Blue Wall mea culpa

Remember all those posts explaining how the Democrats had a demographic lock on the Electoral College? Yea, well I have some unsurprising news about that.

A careful look at the numbers reveals some insights into how the Blue Wall failed Democrats in 2016. It seems to come down to a single conclusion – Democrats did not effectively communicate a message to their base, white, black or otherwise, to persuade them that the party would take their concerns seriously.

An analysis posted at Forbes can be summarized in these three paragraphs:

One can acknowledge the way Trump has stirred our darkest national demons without losing sight of a critical reality. Trump’s support among racist groups is not what put him over the top. Critical to the GOP victory was this small, but crucial fraction of Obama voters who switched their support. These voters may be comfortable enough with racism to elect Trump, but they enthusiastically supported a black President when they thought he was going to drop a hammer on Wall Street banks. When he failed to do that, they began to drift away. Combined with softening enthusiasm from black voters who turned out in lower numbers than expected, these white swing voters doomed the Clinton campaign.

Erie County supported Obama by a 20-point margin in 2008. That margin dropped by a quarter in ’12. This year Trump carried the county.

Trump’s appeal certainly stirred a white nationalist element that had never felt represented in the past, but that fraction of Trump voters who had supported Obama must have been moved by another force. Ask blue collar voters in this region what the Obama Administration accomplished for them and even among committed Democrats answers are vague. What did they expect from Clinton? More of the same. Democrats’ steadily declining support among this thin tier of the blue-collar vote is the political dynamic that eventually broke the Blue Wall.

There was ample good news for Democrats in the 2016 results, but without some coherent vision it won’t matter. Clinton was remarkably popular in suburbs everywhere, even across the South and especially in Texas and Georgia. Trump is on track to finish this race with a lower popular vote percentage than Romney, and will possible reach McCain’s level by the time the last ballots are counted in California. Republicans won the generic national Congressional ballot with barely 51%. The last two Republican Presidents will have assumed office while losing the popular vote, finishing with 47% and 46% of the vote respectively.

More ominously, we haven’t seen such low levels of ticket-splitting in a national election since the decade before the Civil War. We no longer have two national parties, but rather two regional parties. This is not healthy. Three of our last four Presidents have assumed office without winning a popular vote majority, a streak we haven’t seen right after Reconstruction.

My estimate that Clinton could continue to hold enough blue collar white Obama voters in blue states was simply wrong. Declining enthusiasm in general and the alienation of rural and small town white Democrats gave Trump just enough of an opening to climb into the White House. I got it wrong.

49 Comments

  1. Don’t kick yourself, Chris, we all put way too much faith in the polls. I have to wonder what percentage of the potential voters that were polled actually wound up voting. In the end, Clinton was unable to effectively mobilize the coalition that twice led Obama to victory. The actual causes of the failure will likely occupy historians and political strategists for years to come.

    The Huffington Post offers an interesting postmortem that recalls the famous 1948 Dewey vs. Truman upset (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-joseph/how-a-train-ticket-could-have_b_13151112.html). They claim that Hillary lost because she chose to ignore Bill’s famous mantra from 1992: “it’s the economy stupid”. Trump won because he was able to mobilize voters who rightfully felt left out of the economic recovery.

    Hillary may have had the better resume, but that was not the deciding factor for the disillusioned and angry Rust Belt voters in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan that appear to have put Trump over the top. They felt ignored and marginalized by the insider Washington establishment that Clinton epitomized and voted accordingly. In both primary and general contests, Trump consistently defeated his establishment opponents, both Republican and Democratic.

    Obama’s recovery efforts had failed to improve life for those Rust Belt voters, and Clinton was only offering more of the same. It remains to be seen whether Trump will be either willing or able to make good on his promises to address their very legitimate grievances in any meaningful way. My expectation is that we are going to have a repeat of the same Republican policies that led to the Great Recession.

  2. Conspiracy theory or situation that deserves investigation?

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/23/hillary-clinton-election-vote-recount-michigan-pennsylvania-wisconsin

    “Curiosity about Wisconsin has centred on apparently disproportionate wins that were racked up by Trump in counties using electronic voting compared with those that used only paper ballots. The apparent disparities were first widely publicised earlier this month by David Greenwald, a journalist for the Oregonian.”

