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The Election Vote in 2016

by Matthew J. Sutherland

There will be many different looks at what happened and the many pundits will spend weeks analyzing the data, but the biggest story of this election will be the failure of Democrats to turn out votes in key demographics.

The Vote

The votes in favor of the Democrat’s Presidential candidate during the elections in 2008, 2012, and 2016 were 69.5 million, 65.9 million, and 65.2 million votes respectively. By comparison, the Republican Presidential candidates during the same elections were 59.9 million, 60.9 million, and 62.6 million votes. There were an estimated 7 million voters who rejected both major party nominees by voting for third party candidates, or no one at all. (Note: These numbers were as of December 1st, and the vote tracker is in the Further Reading section.)
There were lots of indications that there was going to be a loss of enthusiasm in this election. Vote increases were expected with the increase in population, but so did the share of voters rejecting both parties. 7 million was a large jump from 2012’s 2.2 million.

While we expected a high vote count from places with high population that swing blue (such as New York, or California) to go to Clinton, Democrats failed to get that same enthusiasm in swing states. The Democratic share of the vote fell in key counties among these states. Hillary Clinton lost Michigan by 12,000 votes. The vote in favor of Democrats in Wayne County, MI fell by 78,000 from 2012 levels. In Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, the Democrat vote was down 40,000 in a state that was lost to Republicans by 27,000 votes. These are just a few examples of some big and consequential changes reflecting a lowering of enthusiasm by Democrat voters.


Hillary Clinton was expected to dominate the women demographic, especially with Donald Trump tanking in opinion polls with some of his campaign scandals, most notably of which was The Tape, in which 70% of respondents agreed that, to varying degrees, Trump’s treatment of women bothered them as voters. Clinton still won this group, by a considerable margin (54%-42%), but this was actually less than the share of women voters that Obama got in 2008 (56%-43%) or 2012 (55-44). This hurt the campaign overall, as it could have been an area of strength. However, it was marginally worse than Obama’s performance in 2008 and 2012. Broken down demographically, Clinton underperformed with white women 43%-53% when compared to Trump, and since they make up 37% of the electorate, this was a large swing. She dominated the Black Women vote by capturing 94%, compared to Trumps 4% of the vote. Even with what was widely viewed as disparaging remarks about Latinos, Latina women went for Clinton (68% to 26%). Latina women represent 6% of the electorate, so a swing in those numbers can tip closer races.


There are certainly some intersections, between gender and race, but looking at the racial demographics themselves The overall, support for the Democrat nominee fell among minority groups.  President Obama won the African-American vote by 93% to 6% for Romney in 2012 and 96% to 3% for McCain in 2008. Clinton lost significant margins in this group compared to Obama’s performance, who won the Black vote 88%-8%. That is a 5% loss which can mean a lot in close state elections especially when African-Americans are about 12% of the electorate. Additionally, there is evidence that voter suppression took place further reducing the numbers of Blacks who were able to cast their votes.

Another expectation was that Clinton would do better with the Hispanic vote, but what actually happened was that she lost 6% of the Hispanic vote when compared to Obama’s 2012 performance against Romney. At the same time, Trump increased the Republican share of that demographic by 2% points when compared to Romney’s performance. Clinton did win this demographic 65%-29% with Hispanics making up 10% of the electorate, but it is a bad group to be losing shares of, considering they are the fastest growing voter group.

Millennials/Young Voters

Katy Perry, Beyoncé, and Jay-Z concerts couldn’t even rally young voters to Clinton, and this one of the more damaging demographics to not show up for her. President Obama invigorated the youth vote. Clinton was given an apathetic meh.

Nationally, Clinton won young voters between 18-29 years old by 55% compared to Trump’s 37%. But when comparing Clinton to Obama this was a 5%-point decrease from Obama’s performance who won with 60% to 37% in 2012 and his share was 66% in 2008. Something else that is important to note is that turnout fell among this group. While this was nationally not the worst (current estimates are around 58.1% which is a fraction of a percentage lower than 2012), The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement estimates that about 23.7 million voters between the ages of 18-29 cast a ballot. Additionally, they estimate (with the caveat votes are still being counted and true numbers won’t come out until the 2020 census) that this is around 50% of the groups population, almost 8 points worse than the national turnout average. So, there is a loss in Democratic share of the young voter electorate as well as that group’s turnout.

