Five things we learned on Election Day

By James Cahill. University of Melbourne

Here are five takeaways from Tuesday's historic US presidential election

1. Polls, even nearly all of them, can be wrong. And wrong in the same direction.

While the major polling aggregators showed the race tightening to a near tie about a week out from election day, nearly all of them had Clinton recovering to her durable 3-4 point lead in the last week of the campaign.

While some outstanding votes remain to be counted, it appears that Clinton will win the popular vote by roughly .5 of a point. That means Trump over-performed the polling aggregators by about 3 points. This is not an unprecedented error. President Obama outperformed his final polling averages in 2012 by about 2.5 points and Al Gore did the same with his by just over 3 points in 2000.

A key difference with this year’s error is that it was sufficient to change the outcome from a slim Clinton victory to a very narrow Trump one. Hence the shocking feel of Tuesday’s result.

2. America is not so much divided between red & blue states, but between blue cities & red everything else

Urban, multi-cultural cities voted overwhelmingly for Clinton, while outlying suburbs, small towns and rural areas did so for Trump.

A preliminary analysis by the Washington Post shows that Clinton won over 90% of ‘urban core’ voters while Trump won between 75 and 90 percent of voters in the suburbs, small cities and rural areas.

3. Partisanship runs very, very deep in America

Given the mixed and inconsistent support from Republican leaders and elected officials and the many controversial statements by Trump, it was believed that at least some of the traditional Republican voting coalition would skip the presidential contest or possibly shift their vote to Clinton.

Early indications are that a vast majority of the Republican voting base did eventually come around to voting for Trump. Even married white college women, a group that was expected to break for Clinton, largely stayed true to the historical voting patterns.

Emory University political scientists Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster wrote a paper in 2015 that attempted to define a new phenomenon they deemed ‘negative partisanship’. This was a partisanship driven more by a dislike of the opposing party and their partisans than one driven by a deep connection to one’s own party.

If nearly all of the Republican voting base were able to stick with Trump – who breaks with significant parts of the Republican agenda, has been shown to brazenly lie and made countless offensive and insulting comments – it looks like this might be driven by negative partisanship.

4. The Republican Party, at least electorally, is in the pink of health

Trump’s shocking rise to the top of the national ticket put fear in the hearts of Republican leaders, and hope in Democratic ones, of not just a near-certain loss of the presidency but also significant losses in down ballot races.

In addition to Trump’s win yesterday, the Republicans had a remarkably good day across the board. At this point, it looks like they will lose just one or two Senate seats and roughly half-a-dozen House seats, enabling them to keep control of both houses. At the state level, it looks like they picked up two more Governorships, bringing their total to a record 33, and control of a few more state houses.

5. Not every rule was broken in this election

One piece of conventional wisdom, that it is very difficult for a party to win a third consecutive presidential term, has held up very well.

A key reason for this third term obstacle is a voter enthusiasm gap. The party that has been out of power for eight years normally benefits from a more energised voting base.

This advantage is even more pronounced in a low turnout election, which very much seems to be the case this year. The first run through of the available data shows a turnout in the mid 50s. This is lower than would be expected in a close & competitive race involving two non-incumbents.

Preliminary demographic data shows that Clinton seems to have done nearly as well with the major elements of the Democratic voting base as President Obama did in 2012. But reduced enthusiasm seems to have driven a lower than expected turnout of those partisans while high enthusiasm among many elements of the Republican coalition, particularly non-college educated men, drove a higher turnout for them.

Banner photo courtesy of Daniel Voyager/Flickr


politics Politics democrat; republican Democrat; Republican