  3. Profile photo of EJ EJ

    Let’s be careful not to blame Democrats too much. The Republicans were also in the election.

    Someone once called Trump “the first Independent president.” I don’t think that’s entirely untrue. He carried out a hostile takeover of the Republican Party, and they responded by complaining about it but then voting for him anyway. Perhaps Clinton was just that terrifying to them, perhaps party loyalty is more important to the Right than it is to the Left, or perhaps Lee Atwater (and every lefty who quoted him) was right all along. Regardless of why it happened, it did.

    Some people say that Trump is a weakling who will end up being steered by the GOP power brokers, and that we will end up with a traditional Republican policy enacted by Pence, Ryan, Gingrich et al. Some people say that Trump now has no use for the GOP and will rule as a kleptocrat with poor impulse control and a host of thugs to enforce his whims. If the first is true then the Republicans won the election, and should take the credit for it. If the second is true then Republicans lost the election just as much as the Democrats did, and can share the blame.

    Either way, my condolences to the citizens of the American Republic.

    1. Given either scenario, EJ, a GOP win or a Trump win, the outcome is still fraught with a great deal of pain for our country. The changes Republicans intend to make and the actions a Trump “might” take will re-shape America in substance and image. I accept your condolences.

      1. Why would I want to cheer you up, Griff (-; Thanksgiving is coming! Hopefully all are preparing for a lively conversation ’round the turkey….No advice to give you there except pick the best invitation you’ve got. We’ll have dinner at our home with our one liberal son and his family….That way we can focus on the food and not tiptoe past the minefield…Disclaimer – son was a Bernie guy, voted for Jill Stein, but would have voted for Clinton if he lived in a state where it would have made a difference.

        Hope everyone’s day is pleasant and surrounded by those you love.

        Happy Thanksgiving! (See, I can be uplifting….)

  4. I’m 2008 my very red Congressional district elected a conservative democrat. The republican incumbent was caught in in a ethical violation.
    She was a place holder until 2010 and another republican was elected. I do not think Trump will get a free pass either.

    1. I’ve long felt, particularly when I’m given to fantasies, that the time is long past due for the Senate to be made partially based on population. A thought would be that each state should have one senator and the remaining 50 senators should be distributed based on each state’s population. Each senator would continue to be elected statewide, so the senate would still basically represent the states, rather than the people. It would also preclude the possibility of gerrymandering the senatorial districts. In such a scenario, CA and TX would probably each have 4 senators, several other states would have 3 and several states such as WY, AK, MT and the other smaller states population wise would continue to have two. At the time the Constitution was drawn up the disparity between the states was manageable (maybe 3 to 1?) unlike now when it is like 50 to 1 or greater.

      Of course that is about as likely to happen as the possibility of ever actually reaching a temperature of absolute zero even in a controlled experiment much less in actuality.

      1. I hail from a small state before I moved to a big state.

        I have a lot of sympathy for the equal states / equal populace split of Congress. I think it’s a good idea. I think maybe the House of Representatives could be re-examined; of all people, my most outspoken Trump supporter friend went on a rant about how if it stayed proportional to population the House of Representatives would constitute over 1200 members by now. I don’t know the accuracy of that math and I think that’s unwieldy. But I think if there are proportionality issues, it really should focus on the House.

        My home state is one of the poorest economically and smallest population wise. It gets left out of a LOT of national conversations that affect it. The Senators that hail from my state are not only much more accessible to me, I’ve gotten their actual ear over the phone — not just their office, but the Senators themselves. This is an advantage to self-representation that just isn’t possible under a brutally proportional system and is one of those ways we balance ‘democracy’ with ‘republic’ in our ‘democratic republic.’

        It’s obnoxious that, for instance, Alabama can elect a KKK enabling drug war zealot in Jeff Sessions that has ‘equal say’ to one of my two senators, but the trade-off is that Jeff Sessions and his fellow Alabamans don’t have say over my state just because there’re more bodies there.

