What’s to be learned from the 2016 US presidential election

Many liberals and progressives are despondent over the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the US. According to the CNN exit polls, white voters chose Trump over Hillary Clinton by a 20 point margin and male voters chose Trump over Clinton by an 11 point margin. That margin grew to 31 points among voters who are both white and male.

All the progress toward becoming a less racist and less sexist society since the civil rights and the women’s liberation movements of the 60s appears to have been undone in the last US presidential election. White men opted overwhelming for the candidate who was caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women and who promised to build a wall on the Mexican border, deport millions of undocumented immigrants, ban Muslims from entering the country, “bomb the shit out of ISIS,” bring back torture, and kill the families of terrorists.

Social media after the election was filled with comments about how America has turned into a land of racism, sexism, xenophobia and bigotry in general. The comments from liberals after the election were typified by this post on Facebook by one of my friends from college:

I don’t even know who my fellow Americans are any more. How can so many of them be swayed by hate and anger, racism, sexism? Who are these people? As someone who made American Culture Studies my graduate school and career path, I have always had faith in Americans…until now. Regardless of who wins/won, I am saddened to the core of my soul at the sheer numbers who embrace racism, ethnocentrism and sexism. America you are breaking my heart with your hate.

Many people who I love and respect feel betrayed by their country when it elected Trump as president, but I think that they are taking away the wrong message from the election.

There is no doubt that a Trump presidency will set back the fight for equality for women, Latin@s, immigrants, Muslims and many other groups in America. People will often look for easy scapegoats for their problems and Trump skillfully directed people’s justifiable anger at the system toward the weakest groups which are easy to demonize and have little power to fight back.

During the primaries, surveys of Trump supporters found that they were more racist than supporters of other candidates. Reuters/Ipsos conducted a poll between March 21 and April 12, 2016 that found that 32% of Trump supporters believed that blacks are less intelligent than whites, compared to 22% of Clinton supporters. 49% of Trump supporters believe that blacks are more violent than whites, compared to 31% of Hillary supporters. Roughly 15% percent more of Trump’s supporters expressed racist ideas compared to the supporters of other candidates.


Political scientist Philip Klinkner also found that racial attitudes were a central component driving support for Trump. By doing a multivariate analysis of the 2016 American National Election Survey (ANES) pilot study conducted between January 22 and January 28, Klinkner calculated that racial resentment was almost as important as party identification in determining whether a person supports Clinton or Trump. Klinkner concluded that racism was a more important factor than ideology and economic insecurity to explain the rise of Trump. After the election, Klinkner wrote in an editorial in the Washington Post that “Trump will likely accelerate the transformation of the Republicans into the party of white nationalism.”


These surveys taken during the Republican primary season, however, probably are not representative of Trump voters in the general election. The racial attitudes of supporters of Cruz and Kasich were similar to Clinton supporters and Trump’s campaign absorbed not only most of those people in the general election, but he also won the majority of political independents, which represents roughly a third of American voters.

The ANES survey data used by Klinkner is online survey using the YouGov platform, which tends to self select the most enthusiastic supporters of Trump. YouGov chose a representative sample and sent an invitation to people in that sample to click on a link and fill out the survey, which took an average of 32 minutes to complete. People who are ambivalent about Trump are less likely than ardent Trump supporters to take half an hour out of their lives to fill out a survey on the internet. This survey was conducted on a national scale before the Iowa caucus, so most people still hadn’t decided who they supported at that point, so the people who supported Trump in the ANES survey probably had a much higher proportion of racial resentment compared to the voters in the general election.

Many of the people who voted for Trump were not voting for sexism, xenophobia, islamophobia and racism, although Trump promotes all those things. According to the CNN exit polls, 42% of all women and 53% of white women voted for Trump. In addition, 29% of Latin@s and 29% of Asians voted for Trump. I doubt that those Trump supporters saw their ballot as a vote for sexism and racism.

Many of the people who voted for Trump disagree with his stated policies. 70% of all voters think undocumented immigrants should be offered legal status, of which 34% are Trump voters. 70% of all voters say that Trump’s treatment of women bothered them, of which  29% are Trump voters. In other words, many people voted for Trump despite his sexism and his xenophobia, not because of it.

