The 2016 election: the year of the missing voters

I have repeatedly warned you over the years that “democracies die from indifference and neglect.”

The 2014 midterm election saw the lowest voter turnout since 1942, in the midst of World War II. Voter turnout in 2014 was the lowest since WWII (Arizona was only slightly better, beating out the abberational year of 1998, or it would have also been the lowest voter turnout since 1942).

The 2016 general election held last week was the lowest voter turnout in 20 years, at just over 55%. Voter turnout at 20-year low in 2016.

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Arizona as well saw a substantial decline in voter turnout in 2016 for presidential elections this century. There are still ballots being verified and counted, but as of this morning, the Secretary of State says voter turnout stands at 67.73% (this number will go up slightly).

In 2012, Arizona voter turnout was 74.36%, in 2008 it was 77.69%, in 2004 it was 77.10%, in 2000 it was 71.76%, and in 1996 it was 63.7%.

Despite this 20-year low voter turnout, Hillary Clinton still won the popular vote.

Hillary Clinton is now the second Democratic presidential nominee in the five elections held this century to win the popular vote, but to be denied the presidency based upon the archaic electoral college. Al Gore in 2000 is the other. The last time this had happened was in 1888. Republicans have won the popular vote in only one of the five elections held this century, in 2004, and only that one time since 1992. Clinton’s Substantial Popular-Vote Win:

By the time all the ballots are counted, Clinton seems likely to be ahead by more than 2 million votes and more than 1.5 percentage points, according to my Times colleague Nate Cohn. She will have won by a wider percentage margin than not only Al Gore in 2000 but also Richard Nixon in 1968 and John F. Kennedy in 1960.

The reason that the Constitution calls for the electoral college, rather than the direct popular election of the president, is that most of the nation’s Founding Fathers were afraid of direct democracy. The Reason for the Electoral College:

James Madison worried about what he called “factions,” which he defined as groups of citizens who have a common interest in some proposal that would either violate the rights of other citizens or would harm the nation as a whole. Madison’s fear – which Alexis de Tocqueville later dubbed “the tyranny of the majority” – was that a faction could grow to encompass more than 50 percent of the population, at which point it could “sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.” Madison has a solution for tyranny of the majority: “A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking.”

As Alexander Hamilton writes in “The Federalist Papers,” the Constitution is designed to ensure “that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” The point of the Electoral College is to preserve “the sense of the people,” while at the same time ensuring that a president is chosen “by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice.”

These “elitist” justifications clearly no longer apply to our modern-day American  electorate. The electoral college just produced the exact opposite result that the Founding Fathers intended with the election of Donald Trump. The Founding Fathers must be turning over in their graves.

Donald Trump himself, when he thought that Mitt Romney was winning the popular vote but losing the electoral vote to Barack Obama in 2012, tweeted this series of tweets:

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Trump is now singing a different tune.

Paul Waldman of the Washington Post analyzes, Why did Trump win? In part because voter turnout plunged.

This summer the Pew Research Center reported higher levels of interest and engagement than in any election they had studied over the last two decades.

Yet voter turnout actually declined. What happened?

First, let’s look at the numbers. While there are still a few votes left to count, the latest totals show just under 120 million votes cast for president. That’s down from 2012, which was in turn down from 2008 — and don’t forget that the population is always increasing. While turnout hit a recent peak of 61.6 percent of the voting-eligible population, this year it was only 56 percent.

* * *

Right now, Republicans have an interest in characterizing Trump’s win as the result of a vast outpouring of support . . . But that’s plainly not true. While Trump managed to gain an electoral college victory, not only did he get fewer votes than Hillary Clinton — a fact that, remarkably, seems to merit nothing more than a footnote in almost every discussion of the election — he got fewer votes than Mitt Romney in 2012, fewer votes than John McCain in 2008, and fewer votes than George W. Bush in 2004. In total, fewer than 26 percent of eligible American voters cast their ballots for the man who will occupy the Oval Office come January.

