For all the turmoil, turbulence, and sheer reality-show melodrama of the 2016 presidential campaign, the actual results appear more likely to deepen long-standing trends in the electorate than to shatter them.
That’s been one of the paradoxes of this extraordinary election year. With both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton facing unfavorable opinions from a majority of the voters, this has been a demolition derby of a campaign that has left both sides sputtering toward the finish line with dented fenders and cracked windshields. Yet a race that has unfolded like no other still appears on track to reinforce and intensify the trends that have defined the competition for the White House over the past quarter-century.
The polarizing nature of Trump’s candidacy in particular is pushing many of the dynamics that have shaped the electoral competition since the 1990s to new heights. With his brusque message of defensive nationalism, he is well positioned to extend the GOP advantage in some places where it is already strong, both demographically (working-class whites and evangelical Christians) and geographically (non-metropolitan areas, Appalachian and Interior Plains states). But he appears certain to compound the party’s problems among voters (college-educated and secular whites, minorities, Millennials) and in places (the nation’s largest urban centers, coastal states) where the GOP was already facing crippling deficits. In particular, the distance between blue-collar white voters drawn to Trump with passionate intensity and both the college whites and minorities resisting him may reach record heights.