What crippled Clinton in this demographic was even worse loss of the young vote in key swing states.

The big states to look at are Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Iowa. These are states where the margin of victory was at around a 20%-point deficit from 2012. As we looked at earlier, some of these swing states were decided by mere thousands of votes.
The Millennial group has the potential to have greater voting power as they become the largest generation in the electorate, when they surpass the Baby Boomers in the near future. There are an estimated 69.2 million Millennials (ages 18-35) and an estimated 69.7 million Baby Boomers (ages 52-70). Both groups are about 31% of the voting-eligible voting population, but Baby Boomer voting habits are much better than current millennial voters. So, while Millennials may be increasing their share of the voting population, their share of the voting electorate is much lower, and as evidenced by this election, their ability to sway elections is entirely based on how many of them decide to vote.

How Did This Happen?

The first thing we can look at is low voter enthusiasm for Democrats when compared to Republicans. When looking at the data we can see the numbers tank from Obama’s two election victories, and we also see something pretty big this year; almost 7 million voters rejected both candidates. Trump had a movement behind him while Clinton was grinding for support.

Additionally, when looking at the Clinton numbers today her margin of victory is approaching past 3 million, but what cost her the victory was that those votes were clustered on the coasts, while Trump used a strategy to win the Electoral College.

Nearly 3.2 million Latino/a voters turned 18 from 2012-2016. Millennials are now 44% of eligible Latino voters. The Pew Research Center, found that two-thirds of Millennial Latino voters who backed Clinton said they cast an anti-Trump vote more than a pro-Clinton vote. With low voter turnout among Millennials, and low enthusiasm for Clinton, provides insights to some of the reasons the Latino vote in general lost Democrats 6% points from previous years.

According to David Cahn, co-author of When Millennials Rule: The Reshaping of America, many surveys of Millennials show their top values are tolerance and diversity, optimism, and authenticity. This may reveal why neither candidate did well in pleading their case to young voters because they did not exhibit any of the traits Millennials found important, especially since the election was riddled with scandals involving both candidates. Where voters were enthusiastic about Obama, they were not enthusiastic about Clinton or Trump.

Additionally, it is important to note Sanders’ impact on young voters and who won their votes in the primaries in a way that was so commanding, that Clinton and Trump combined weren’t even close to Sanders’ ownership of that demographic. With that sort of enthusiasm from young voters, the DNC leaks and the Wiki-Leaks were very damaging to the enthusiasm of young voters and therefore dowsed their enthusiasm for the Democrat Party. When completing the 2016 campaign autopsy it would be unwise to discard those events when we speak about the Millennial voting demographic in the future.

Finally, it is widely believed that this was an anti-establishment election. In exit polling, there was a substantial share of voters who picked someone who would bring change as their most important factor in their voting decision. Those that chose this category overwhelmingly picked Trump. The reasons should be obvious: Clinton ran mostly on an establishment platform, while Trump campaigned against the establishment and against the political elite — and for better or worse, he offered change. We can see, when looking at the data presented by FiveThirtyEight, that places with economic anxiety voted for Trump. Places where there were manufacturing jobs that were lost to bad trade deals rejected the status quo and wanted change and therefore became fervent grounds for Trump to exploit and cinch his election.

Further Reading

Trump Was Stronger Where The Economy Is Weaker


Millennials Just Didn’t Love Hillary Clinton The Way They Loved Barack Obama


An Estimated 24 Million Young People Voted in 2016 Election


CNN Exit Polling


2016 National Popular Vote Tracker


Behind Trump’s victory: Divisions by race, gender, education


Millennials match Baby Boomers as largest generation in U.S. electorate, but will they vote?


Just how does the general election exit poll work, anyway?


Clinton Couldn’t Win Over White Women





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