* * *

[O]verall, Trump had just about as weak a performance as you can have and still become president.

What’s also important here is how poorly Hillary Clinton did. Clinton got 6 million fewer votes than Barack Obama did in 2012, and nearly 10 million fewer than he did in 2008[.]

To simplify things into their broadest terms, in recent elections the Republican always gets around 60 million votes; the question is whether the Democrat can bring out more voters or not. If they can, as Obama did twice, they win. If they can’t, as Clinton and John Kerry failed to, they lose.

So why did this happen? There are many explanations and many factors that likely played some part. First, Clinton didn’t inspire the same kind of enthusiasm among Democrats as Obama had.

Second, it seems likely that FBI Director James B. Comey’s well-timed announcement that the bureau was investigating Anthony Weiner’s laptop, leading to days of screaming headlines about “CLINTON EMAIL REVELATIONS!!!” led some voters to conclude that both candidates were corrupt and there wasn’t much point in going to the polls.

Third, this was the first presidential election since conservatives on the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, which allowed Republican-controlled states to pass a series of measures meant to suppress the votes of those who were likely to vote Democratic, particularly African Americans, Latinos and college students. In some of those states on which Trump built his victories, Republican-designed voter suppression laws, including ID mandates, limits on early voting and a reduction in polling locations, seem to have had their intended effect. As Ari Berman noted:

27,000 votes currently separate Trump and Clinton in Wisconsin, where 300,000 registered voters, according to a federal court, lacked strict forms of voter ID. Voter turnout in Wisconsin was at its lowest levels in 20 years and decreased 13 percent in Milwaukee, where 70 percent of the state’s African-American population lives.

And the Trump campaign itself had an explicit strategy to demoralize Democrats, developed by Trump campaign CEO Stephen Bannon . . . How much credit they can take is open to debate, but there’s no doubt that they got the result they were after.

The New York TimesThomas Edsall adds:

“It appears that the Democratic campaigns modeled for turnout levels similar to ’08 and ’12, but when those groups didn’t materialize, they were essentially stuck, losing key battleground states due to low Democratic core group turnout,” Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster, and other Public Opinion Strategies staffers wrote in a smart post-election analysis. “Simply put, Clinton did not perform like Obama and was unable to pull Democratic coalitional groups to the polls.”

Clinton held an 80-point advantage among African-Americans, but was unable to match Obama’s 87-point edge in 2012 or his 91 points in 2008. She won 65 percent of Latino voters, compared with the 71 percent who voted for Obama in 2012. She won 28 percent of non-college white voters to Trump’s 67 percent, the largest gap in this demographic since the early 1980s, according to Pew. Moreover, she lost whites with college degrees 49-45. Among millennials, she won 54 percent of voters aged 18 to 29, compared with 60 percent for Obama in 2012.

[2016-Youth-RaceEvery election year, the folks at the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement take a look at the youth vote—citizens aged 18-29. CIRCLE’s preliminary estimates were based on the National Exit Poll and state exit polls conducted by Edison Research. These put the youth turnout at about 24 million. That is right at 50 percent of the eligible citizens in that age group, a better showing than the 45.2 percent who turned out in 2012 but below the 51 percent of 2008. Overall, an estimated 56.8 percent of the total eligible population voted this year. A Census survey released early next year will firm up these estimates. (h/t Daily Kos)]

As the leader of the Democratic coalition, Clinton was unable to get maximum production from her diverse supporters, and at the same time her efforts to appeal to individual demographic groups fueled the retaliatory  backlash that Trump capitalized on to make incremental but decisive gains.

* * *

The results in the rust belt: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and, it appears, Michigan — all carried by Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 — went for Trump. These states account for 70 Electoral College votes, more than enough to have produced a different outcome on Tuesday.

Clinton’s heavy investment in building support among women produced a one-point improvement on Obama’s 2012 record: according to exit polls, she won women by 12 points (54-42), compared to Obama’s 11 points (55-44). Obama lost men by 7 points in 2012, 52-45, while Clinton lost them by 12 points, 53-41.

