in these states were a warning shot across Clinton's bow, which she completely ignored. They captured a feeling, demonstrated conflicting emotions and values which Clinton and her campaign should have taken very seriously.

I travelled around Wisconsin while the Primary battle-buses were in town, and the anti-Clinton feeling there was huge. Democrats were very much pro-Sanders, particularly in the ever-blue city of Milwaukee. They of course went out and overwhelmingly backed him ahead of Clinton.

Republicans, though mostly supporting Ted Cruz, were vehemently anti-Clinton, citing her as an embodiment of entitlement and privilege, a shining light of success while their State struggled and failed economically to keep up with its neighbours.

But among independents too, taxi drivers, students, and bar goers who had no affiliation, there was a tangible anti-Clinton feeling. Everyone I spoke to after the result was pleased that Sanders had won on the Democratic side. Everyone.

It's my view that the results of those primaries should have been a shot in the arm to Clinton - here were the kind of areas where perhaps life wasn't going so well, where the liberal, free market values of the modern Democratic Party establishment were not at all shared.

I don't believe that voters who backed Sanders in those Primary contests went out en masse and voted for Trump on Tuesday, but I do believe that they captured, or that they personified, a feeling. An attitude and a set of values that were totally at odds with everything they believed Clinton was about.

Voters in places like Wisconsin had already taken one opportunity to take aim at Clinton, and she totally ignored them. Was it all that surprising that they ended up doing it again?

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