Last night the mainstream media gathered in breathless anticipation for the coronation ceremony of Hillary Clinton, prepared to emphasize two main storylines. First, Historic groundbreaking moment as US elects first woman president. And second, Latino voters turn out in droves to reject Trump’s message of hate.
On both counts the media was sorely disappointed, as Trump pulled off an improbable victory in the electoral college, capitalizing upon white working class voters in Midwestern swing states, most notably Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
The unexpected result left many pollsters, pundits, and prognosticators in shock. In many ways Trump’s victory is a reflection of the failures of polling that have been evidenced in such recent geopolitical events as the Brexit vote and Colombia’s national referendum on the peace agreement. Regardless of why it happened, it is relatively clear what happened.
Clinton’s much vaunted superior performance among women never materialized. Indeed exit polls show that she lost white women by a 53% to 43% margin. And the massive Latino vote that was supposed to materialize? Trump actually outperformed Mitt Romney, taking almost a third of the Latino vote.
He may, in fact, have been greatly aided by former rival Marco Rubio, who won an 8% victory in pivotal swing state Florida. Trump carried the state by a much smaller margin of about 1.5%, but many analysts in the Spanish language media have speculated that Obama’s recent moves to normalize relations with Cuba may have actually galvanized south Florida’s sizeable Cuban population in favor of Trump and the Republicans.
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While Trump won by a convincing margin in the electoral college, he actually remains behind in the popular vote by about 180,000 votes.
One of the peculiarities of this election was the presence of two external catalysts that produced a flurry of negative press for Clinton in the closing weeks of the campaign. One was Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Their steady stream of hacked emails provided just enough ammunition to keep alive a narrative about Clinton’s ethical lapses. There was never one knockout punch, but there were plenty of solid jabs.
We learned about considerable evidence of pay for play at the State Department. We learned that CNN contributor and former interim DNC chair Donna Brazile repeatedly forwarded debate questions to the Clinton campaign. We learned that the DNC, in clear violation of its own rules, had repeatedly conspired to sabotage the campaign of Bernie Sanders. We learned that Chelsea Clinton was privately expressing grave concerns regarding her parents use of the Clinton Foundation for various quid pro quo arrangements. And finally, we learned that Clinton dreamed of a Panamerican zone of open borders and free trade. While the leaks may have done little to dissuade Democrats from supporting her, they definitely resonated with Republicans and independents.
The second such catalyst involved James Comey’s announcement that he was reopening the FBI’s Clinton investigation, due to the discovery of thousands of emails on former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner’s computer. Weiner is the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin, who has been described as Clinton’s second daughter. He was forced to resign from Congress in 2011 following a sexting scandal, but mounted a disastrous comeback bid for New York mayor in 2013. The FBI was specifically investigating Weiner with respect to a sexting relationship that he had initiated with a 15 year old girl. During examination of Weiner’s laptop and cellphone, investigators discovered thousands of emails pertinent to the Clinton investigation.
Such a beautiful and important evening! The forgotten man and woman will never be forgotten again. We will all come together as never before
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 9, 2016
Wikileaks and the Weiner/Clinton/Abedin email scandal combined to create the perfect catalyst for Trump’s sudden rise in the polls. It planted seeds of doubt in independent voters regarding Clinton’s honesty, integrity, and judgment. Furthermore, it reminded voters that although Comey had declined to charge Clinton previously, he had characterized her judgment as extremely careless.
As election day drew to a close on Tuesday, all eyes were on three key swing states that were essential to a Trump victory: Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida. Trump had to win all three states to have a credible path to an electoral college victory. At 9:30pm, the Florida Senate race was called for Marco Rubio, and Trump took a sudden lead in the Florida vote.
For the next three hours he maintained a small lead of around 150,000 votes in Florida, while holding on to similar small margins in other swing states such as North Carolina, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Michigan. As the night wore on, another extremely encouraging sign emerged for Trump. Ohio, a major bellwhether, which had been predicted to be a catfight, had turned into a 10% blowout, indicating that pollsters had been wrong, and that the major networks’ exit polls had also undersampled Trump voters.
Clinton got a bit of relief when a tight race in Virginia was called in her favor. But the numbers were not breaking her way in the rustbelt states of Pennsylvania and Michigan, while the upper Midwest states of Minnesota and Wisconsin were also proving too close to call.
Clinton received a bit of good news with the announcement of victories in Colorado and Nevada, but it was not enough to offset Trump’s better than expected showing with working class white voters.
At 1 AM, when the networks finally called Wisconsin and then Pennsylvania for Trump, he had built an insurmountable lead in the electoral college, with tight races in Michigan and New Hampshire threatening to add even further to his lead in the electoral college.
The professional political class, and pollsters in particular, will have months of soul-searching ahead of them. How did they get it so wrong? How were they unable to accurately assess Trump’s stronger than predicted showing with women and Latinos? How did they so spectacularly inaccurately poll the key states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan?
Trump, for better or worse, has upended politics in the United States as we know it. The brash billionaire has put the elites in their place.