Yet all of that and a dime, as people used to say, would get Clinton on the subway. To the astonishment of old-school reporters, new-age data journalists, pollsters in both parties, and to a large extent each campaign, Trump will take the oath next January. I count myself among those not smart enough to see this coming.
As I wrote last week, there were some rumbles that Clinton’s team had taken too much for granted by pouring so much effort into Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina, three swing states she did not need to win—and ultimately did not. The price of that emphasis was extraordinarily little attention to Michigan and Wisconsin, which she did need to win, and also did not. The prescience prize may go to Brent McGoldrick, co-founder of the Republican voter targeting firm Deep Root Analytics, who told me just days before the vote: “This strategy does leave her exposed, particularly in Wisconsin.”
Yet that explanation doesn’t fully explain the outcome. Clinton also lost in Pennsylvania, which she pursued with enormous resources, including an unprecedented final weekend barrage that deployed to the state such stars as Bruce Springsteen, Katy Perry, and President and Michelle Obama. More drove this result than tactics.
The trigger was a genuine social upheaval: a mass uprising by the GOP’s “coalition of restoration.” Those are the older and blue-collar whites, evangelical Christians, and non-urban voters who in polls have consistently expressed both the most economic pessimism and cultural unease about a changing America. Though other data sources may eventually differ, Tuesday’s exit polls did not find that these voters stormed the ballot box in unusually large numbers; in fact, the exits showed the white share of the total vote continuing its decades-long decline as America diversifies.
Instead, those who did vote stampeded to Trump in insurmountable numbers. In particular, Trump beat Clinton among white voters without a college education by an astonishing 39 percentage points—a margin larger than Ronald Reagan’s against Walter Mondale in his 1984 landslide. Trump not only beat her by nearly 50 points among blue-collar white men, but by almost 30 points among non-college-educated white women. (Trump is president largely because white working-class women gave him double-digit margins in key states—a development that may occupy gender studies scholars for years.) Similarly, Trump captured more than three-fifths of rural voters nationwide; in the decisive Rustbelt states—Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and possibly Michigan—Clinton suffered death by a thousand cuts, as Trump improved over Mitt Romney’s 2012 performance almost everywhere outside the biggest cities.
Clinton could not quite offset this surge with a counter-mobilization of the Democrats’ competing “coalition of transformation” revolving around minority voters, Millennials, and college-educated white women, most of them living in major metropolitan areas. With all those groups, Clinton posted advantages that were solid, but not quite as large as pre-election polls predicted. Likewise, in most metropolitan areas, she delivered entirely respectable margins. But in the decisive states, she didn’t grow enough to offset Trump’s non-metro wave. In the places that mattered most, one side was just more determined to win.