Identity politics couldn’t quite carry Hillary to victory

Why did Hillary Clinton lose this election? Given how close it was — Clinton won the popular vote but came up a wee bit short in three crucial big states — we are free to blame or credit the factor of our choice.

If we focus on how the vote broke down (as opposed to external factors like Comey and WikiLeaks), one thing that jumps out is the extent to which Clinton underperformed with African-American voters, compared to the President Obama, with regard to turnout. This might well have made the difference in those three crucial big states (Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin).

But Clinton was never going to duplicate the enthusiasm Obama generated among Blacks. Obama had an obvious natural advantage with this group and it was not fully transferable.

If Hillary had a natural advantage over Obama, it was with female voters. However, she did no better among women than Obama did. Both, it appears, carried the female vote by 12 percent.

In seeking the female vote, Clinton had more than her gender working for her; she also had Trump. The tycoon seems inherently less attractive to women than Mitt Romney, Obama’s opponent. Beyond that, Trump has a history of crass comments about women. Worse, he bragged on tape about aggressive sexual touchings and attempted adultery, and his boasting was corroborated by credible statements by a dozen (or so) women.

Why, then, didn’t the first female presidential nominee of a major party do better among women? The answer is that white women without a college degree preferred Trump.

Clare Malone at FiveThirtyEight documents Clinton’s problem with this cohort. She focuses on two Midwest states that Obama carried and Hillary did not:

In Michigan, Trump won women [without college degrees] along with white men, their support for him drowning out white, college-educated women’s votes for Clinton. She won that demographic by 10 points, but these women account for only two in 10 Michigan voters.

It was even worse for Clinton in Iowa. Malone’s chart shows that white women non-college grads went for Trump 62-34.

Sisterhood may be powerful, but it mattered less than class and culture to many American women.

The fact that Hillary’s gender didn’t quite put her over the top doesn’t mean that identity politics is dead. Far from it.

Blacks and Latinos overwhelmingly supported Clinton. Whites supported Trump by a big margin. The gender gap (24 points) was the largest ever.

These splits are inevitable when the federal government takes sides based on race, ethnicity, and gender and/or when groups come to expect the government to so so. The Obama administration took sides to an unprecedented degree. Thus, generally speaking, the splits deepened.

That’s one part of the Obama legacy that may well persist.


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