Clinton’s primary opponent echoed the theme: “I come from the white working class,” Bernie Sanders tweeted on Monday, “and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to the people where I came from.”
Meanwhile, Clinton’s single-minded focus on Republican-leaning college-educated white women meant she was reliant on soft support from a group that would rather, all things being equal, vote for the Republican candidate. When fresh doubts arose about Clinton, that group was all too ready to fly the coop. “One of Clinton’s strategies was to appeal to moderate Republican women by showing how disgusting Trump is,” Joe Dinkin of the Working Families Party, a left-wing party that endorsed Sanders in the primaries but worked for Clinton in the general election, told me. But, he said, “being a Republican voter means already having come to terms with voting for disgusting racists and sexists sometimes.”
Explanation No. 2: The “Obama coalition.” While Clinton’s campaign was focused on television advertising aimed at suburban swing voters, there were ample warning signs that African American and Millennial voters weren’t inspired by her candidacy. Polls and focus groups showed young people disliked both candidates; in interviews, black voters were unenthused. But Clinton’s campaign assumed they would show up for her simply because they were afraid of Trump.
Instead, many of them refused to fall in line. Eight percent of African American voters under 30 chose a third-party candidate, as did 5 percent of Latinos under 30, according to an analysis of the election results by the Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher. These “protest votes,” he argued, were enough to seal Clinton’s fate, even though this year’s electorate was just as diverse as 2012’s, and Trump did not do any better than Romney among young, minority voters.
Clinton, Belcher said, agreed with these voters on the issues they cared about, such as criminal justice and police brutality, but failed to reach them effectively. The campaign ignored warnings from Belcher and others, such as Florida Representative Alcee Hastings, that it wasn’t doing enough to reach out to black voters in particular.
The larger issue for the Democratic Party is that the coalition of voters that elected Obama has never come out to vote for Democrats when Obama wasn’t atop the ticket. “These younger black and brown voters who supported Obama were more his voters than Dem voters,” Belcher told me. “They had a stronger allegiance to him than a party, though clearly Dem in issue orientation.”
Explanation No. 3: The economic message. Bound up in both the above problems, critics contend, was a campaign message that focused more on social issues and embracing diversity—“stronger together,” “who we are”—than on themes of economic justice. “This [result] is the culmination of a long-term process that began quite a long time ago, of the Democratic Party walking away from working-class people and working-class issues over the years and becoming the party of the professional class,” Thomas Frank, author of Listen, Liberal!, said on a broadcast of NPR’s Diane Rehm Show on Monday. Frank’s book, which came out in March, urged the party to eschew corporatism and return to its economic-justice roots.