Why Hillary Clinton Lost

Why Hillary Clinton Lost November 10, 2016

My friend Tony Paganelli wrote the following on Facebook, and I thought that it needs to be read widely, so with his permission, I am sharing it here.

I think of myself as a student of politics, but I was very wrong about yesterday. I read all the data. I studied polls. But how were the polls so wrong? I wanted to know, so I spent some time poring over numbers today to figure out what I’d missed.

Turns out the simplest solutions are often the right solutions. Hillary lost because Democrats stayed home. Full stop.

Maybe they got complacent because her polling numbers were so high. Maybe they didn’t like her and sat this one out. Maybe they voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson or Bernie Sanders or Mickey Mouse. Maybe they were busy or maybe it rained. A scientifically conducted poll means nothing if the people it is sampling just stay home on Election Day.

There are lots of statistics that matter about voting trends of non-college-educated white women and so forth, but here’s the one statistic that really counts: Donald Trump won yesterday despite getting fewer votes than Mitt Romney got in 2012, and despite getting fewer votes than John McCain got in 2008. Both of them lost, but both of them would have easily beaten Hillary yesterday by more than Trump did. Plain and simple:

2008 Obama: 69.5m
2012 Obama: 65.9m
2012 Romney: 60.9m
2008 McCain: 59.9m
2016 Clinton: 59.1m
2016 Trump: 59m

So with all due respect to the stunning upset pulled by Donald Trump, he didn’t win the election. Hillary lost it. There was no wholesale switching of sides by Democrats who voted for Trump. There was no overwhelming tide of unseen or uncounted or unanticipated Republican voters coming out of the woodwork to carry Trump to victory. He did not lead a wave of new voters who put him over the top. In fact, he underperformed both McCain and Romney, both of whom were conventional Republican candidates.

Trump’s get-out-the-vote operation was as bad as everyone thought it was and he should have lost. But it didn’t matter because Hillary’s ground game apparently was just as bad, a fact made worse because the system disproportionally rewards the winners of the sparsely populated states where Trump’s rural voters live, who are far better represented in the electoral college than voters in big states with big cities that went for Hillary. A vote from Wyoming counts a lot more than a vote from California. (Thus, a popular victory and an electoral defeat.)

You want to win elections? Get your people to the polls. Don’t boo, vote.

 For more on this topic, take a look at the BBC article, “Why Don’t Americans Vote?” It actually came up in my class yesterday, in connection with the point about getting different perspectives. While American media outlets have been commenting on the record turnout, that needs to be put into perspective on just how low it typically is. It is a comparable issue to how Americans sometimes think their gas prices are high, which they may be compared to a few months earlier, but which are incredibly low compared to almost any other country. We need to listen to the perspectives of those outside of our country, our circle of friends, our immediate context, if we want to understand ourselves and our situation.
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  • Pliny the in Between

    Thank you for sharing that data. It is an important perspective that progressives need to acknowledge. The mood in Indy is useful info too since I’ll be there very soon.

    • I hope you enjoy your visit!

      • Pliny the in Between

        I’m sure I will – In fact, I grew up there and met my beloved in the Butler-Tarkington area.

        • In that case, welcome back to the neighborhood! If you will be around the Butler campus, do stop in and say hello!

  • Chris Crawford

    The failure of the DNC/Clinton effort here was Marcia Clark vs. OJ Simpson bad. A case of overconfidence and a bit of incompetence. I have to think the DNC’s handling of Bernie Sanders – blatant manipulation to keep him from becoming a real threat – has quite a bit to do with the fact that younger voters didn’t show up.

    The Republicans are uneasy winners right now. Trump is not what they wanted, in fact someone they unsuccessfully tried to prevent. But their base felt the manipulation as well, and this time, the outsider had the money and personality to thwart them. I have a feeling there’ll be many prices to pay they haven’t yet anticipated.

    • Al Cruise

      “Trump is not what they wanted” Agreed. In four years,Trump may be the catalyst that brings progressives out to vote in record numbers. Republicans know they are vastly outnumbered.

  • histrogeek

    It’s like the third party voters who rightly are being scrutinized for their choice. “I don’t like what I seeing, so I’ll pretend that my choice is immune from consequences.”
    Although the “people stayed home” issue needs to be tempered with the reality of serious GOP efforts to suppress the vote in several states especially Ohio and North Carolina. In many cases people were forced to jump through too many hoops for them to realistically have a chance to vote.

    • Alan Christensen

      It will likely be awhile before we have all the data on voter suppression, but my hunch is that was a big factor, especially in Wisconsin and North Carolina, where voter ID laws have been enacted most vigorously.