* * *

Many structural factors eroded Democratic margins and contributed to their Electoral College defeat, including the emergence of deepening schisms in the electorate. One of the most striking elements of the campaign is how alienated the Clinton and Trump electorates are from each other.

Adam Bonica, a political scientist at Stanford, used Crowdpac to pose questions to voters that allowed him to explore this gulf in a study of the views of the supporters of all the candidates.

Bonica said in an email that many of the responses suggested that Trump loyalists could be described as “authoritarian/nationalists.” Nearly nine out of ten Trump supporters agreed that “people living in the U.S. should follow American customs and learn English,” the single strongest predictor of Trump support. One out of four Clinton supporters shared this view.

An even larger 97 percent of Trump voters agreed that “patriotism and protecting our national identity is important,” compared with 55 percent of Clinton backers. 15 percent of Trump voters said the country should offer a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants, compared with 81 percent of Clinton supporters.

* * *

According to Mason Williams, a history professor at Albright College, the failure of Democratic leaders to address the erosion of local institutions in the wake of capital mobility, disinvestment and austerity resulted in the party’s setbacks in the Midwest. In that region, Williams wrote:

Trump exploited the moral and psychic anxieties stemming from very real working-class precarity by mobilizing a white-nationalist identity politics. The political agency of the white working class was not channeled into a project of moderate national reform, even to the degree it had been during the Obama years. Instead, it issued forth as a primal scream of despair and rage that will reverberate around the world and down through history.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Senator Sanders issued a statement that followed up on this theme:

Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media. People are tired of working longer hours for lower wages, of seeing decent paying jobs go to China and other low-wage countries, of billionaires not paying any federal income taxes and of not being able to afford a college education for their kids — all while the very rich become much richer.

* * *

Clinton’s failure to gain a sufficiently strong foothold among her essential constituencies in the face of Trump’s incendiary tactics speaks to the complexity of the decision making a woman faces when she attempts to corral her own supporters. For Clinton, picking up those few needed votes in the face of multiple obstacles proved impossible. But it is also true that this is the second time in the past five presidential elections that the popular vote winner has been the Electoral College loser, which had last occurred in 1888. Should this continue to happen, it would begin to call into question the legitimacy of our current system.

Only in America can the candidate who wins the most votes not win the election. This is a perversely undemocratic outcome.

37 thoughts on “The 2016 election: the year of the missing voters”

  1. Ed,

    No disrespect intended but as a Green Party candidate, all you do is take votes away from the Democrats. If you want to run against me as a Green candidate in 2018, let me know because I will collect your signatures.

    • OK John, behave you’re both pretty girls .

      What a class act your chubby little face turned out to be.

  2. Two Comments.
    1) Your numbers for turnout are incomplete. I just heard a news story that there are still 200,000 uncounted ballots in AZ, with turnout at 70.3 % So turnout should end up 75-76% In AZ. Please also note that as of right now there are 4.3 million uncounted votes in California as well. I suspect that turnout in the end will be at least
    2) Lets do something about this in Arizona. Take a look at the cook voting tracker . Arizona is one of the few states that shifted significantly Blue in this election! I take this as excellent news for us on the ground. What are you going to do? I personally think that for some of this shift we can lay thanks to the big Latino voter registration drive, (One Arizona) and the motivation to kick Arpaio out. Let’s do it again. Let’s get involved. I personally am making voter registration and voter protection my number 1 priority. What’s yours?

  3. Digging up bones. Hand wringing. Finger pointing.

    Be intellectually honest.

    Clinton lost because some people wanted HRC to get firsties more than they wanted the White House.

    The end.

    Need proof? President Elect Donald J. F’n Trump.

    You can dig through numbers and percentages and millennials and tweets and who showed up and who didn’t and who got the popular vote until the pending Trump recession hits, it’s all crap.

    Clinton was a fatally flawed candidate. Not because of fake scandals, because she’s a Republican, and even Republicans are sick of Republicans.