      2. Aaron, I understand your point and that was essentially the point at the Constitutional Convention. It does have some merit. But just for the hell of it, I did some quick calculations, using data from Wikipedia. They are summarized below:
        US Pop 1790 (1st Census) -3,893,635
        Largest state – VI Pop 747,610
        Smallest state – DE Pop 59,094
        Largest to Smallest Ratio – 12.6

        US Pop 2016 – 320,746,592
        Largest state – CA 39,144,818
        Smallest state – WY 586,107
        Largest to smallest ratio – 66.8

        Guess at Senatorial Distribution with 50 senators distributed on Population
        CA – 6
        TX – 4
        FL – 3
        NY – 3
        WY, VE, AK, ND, SD, DE, MT & RI – 1 ea
        All other states – 2 ea

        You can see how concentrated the population has become. In 1790, there were already 16 states and the population was much more evenly distributed. But there was still a considerable disparity.

        Of course, I know something like this would never happen. But like I said, sometimes I am given to fantasy.

  5. “More ominously, we haven’t seen such low levels of ticket-splitting in a national election since the decade before the Civil War.”

    This is a very subtle issue that has been a trend for a while and highlights a whole host of trouble for the Democrats.

    Even if the Blue Wall existed (and it doesn’t), our founding fathers put a bit of a hex on today’s Democrats.

    The GOP has been winning lots of states at the Presidential level. Even during the Obama blowouts in 2008 and 2012, the GOP won 22 and 24 states. With fewer and fewer people splitting tickets between the Presidential and Senate races, the GOP is starting to bank those Senators from small but consistently red states.

    The Democrats and GOP may both be regional parties, and the Democrat region might include more people, but the large number of small-population red states will give the Democrats a hill to climb for control of the Senate. Those four Senators from Idaho and Wyoming count as much as those four Senators from California and New York.

    No matter how bad Trump is by 2018 (and he’s going to be bad for a whole lot of people but it is not like he’s going to ruin the country), the Democrats don’t flip the House or Senate.

    1. I mostly agree. In 2018, Democrats should focus on the gubernatorial races and statehouses over Congress. If the Dems are successful in retaking many statehouses, this will go a long way towards successful redistricting efforts after 2020.

      However, don;t despair about Congress. While I agree that the odds are long, Trump has already taken his eye off the ball by focusing on how corrupt he can be rather than how he can deliver to his voters. This means that it would not surprise me to see Paul Ryan try and slip something by Trump (i.e., Medicare phase out) which gets enacted and leads to a massive rejection at the polls in 2018. Same is true of Obamacare. Last to touch it owns it. That’s an easy piece of legislation to repeal but very very very difficult to replace. And the GOP is going to find that out very soon.

      1. All true, Michael, but there is more at stake with the repeal of Obamacare and conversion of Medicare than pure political opportunism….in the process, millions of people will lose health coverage. I have heard the discussion about repeal and delay, but what do you think insurers will do under this scenario? Net effect is the same – people lose coverage. As for Medicare – Ryan may well have the votes in Congress, but this program is beloved by those receiving it. Far better to address the areas within the program that would lead to cost savings (and there are many), than to voucherize it. Trump’s been all over the place with saying he won’t “take away people’s medicare” to saying “he and Ryan have agreement on changes”….whatever that means…..

        I have said many times that the Dem Party needs to re-focus its attention on state and local races. The party needs a BlueMap plan to both develop promising national candidates and to be competitive legislatively. Gerrymandering as implemented with majority legislative control won’t happen with party diversity. Same goes for onerous laws which are designed at the state level specifically to be tested in the district courts and above. Republicans have been masterful at their design and execution of their RedMap strategy.

        I still maintain that Dems (in addition to the above) need to try to hold the Senate and House seats they have – even if it means they need to run different candidates than the incumbents (if they are weak). There’s no getting around it – the next few years are going to be hard. Elections have consequences, redux.

      2. A major ruling that finally quantifies how gerrymandering impacts voter rights. Just in time to prepare for the 2021 census process. Finally a test case for SCOTUS that has some teeth in it…..Between gerrymandering and voter suppression laws, Republicans have had a devastating affect on the one man one vote premise.

        http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/21/us/wisconsin-redistricting-found-to-unfairly-favor-republicans.html?emc=edit_th_20161122&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=41048410&_r=0

      3. >] “A major ruling that finally quantifies how gerrymandering impacts voter rights. Just in time to prepare for the 2021 census process. Finally a test case for SCOTUS that has some teeth in it…..Between gerrymandering and voter suppression laws, Republicans have had a devastating affect on the one man one vote premise.

