How Clinton apathy delivered the presidency for Trump

How Clinton apathy delivered the presidency for Trump


Keiran Pedley looks at some initial numbers suggesting a lack of enthusiasm for Clinton handed Trump the White House on Tuesday.

After Tuesday night’s astonishing victory for Donald Trump you get the feeling that the fallout has only just begun. Analysts and pundits on all sides of the politial spectrum are trying to come to terms with what happened and there is likely to be an intense political fallout on the Democratic side with far reaching, long term implications for the party.

So what do we know? I have taken a look at some of the initial voting numbers which suggest a lack of enthusiasm for Clinton delivered the White House (astonishingly) for Donald Trump rather than his own popularity.

The ‘horse race’

If we look at the national popular vote much has already been made of the fact that Clinton actually won more votes than Trump. The count is ongoing so exact figures will change even if this fact itself will not. The below table shows the popular vote shares at the time of writing compared to 2012.



Interestingly, Trump actually got less votes than Mitt Romney in 2012 but this is far outweighed by the fact that Clinton got more than 6 million fewer votes than Obama. America’s general dissatisfaction with both candidates is clearly on display too as we observe significant vote increases for other candidates such as Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.

My initial reading of these numbers is that far from a ‘working class revolution’ instigated by Donald Trump, who actually achieved less votes than Romney in 2012, the outcome of the 2016 election can be best explained by a lack of enthusiasm for Clinton and the inability of Democrats to get people to vote for her. The Republican vote seems to have held up reasonably well but the Democrats are missing more than 6 million votes from 2012. This may come down as the vote is counted but it is the debate over those missing votes that will surely dominate the Democrats coming post mortem for months and years to come.

Examining the ‘rust belt’

But if Clinton actually won the popular vote then how do we explain her Electoral College defeat? We know that Clinton’s so-called rust-belt ‘firewall’ was breached but what do the numbers tell us? The below tables show the vote shares and totals for the major party candidates for the past four elections in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Again, in some cases these numbers will not be final for 2016.

As you might expect there is a different story to tell in different states. However, in many cases again, it is lost Democrat votes rather than surges in support for Donald Trump that explain Clinton’s defeat.

Wisconsin (10 votes)

This trend is especially evident in Wisconsin where the Republican vote barely moved from 2012 but Clinton’s vote saw a significant drop handing Trump the state.


Michigan (16 votes)

Michigan is similar too. Trump increases Romney’s vote but he is still behind George W Bush whilst Clinton scores significantly worse than both Obama and also John Kerry, who actually carried the state over Bush in 2004.


Ohio (18 votes)

A similar pattern is observed in Ohio. A modest increase for Trump (again with less votes than Bush in 2004) appears less significant than Clinton’s lost votes when compared to Obama’s tally in 2012.


Pennsylvania (20 votes)

In Pennsylvania things are slightly different. Trump does seem to do much better than Romney, McCain and even Bush whilst Clinton posts similar votes to Obama in 2012 but nowhere near his strong performance in 2008. This shows we can’t underplay the appeal of Trump but nevertheless it hardly seems he has been swept to power on a tide of popularity in the mid-west either.


The above numbers do not explain Trump’s victory entirely. More work will need to be done to explain whether the Democratic vote stayed at home or whether it did turn up but voted for other candidates instead. Based on what we know it would be reasonable to suggest that both forces were at play. We also need to further examine which demographic groups delivered victory for Trump.

However, the important fact to grasp is that if Clinton had matched Obama’s 2012 vote in the above states then she would have won the White House. Therefore it would appear that apathy (or animosity) towards Clinton rather than Trump’s personal popularity explains why Trump is now the U.S. president-elect. This is likely to only add fuel to the fire for those suggesting that Clinton was the wrong nominee for the Democrats this cycle.

Keiran presents the Polling Matters podcast and tweets about politics and elections @Keiranpedley


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