    If I ever see Bill or Hillary or Chelsea or their pet dogs or a neo-liberal ever again my voice will be loud and merciless.

    I don’t care about her supporters feelings, because we’re going to be dealing with the damage from Trump, Bannon, Ryan, and Pence for decades.

    Fire everyone at the DNC. Put Sanders and Warren in charge. Clintonistas need to get on board with reality and stop blaming others.

    And for god’s sake, in four years when the Trump recession is in full downswing, when the rest of the world has shunned us, when you can’t find a tomato at the store because there are no immigrants to pick our food and when LGBT folks and Muslims and anyone who isn’t white is afraid to leave the house, and when SCOTUS looks like a Klan rally, DO NOT ask people if they wish they’d have voted for Clinton.

    Because you’ll be disappointed in the answer.

    • “And for god’s sake, in four years when the Trump recession is in full downswing, when the rest of the world has shunned us, when you can’t find a tomato at the store because there are no immigrants to pick our food and when LGBT folks and Muslims and anyone who isn’t white is afraid to leave the house, and when SCOTUS looks like a Klan rally, DO NOT ask people if they wish they’d have voted for Clinton.”

      I see this same sentiment being expressed by people on different blogs. The thing I notice most is the tone indicates the writer will be a bit disappointed if it doesn’t happen they they describe. Will you be disappointed if your predictions do not come to fruition, Not Tom?

    • Tom, I’m willing to dig up bones at least for awhile. There’s no hope for any of us if the Democratic establishment elites and their flunkies and followers are not challenged while pushing their own fictitious narrative. Then it’s just business as usual.

      I may be a dreamer, but now that the House of Clinton has been hit by Cat-5 hurricane, I would like to see some introspection and a willingness to pass the torch. I would like to see them bust their nuts to take the House and the Senate in 2018. They owe it to us.

      • Hey Liza, we’re pretty much on the same page. I just can’t listen to yet another “why Clinton lost” discussion that doesn’t start with “First, we ran the wrong candidate”.

    • “The impending Trump recession.” eh? Keep dreaming.

      Of leading indicators, the stock market is the best. It is up $5 trillion anticipating the exit of Obama policies from the presidency.

      If Trump succeeds in implementing his tax reforms, knocks down the climate hoax and Obamacare regulations, focuses immigration enforcement on criminals and avoids a trade war, you could see an economic explosion of the likes unheard of in history. And, this it what it looks like he intends to do.

  4. The MSM spent months telling the voting public that Trump did not have a prayer at winning the presidency. Clinton was a slam dunk. They also told them that one candidate was a racist, bigot, sexist, homophobe while the other was a pathological liar, engaging in a play for play scheme, and jeopardized national security. That same voting public assigned derogatory labels by the opposing sides of the political spectrum based solely on which candidate they are supporting. Yet, here we are with you and a number of media outlets looking for explanations as to why turnout is low. This would be hilarious were it not so sad.

    Now one side is attempting to question the validity of the results based on a totally irrelevant argument. The result of the country wide popular vote. Attempting to infer that Clinton would be the president elect had the electoral college not existed is simply a ploy on the part of the losing side since it cannot be shown, by anyone, what effect a popular vote system would have on the geographic, demographic, or any other voting factor.

    But, if it helps to sooth the wounds, please feel free to continue to hpothesize.

  5. just saw robbie mooks picture on milk carton. can anyone tell me what ann kirkpatrick’s campaign was about besides boots?

  6. AZB, 5 1/2 months ago, you were supportive of a “anti-democratic” device, super delegates, even saying that Bernie had “lost” based on popular plus superdelegate counts (and Republicans don’t have them. So which party is more democratic?)

    Personally I favor getting rid of the electoral college (keep the state structure and have all states be like Maine and Nebraska, which can split), superdelegates, and the awful gerrymandering the Republican foisted off on us. We should also have same day registration, and reinstate the Voters Rights Act.