  • histrogeek

    Also on the rural/urban issue of the Electoral College. I remember in my dim and distant college years, whenever we studied the expansion of the franchise in nineteenth-century European history (which usually just met Germany, France, and the UK), there was always the caveat that whatever new system was introduced, rural, aristocrat-controlled areas were disproportionately represented. Correctly this was seen as a sleazy way for the powers-that-be to control the rising working class.
    And today we continue this entirely shameful tradition except change “rising working class” to “urban minorities.”

  • Michael I

    We really shouldn’t be comparing vote totals yet. There are literally millions of votes that have not been counted yet. Unfortunately mostly in California and Washington state where they don’t affect the electoral vote.

    (Nate Cohn (with Upshot at NY Times) estimated yesterday afternoon that there were about 7 million votes still to be counted.)

  • jh

    Nope. I don’t blame HRC. I blame the American voters who were so lazy that they couldn’t do their civic duty. No shifting the blame onto anyone else. No victim blaming. People should own up to their actions or their lack of actions. No excuses. When no one is looking is when you know the character of a man.

    I went to vote. I didn’t give a damn that the polling numbers were so high for HRC. I didn’t give a damn that I lived in a solid blue state (yep – my state went for HRC because we have rational human beings as opposed to racists and bigots and nasty Christians.)

    This is about a bunch of people who couldn’t be bothered. Now, they got what they wanted.

    It was a very simple choice – Trump or Hillary. It’s worth it to skip a day of work to ensure that you vote. Why? Because the economic ramifications of your vote will have far more impact than 1 day’s worth of wages. Why? Because you are going to have to live with yourself and the excuses you made to get out of voting don’t really cut it when you see the effects of a Trump/republican victory.

    So stop blaming HRC. It was the duty of every single American citizen to vote. Sadly, roughly 50% decided to fool around rather than do the one thing that is the greatest thing we can do for our country.

    (seriously – In a choice between Hillary and Trump, are liberals still going to whine about Bernie. Do they really think a socialist would have won? You guys do realize that most americans think that socialism is equivalent to killing babies and worshipping Satan, don’t you? This proved my point – that it was always about choosing either HRC or Trump. What the liberal voters who hesitated because “Clinton is a war hawk” or “Bernie is the true progressive” did was ensure that Trump won. I put it in this analogy… the liberal voter is the moron at the food counter who is trying to figure out which of two sandwiches is healthier while pining for the salad that was thrown out. While they are dithering, the republican voters go “fuck it” and take both sandwiches leaving the liberal hungry and without any sandwiches.)

    And all these same progressives are going to whine and retreat to their little homes. They are going to forget their angst about Hillary and they are going to cooperate with Trump. Why? Because they are progressive losers. They don’t have the guts to hold a principled stand. They will be the first to extend that hand because it’s the “nice” thing to do. Never mind the real victims who are going to lose everything because of liberal stupidity and apathy. How many more elections do liberals have to lose in order for them to start voting consistently? If Reagan didn’t do it, If Bush Jr didn’t do it, do you really think that Trump will? I doubt it.

    For what it’s worth, I think we do need to re-tune the electoral college. We should favor those states that actually contribute to the country (cough donor states) over states that only take money from the donor states (I call them welfare states such as KS). If a president elect get’s the electoral college but not the popular vote, I want them to get a two year probationary term to prove their case. Then, run again and get that majority popular vote + electoral vote.
    Once again – the candidate that won more of the popular votes lost. That = tyranny of the minority whites. (That’s why there won’t be electoral college reform. White people want to keep their power from blacks and other non-whites.)

  • As poster Michael I said below, these conclusions on total vote counts are premature. By the time counting is done, Trump will be ahead in absolute numbers of both McCain and Romney, though Clinton may not match either of Obama’s totals.

  • Jon Hesley

    If one buys this analysis, then the progs will lose the next one too. It was not a turnout of (D) that failed to deliver. It was the (D) betraying blue collar for Wall Street, and making those who Occupy Wall Street vote for it in HRC

  • Pliny the in Between

    I might just do that if I get my task list done in time.

  • D. Smets

    On the evening two days after the 2012 election, the numbers were 60 million for Obama, 57.5 million for Romney. So there were still more than 8 million uncounted votes (5.9 million votes for Obama and 3.4 millions votes for Romney). Perhaps wait for the final figures before comparing them?

  • Corrupt_Sloth

    I blame the DNC, not voters; just compare the electoral college projected map and compare it to the results for the electoral college map for the final election results. So many states were set on a solid/lean-DEM/Safe DEM, about/roughly 85% became a RED state instead of a blue state. People are tired of how the DNC is running their show, and they are tired of the corruption within the DNC. I have conversed with other Dem(s) and if you asked them, that’s what they will say. (Depending on how loyal they are).