        It’s hard to overstate the potential impact of this ruling. If the “efficiency gap” is taken by the Supreme Court and made the national standard, it would have the power to crush overt political gerrymandering schemes by any political party.

        Honestly, it’s poetic. Republicans’ political gerrymandering is a game of mathematics, so it’s only fitting that mathematics should kill it. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

        All of this, of course, is assuming that Wisconsin appeals the decision, and this is where things gets interesting. WI Republicans are in an honest tight spot here with no real good options. They can either let it go and have their Assembly districts redrawn in a way that will make Democrats far more competitive or they can appeal to the Supreme Court and risk getting completely blown out of the water.

        Even if Wisconsin doesn’t appeal though, it would be ridiculous to think that others won’t follow this same strategy against other gerrymandered states, whether it’s Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, whatever. This case is almost assuredly going to the Supreme Court, and it needs to do it sooner rather than later. We need Kennedy and the four remaining liberal justices for a win here.

      4. There had to be SOME good news this season! I’m expecting the GOP will come down on WI and tell them to deal with their own state rather than risk an appeal to SCOTUS…however, as you noted, that “cat is out of the bag” now.

        It’s about damn time. Republicans deserve a smack down on this…hope it goes well so that people’s voting rights are respected – that goes for both parties.

      1. Something’s got to give………It does seem unfair that rural areas would be disenfranchized simply through lower population; however, it also seems unfair that heavily populated areas are not better represented. Not sure what the “best” solution here is…Focus campaigns on EC math? This 2016 election upended so much of what has functioned in the past that maybe we’re due for a wholesale look at the entire process – constitutional amendment notwithstanding.

  6. Today in “Literal Nazis”: literal Nazi salutes and literal Nazi literature readings

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/11/richard-spencer-speech-npi/508379/

    Also from Spencer: https://twitter.com/colinjones/status/800822032535470080/video/1

    “One wonders if these people are human at all, or are they soulless golem?”

    Reminiscent to this historical piece of anti-Semitism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SaN5IKEXBZ0

    Posted here before, but I’m reposting. Autocracy: Rules for Survival:

    http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2016/11/10/trump-election-autocracy-rules-for-survival/

    Take the autocrat seriously.

  7. I wouldn’t feel too bad if I were you. You were right about how unpopular the GOP is, you just underestimated how unpopular and incompetent the Democrats were at the same time such that it would cause such low voter turnout. I mean, having Lena Dunham campaign for them in North Carolina? Really? Why? Just… WHY?! The Democrats need to stop over relying on celebrity endorsements and control over late night shows and, as you noted, start connecting with people.

    1. While not ignoring her campaign’s mistakes, we should also not ignore the fact that Clinton won the popular vote. There were many factors that contributed to her loss and she owns them, but she worked incredibly hard and failed to GOTV in critical swing states. I doubt the presence of entertainers was key. More likely, I believe Clinton was sucked into the Trump maelstrom and failed to articulate her own message to people who needed to hear it. That turned out to be a serious problem and she paid for it.

      Now, we’re going to pay for the Republican decade and Trump. Don’t forget that over half of Americans didn’t vote at all. That is the real tragedy.

      1. >] “Now, we’re going to pay for the Republican decade and Trump. Don’t forget that over half of Americans didn’t vote at all. That is the real tragedy.

        True enough, but the real horror show of this election lies in the effective destruction of both our political parties. I’ve disagreed with Chris for a while now in that Democrats could escape the Politics of Crazy, momentarily at least, so long as they held the presidency and won. Obviously, that’s been rendered moot. The Republican Party as we knew it is no more and Democrats aren’t far behind. Things are likely to get very uncomfortable on the left in the near future, to put it mildly.

        Our two party system has reached it’s breaking point. Trump may have run as a Republican, but he’s no more a Republican than Lincoln was a Democrat (respective to the traitorous Democrats of his time of course). For all intents and purposes, he’s our first Independent president.