    And John K:

    68% support a path to citizenship (according to Fox News)
    81% support universal background checks for gun purchases
    73% believe in climate change
    71% support increase the minimum wage

    So yes, please let’s run on the issues. HRC’s campaign was mainly:

    1) Donald Trump is bad. So very bad. So so very very bad!
    2) The elites (news media, Hollywood, Wall Street, Silicon Valley) love me.
    3) I am experienced.
    4) Did I mention I am not the evil dangerous Trump?

    And finally, the “popular” vote trend–true. But’s here’s a trend over the past 40 years (re point 3 on the list above):
    “Outsider” Dems (Carter, B. Clinton, Obama) win (although Carter lost reelection)
    “Insider” Dems: (Mondale, Gore, Kerry, H. Clinton) lose.

  7. Another why-she-lost theory:

    The advertising decisions that helped doom Hillary Clinton
    By Jim Tankersley November 12 at 3:44 PM

    In the closing weeks of the presidential race, Hillary Clinton’s campaign — and the outside groups that supported it — aired more television advertisements in Omaha than in the states of Michigan and Wisconsin combined. The Omaha ads were in pursuit of a single electoral vote in a Nebraska congressional district, which Clinton did not ultimately win, and also bled into households in Iowa, which also she did not win. Michigan and Wisconsin add up to 26 electoral votes; she appears not to have won them, either.

    Strategic decisions can make all the difference in a close race. Clinton lost the White House (despite winning the popular vote) to Republican Donald Trump on the strength of about 100,000 votes in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. That is the definition of a close race.

    But a review of Democrats’ advertising decisions at the end of the race suggests Clinton and her allies weren’t playing to win a close one. They were playing for a blowout. And it cost them.

    Clinton and the groups backing her aired three times as many ads as Trump and his supporters over the course of the general election, according to data from the Wesleyan Media Project. Despite that advantage, the Democrats left several key states essentially unprotected on the airwaves as the race came to a close.

    From Oct. 14 through 30, they ran almost no ads in Wisconsin, Michigan and Virginia, and they aired less than half as many ads as Trump and his backers did in Colorado. By virtue of their spending choices, the pro-Clinton groups were essentially acting as if she had locked up as many as 248 electoral votes already. That is, of course, more than she would end up claiming.

    The Clinton camp…was playing for a blowout. They aired almost 3,000 ads in Arizona, 3,600 in Iowa and nearly 10,000 in Ohio. They were hoping for a landslide-case scenario of 375 electoral votes…

    … By playing so aggressively for a blowout, Democrats allowed the Trump team to poach two of their must-win states. A swing of 50,000 voters from Trump to Clinton across Wisconsin, Michigan (which has still not been called, officially) and Pennsylvania would have tipped the race to Clinton. There’s no guarantee that shifting pro-Clinton ads from Phoenix and Des Moines to Detroit, Milwaukee and Erie would have done the trick. But it might have.

  8. I agree that the Electoral College is an anachronism that should be eliminated, but amending the Constitution is not easy. However, my understanding of why it exists had nothing to do with elitism. From what I have read in the past, the primary reason for it was the slowness with which the results of vote tallying took place. Whatever the reason, it does need to go.

    On another note, I realize Hillary lost and it is a hard pill to swallow, but don’t you think it is a tad childish to keep trying to come up with ways to put a positive spin on her loss by demeaning anyone who didn’t vote for her. Not only is it childish, it is rather silly. I think even you have to see the foolishness of claiming that all Hillary supporters are smart, educated, beautiful people and all Trump supporters are stupid, uneducated, ugly people. It may be consoling to say things like that but common sense tells you it is more complicated than that.

    • It is you who say those things. I did not.

      If you are referring to the exit polling in the report that found Trump supporters to be authoritarian, I hate to break it to you but there is over 50 years of political science research into conservatives being authoritarian. A good summary of the research is in John Dean’s book, Conservatives Without Conscience. You of course will not read it, and if you do, you will reject the science.

