Now that was a shock. Pierre Trudeau once said that living next door to the United States is like being a mouse sharing the same bed as an elephant: no matter how little the elephant moves, you can’t help but feel every shift it makes. So it’s only fair to ask, “What the hell just happened?”
If I were a US citizen, I would have voted for Hillary, despite her excess baggage. However, we have to deal with the cards that have been dealt, so let’s analyze why this took place.
The first thing that pops out is that Trump’s victory came from heavy turnout amongst white voters. The New York Times has published a pair of maps showing by county the vote swing to the GOP from 2012 compared with the respective concentration of white people. It closely matches the US Midwest, Rust Belt and the Appalachian region. Some counties did move away to the Democrats, but that was in states where it made no difference. What could have caused this swing to him?
Taking a look at what has been written so far, there are some demographic and economic factors that have come into play:
- 20% of all men in the US between the ages of 20 and 65 have not had paying work in the last year, and 7 million men between the ages of 25 and 55 are no longer even looking for a job. This is huge, and mostly arose from globalization causing many factories to close in the Midwest, and rural counties in general have gone into economic decline.
- Baby boomers started reaching retirement age in 2011, and this will continue to roll out until 2028. Aging leads to greater needs for health care, and the Affordable Care Act‘s implementation has been leading to higher insurance premiums, together with the IRS assessing penalties for not having coverage. Since they don’t have Canadian-style coverage, this can become quite expensive.
- Real per capital disposable incomes have hardly increased since 2007, and income inequality has become extremely pronounced, as noted by a report from the Brookings Institution.
- The Democrats’ path to success in the last two elections has come from a coalition of minorities, millennials, women, gays and lesbians, especially in the more urbanized states. Advice given this year to that party’s strategists not to ignore the white working class appears to have been ignored.
Now Trump may be an arrogant bastard, but he appears to have been an evil genius in recognizing that the above factors have intersected in making a significant group of voters feel that they have had a raw deal, and that their concerns deserve attention as well. The extremists among this group of voters have led professional politicians to treat them as being racists and misogynists, but that is a superficial analysis that ignores the root causes. Trump appears to have addressed this in a rather outrageous, but still effective, manner.
There are other issues to consider:
- This campaign has been quite abrasive, which has caused total voter turnout to decline from 2012. Both sides seem to have declined equally, but the distribution of the remaining votes has had significant and varying impact on the different states.
- The Democrats’ dependence on the more urban areas appears not to have been matched by their ground game, as their decline in turnout appears to have been concentrated there. That was disastrous.
These results will lead to some very interest developments these next few months. Stay tuned.