        Even McMullin mounted a serious third-party bid this year that’s not showing any signs of going away. Disaffected Republicans and conservatives who will only grow more disenchanted as Trump’s shitstorm of a presidency spirals inevitably downward are in desperate search of a home. Barring an internal collapse or a full-throated outside effort to crush it, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a far more coherent and well-financed effort on his part in ’20.

        Impossible to tell how this plays out on the Democratic side just yet. We’re going to have to see how the so-called “progressive” takeover proceeds and just how much establishment Democrats are willing to put up a fight, subtly or otherwise.

      2. I would venture that things are looking a hell of a lot more promising for Repubs for the for see able future than they are for Dems, who seem to be in total disarray. As Obama stated, it’s time to move on….but you have to know where you’re going!

      3. >] “I would venture that things are looking a hell of a lot more promising for Repubs for the for see able future than they are for Dems, who seem to be in total disarray. As Obama stated, it’s time to move on….but you have to know where you’re going!

        I know it’s depressing to look at our immediate future and think about what the Republicans are going to do, but you shouldn’t mistake that for a prosperous Republican future, insofar as it benefits them, mime. Though a consequence of what the GOP brought on itself, Trump took the Party by force and destroyed it beyond any redeemable measure. Wrong as I was about the election, Trump’s victory has only cemented the long-term destruction of the Republican Party, not averted it.

      4. Ryan, I am going to disagree with you here. Republicans are positively giddy about the unobstructed opportunity to launch their agenda with total control and are very focused on planning its execution (literally). It is my opinion, just as you have your own, that DJT being the deal maker he is, will be a spoiler from time to time to demonstrate his alpha authority, but the GOP is going full steam ahead to implement their plan and they will not let Trump get in their way.

        I may have to get a dog so you can buy it a scarf, Ryan (-; I see nothing but unbridled trouble ahead for Dems who can’t decide what strategy they want to pursue and who they want to lead it. Eventually (and that may take YEARS) Repubs will over reach OR the American people realize they’ve been had. By then I’ll probably be drooling but you millennials will pay the price. I say this with great regret and with the hope that you are right and I am wrong, but…..

      5. A friend from CO emailed these pieces from The CO Independent, by an independent newspaper, by Mike Littwin. He writes weekly and you can go back as far as you like. The pertinent ones for our disagreement on what Republicans will do is the 11/17 one. The 11/9 one is focused on Trump. Both are excellent. As always, it is prudent to be cautious with predictions in politics. Speaking humbly, we are too far on the outside to have a clue about what’s really happening.

        http://www.coloradoindependent.com/littwin

  8. I’m not an American – but I have always voted for our (NZ and UK) Labour Party

    Like the dems I am finding this difficult now

    Here in NZ I simply don’t know what the party I have supported all my life is trying to do
    They haven’t told me!!

    In the UK the Labour Party has found a new leader with an actual vision – but he is being hamstrung by a collection of idiots who would be a better fit in the Tory Party

    It is difficult to actively support a party when the best I can say is “They are NOT the Tories/Nats”

    1. ““They are NOT the Tories/Nats””

      Voting ‘against’ never works. You do actually have to vote ‘for.’ One way of looking at it is that there was no “Not Trump” on the ballot. There were only other options.

      You need to get in touch with your Labour party and tell them to heed the warnings of Brexit and Trump: motherfuckers need to communicate their value, and make people inspired to vote FOR them, and not make it a singular statement of voting AGAINST whatever opponent they’re up against (hopefully not a fascist demagogue, but the dominoes are certainly falling that way; I’ll leave it up to you to describe the nature of your NZ politicians).

      Start working on it now. Not tomorrow.

  9. Chris,

    No reason to apologize. Just about EVERYONE got it wrong. Instead, we all need to learn the lesson of this campaign.

    First, candidates matter. Hillary Clinton was a terrible candidate. No charisma, no ability on the stump and no economic message that resonated.

    Second, political coalitions are never locked in cement. Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania (and even Minnesota) have always been close and tipped to the GOP when they finally ran a politician who avoided social issues.

