As we try to understand what’s ahead in U.S. politics, it’s worth taking one more look back at an election that most of us got wrong. Here are some lingering myths to put to rest.
▪ Trump rode to victory on a voting surge: This was a big-change election without high turnout or an outpouring of new voters. That’s unusual.
When all the votes are finally counted, turnout probably will be up from four years ago. But it was down in 2012 compared to 2008, which means that there were just a few more voters in 2016 than there were when Barack Obama first won the White House in an election when turnout shot up 8 percent.
Donald Trump received about 3 percent more votes than the Republican nominee Mitt Romney got in 2012. By contrast, the last big-change winner, Obama, drew 17 percent more votes in 2008 than the previous Democratic nominee, John Kerry.
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On the Republican side, Ronald Reagan increased the GOP tally in 1980 by 12 percentage points over the previous candidate, President Gerald Ford. Some Trump supporters explain this away by asserting that this year’s third- and fourth-party candidates reduced the major-party vote.
But in 1980 there was a much more serious independent candidate, John Anderson, who received almost 7 percent of the vote. By comparison, libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein drew about 4 percent between them on Nov. 8.
Trump didn’t draw a lot of new voters, but he did appear to win the support of some people who voted for Obama — enough of them, at least, to make the difference in closely contested Rust Belt states.
▪ Latinos didn’t flee the GOP: It’s become conventional wisdom that Trump did OK among Hispanic voters. Don’t believe it.
Exit polls said that Trump got about 29 percent of the Latino vote, a little more than Romney. That cheered Republicans who had feared that Trump’s attacks on immigrants and Hispanics could hurt the party for a generation.
But that number is probably flawed. Exit polls have never been considered completely reliable for counting votes of demographic blocs. This year was probably worse because exit pollsters don’t tally early votes, which accounted for 35 percent of the turnout.
Latino Decisions, a survey firm, polled over 5,000 Hispanic Election Day voters and calculated that Trump got about 18 percent of them, the lowest tally in modern history.
Other analysts who’ve looked at key venues think that number is much more plausible than the higher figure shown in the exit poll.
That’s keeping Republicans nervous, wondering whether the Trump administration will prove to be as hostile as Trump-the-candidate sounded.
“The question on the Republican part going forward,” writes conservative Republican activist Linda Chavez, “is whether this year’s presidential victory included an acceptable amount of support from one of the fastest growing groups in the country.”
▪ Sisterhood is powerful: Democrats didn’t expect Hillary Clinton to match Obama’s support from blacks and young voters, and they knew that Trump would outperform Romney among white men.
And they were right. Where they went wrong was to assume that the first woman to be nominated by a major party would make up those deficits with female voters.
Clinton, according to the exit polls, ran only marginally better with women than Obama in 2012 and not as well as he did in 2008.
She also fell short of expectations with college-educated white women, winning only 51 percent of their votes — just 6 percentage points better than Trump.
There may be a lesson here about counting on the pull of identity politics.
▪ It’s not about the map: Some leading political analysts, whom I repeatedly echoed, said the popular vote would drive the Electoral College result unless the margin was less than 1 percentage point) as it was when George W. Bush took the White House in 2000 despite Al Gore’s popular-vote victory).
It didn’t. Clinton won the popular vote by somewhere between 1.5 and 2 percentage points, but lost the Electoral College.
She ran up big margins in deep blue states like California and lost by less than expected in some deep red states like Texas, but critically lost close contests in states that have recently supported Democrats: Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
The map mattered.