      • My comments to you about liberals constantly reminding themselves how superior they are to conservatives goes back in reference to a few of the messages you have recently posted. You can deny it, but the fact is that liberals, post-election, nearly always spend a lot of time and effort digging up the statistics that tell them they are better educated, make more money, attend better schools, pay more taxes and a dozen other indicators, al of which “prove” how superior they are to conservatives. And it is ALWAYS the case when they lose an election. You have done it three times on these pages and then deny it when I point it out.

        I also think that liberals give conservatives a pretty good run for their money in terms of authoritarianism when they have the chance to excercise power. Whether it is how much water your toilet uses, how many miles to the gallon your car must get, how many gallons of water per minute can flow through your shower head, and a thousand other demands made with the the authority of government, liberals mandate it and people will accept whether they like it or not. Core to liberals belief system is that individuals MUST sacrifice for the greater good. And if the individuals won’t agree, then the way to get there is to be authoritarian and force them to comply.

  9. Keep focusing on wishful thinking explanations for your defeat and ignoring the fact that the Democrat Party has gone too far to the left. In fact, go further to the left by supporting national health care , post-birth abortion and a 100 percent tax rate for income over 200,000 dollars. Do the full left wing Monty.

    • In the past 24 years, Republicans have won the popular vote for president only once, and but for Bush v. Gore and the electoral college, Bush would not have been running for reelection in 2004. Democrats won the popular vote for the Senate while not taking back the Senate, “Republicans [narrowly] captured the majority of the “popular vote” for the House on Election Day, collecting about 56.3 million votes while Democrats got about 53.2 million.” Votes are still being counted.

      You demonstrate what a complete idiot you are when you say that Democrats support “post-birth abortion” (that would be infanticide), and a “100 percent tax rate for incomes over $200,000” — something no one has ever proposed. If you actually believe your hysterical hyperbole, you are unfit to serve in public office, but then we already knew this.

      • Obama’s biological father proposed a 100% income tax in an economics journal.

        Picketty, Saenz, et al have built a sophisticated mountain of research that purports that the “revenue maximizing tax rate” is 73%. France bought into this horse manure, adopted it and even gave Picketty the “Legion de Honneur.” Look what it has done for them.

      • I was clearly being facetious but I think you knew that and you were just trying to discredit me by misrepresenting my message. Or may not.
        But alternately, maybe Hillary’ loss has driven you into an irrational state of miscomprehension and rude name calling. But wait! That can’t be the case because you were always that way.

      • Using that twisted logic, the Cubs did not win the World Series because the Indians (excuse my non-PC term) scored just as many total runs as they did.
        How liberal PC, everyone gets a winners trophy!

    • Oh! I forgot. Keep supporting high cost green energy and attacking low cost coal, natural gas, fracking and pipelines.

          • And there in lies the complete definition of Republican vs Democrat. One plays for today and the other plays for the future. When it comes time to vote, many people think just of themselves and vote for the tax cut…even when it has proven not to work in the long term.

          • The voters of Arizona were so upset with the bums in office, they re-elected all of them. The Arizona One Party Dictatorship’s Number 1 religious tenet, “For every complex State problem, there is always one, simple, clear answer, which is always wrong.”

  10. Pass the National Popular Vote Compact by Initiative and get a strong Latino/Latina candidate with great progressive leadership skills to run for Gov in 2018. The young man who organized to defeat Arpaio comes to mind. Must be charismatic, likable, have absolutely NO negative baggage for Republicans to exploit — we can’t control their lies but we can make them less believable. And we need to enlist the media to do page 1 investigative journalism of Republican dirty tricks and conflicts of interest.

    • Maybe Terry Goddard will give it another try. That ought to fire everyone up and get ’em to the polls, don’t you think?

      • I think the message we just heard is we need NEW faces to run for office. Young people and people of color, that come from our communities and from the struggles we are waging for racial and social justice. The same old same d establishment Democrats will not do. More voices. More choices and more parties. This is why will move Arizona forward. Thanks

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