    Third, November 8, 2016 will be the worst day for the Democrats over the next 4 or even potentially 8 years. This is because there is nothing wrong with the Democratic Party that a Republican President won’t solve. Politics are cyclical. Plus, I anticipate Trump and Paul Ryan will overreach and lead to a backlash which will be reflected in the midterms. Further, there is no way we get to 2020 without a recession. If we did so, it would be the longest economic expansion in US history. I just don’t see it.

    1. It would be the longest expansion in US history, but there have been a number of developed countries with 20 year+ expansions. The Republicans put a lot of effort into blocking jobs programs and infrastructure spending that might have improved the Great Recession. If they just swung around to supporting good ideas rather than opposing them I think there’s a better than even chance we’d see a good economy through 2020.

      Unfortunately economically and fortunately politically, the Republicans are so enveloped in their bubble of BS I don’t think they’ll be able to do this. Instead they’re pushing Medicare deform (of all things!), Obamacare repeal, rolling back overtime rules, and an “infrastructure” program which is basically a giant kickback program for things that would be built anyway. These are all things which are politically unpopular and/or bad for the economy, mostly “and”.

      1. And Republicans will be doing so relatively unimpeded. The changes that are coming via “A Better Way” are going to be major. Republicans appear poised to have many years in which to shape government, taxes, regulations, and rights to their liking. The rest of us – not so much.

        Elections have consequences.

      2. True that some countries have have 20+ year expansions, but we won’t. There are a lot of reasons Clinton lost, but the primary reason is the economy. People only remember the short term. In 2012, even though the unemployment rate was high, it was dropping relatively quickly. This was one major reason Obama won. This year the unemployment rate barely budged. It was 5.0% on 1/1 and 4.9% on Election Day. Don’t kid yourself that this did not impact the election result.

        Furthermore, interest rates ticked up due to inflation concerns and the Fed will tighten. This makes it difficult for folks who can’t get a raise at their jobs to get a “raise” through mortgage refinancing.

        I do not wish misery on anyone, but since recessions are essentially inevitable, it would be good to see Trump’s economic plan extend the recovery to 2019 and then have a recession occur and wipe him out in 2020.

      3. I don’t know how true this is, but have been on Sander’s website. The way the fiscal infrastructure “stimulus” is a scam, isn’t it? It transfers money to corporations and billionaires in the form of massive tax breaks for doing work they should be doing anyway. I thought it was too good to be true.

    2. I also think Mrs. Clinton came in with a sense of entitlement, because she had stepped aside in 2008 and supported Mr. Obama, and now it was her turn.

      I don’t have a problem with that. I am a supporter of people with experience, and I feel it’s important for a politician to pay his or her dues before they are allowed to assume a position as powerful as the US presidency.

      However, it seems nowadays our nation as a whole prefers to take a gamble on fresh new faces who are new to politics, like they did with Mr. Obama in 2008 and now with Mr. Trump.

      1. People are so unhappy they will try anything new. I don’t think a change in message would have helped Mrs. Clinton much. She is and always will be the same ole Mrs. Clinton, and that’s the crux of the problem.

      2. Tutt, going back to Nixon in 68, the only Presidential candidate who had a long record on the national scene was GHW Bush, and he was a one-term President. I think that’s because it’s too easy to pin past policy failures on someone who has been around, certainly as long as Mrs. Clinton was.

      3. For someone who came in with a “sense of entitlement”, Hillary Clinton worked like a dog. Still, she lost and we now have a man who was born “entitled”. I give Trump credit for also working hard – campaigns like this are grueling and both these candidates are up there in age. I will never believe that Trump meant most of what he promised about helping people in need. I do, however, hope I am wrong about this as I’d like him to follow through on the things he pledged to do for working people.

      4. >] “People are so unhappy they will try anything new. I don’t think a change in message would have helped Mrs. Clinton much. She is and always will be the same ole Mrs. Clinton, and that’s the crux of the problem.

        Partially right, tutta, but I’d be argue you’re short-changing Clinton a bit. Remember how she actually, finally opened up back during ’09 in the NH primary and soared past Obama to an unlikely win. If she could’ve brought that image back this time around with an economic message to match, I honestly believe the result could’ve been very different.

      5. If I could offer a different word that I believe is more accurate: Clinton felt she had “earned” the right to vie for the Democratic nomination for President. You are correct – entitlement does (in this day and age) have a negative connotation.

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