Another aspect of Trump is that he says many contradictory things, so it is easy for his supporters to latch onto the things that they wanted to hear and ignore the rest. Trump became a convenient vehicle to project their own beliefs, so David Duke and the neonazi Alt Right could hear one message on race, but non-racists could hear another. Trump held a number of rallies where he brought on stage Jamiel Shaw, a black men whose son was killed by an illegal immigrant, to tell his story. Liberals who bothered to listen only saw xenophobia, but Trump supporters saw a politician standing up for black man. In August 2016, Trump gave a speech in Lansing, Michigan where he grandly proclaimed that he would win 95% of the black vote. He said to an imaginary black audience, “You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58% of your youth is unemployed — what the hell do you have to lose?” Blacks rightly saw racism in Trump’s characterization of their communities, when he proclaimed,  “Our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape they’ve ever been in before. Ever. Ever. Ever. You take a look at the inner cities. You’ve got no education. You’ve got no jobs. You get shot walking down the street.” Trump’s putative campaign to win black votes failed miserably when considering that only 8% of blacks voted for him, but it served to reassure many Trump voters that their candidate wasn’t racist.

There is no doubt that a Trump presidency will help to normalize sexism, racism, and bigotry in general in America, but many people voted for Trump for other reasons. The fact of the matter is that Trump spoke to people who have been hurt by policies promoted by the Clintons in the 1990s, and Hillary did not run a campaign which addressed those issues.

It is important to keep in mind that the majority of the country still opted for Hillary Clinton. She won the popular vote by 2,865,075 votes or a 2.10% margin, so she should have won if the US had a reasonably democratic system of choosing its president, but of course it doesn’t (which is one more reason why America is not “already great” as Hillary proclaimed on the campaign trail).

Also keep in mind that the percentage of Americans who prefer a Republican for president has not grown. Trump may have gotten 2,046,375 more votes than Romney in 2012, but once you account for the growth in the US population over the last 4 years, Trump only got 0.09% more votes as a percentage of the US resident population than Romney. In other words, the Republican vote isn’t any bigger than it was 4 years ago, but the Democratic vote as a percentage of the population shrunk by 0.61% compared to 2012.


Trump lost the popular vote, but he won by razor-thin margins in the critical Rust Belt states which gave him the victory. 77,744 votes in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan determined who won the election and if just half of those voters had switched from Trump to Clinton, then she would have won the electoral college 278 to 260.


Those three Rust Belt states are not particularly known for their racism or their xenophobia. The critical issue in those three states is free trade policy, where Clinton was frankly the worse possible candidate that the Democrats could have run. Hillary was part in the Democratic administration which twisted arms in congress to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993 and permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with China in 2000. As the senator from New York, Hillary voted for or publicly supported 8 out of the 10 free trade bills which came up for a vote in the senate. She voted against giving “fast track authority” to Bush in 2002 to negotiate free trade agreements with South American countries and against the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in 2005, but she voted for free trade agreements with Vietnam, Chile, Singapore, Australia, Morocco, Bahrain and Oman, plus she supported the agreements with Peru and Jordan.

On the campaign trail in 2007, Hillary claimed to be against free trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, just like she claimed that NAFTA was “a mistake” after publicly praised it as First Lady. Once in the position of Secretary of State, however, Hillary Clinton not only implemented free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, but she helped lay the framework for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

During her tenure as Secretary of State, the negotiations for the TPP and TTIP became secretive processes where special interests were invited participate in the drafting of the agreements, but the public and congress were shut out of the negotiations. Hillary Clinton encouraged Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia to join the TPP and she made public statements supporting the TPP 45 different times using words like “exciting,” “innovative,” “ambitious,” “groundbreaking,” “cutting-edge,” “high-quality,” “high-standard” and “gold standard”. She called it the “economic pillar of our strategy in Asia” in July 2014, but then decided in October 2015 that she was against the TPP once it became clear that she would be in a tight race for the nomination against Bernie Sanders and she needed the endorsement of labor. Just like in 2007 when running for president, she suddenly became publicly skeptical about the benefits of free trade in 2015. Even in announcing her opposition to the TPP on the PBS News Hour, she left herself wiggle room to one day support it if she learned more:

What I know about it as of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about it…And then what I know, and again, I don’t have the text, we don’t yet have the text. As of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about it. I don’t believe it’s going to meet the high bar I have set.

Claiming that she doesn’t know enough to make a firm decision on the TPP because she can’t read the text of the treaty is a shameless dodge, because she helped set up the secretive negotiating process to conveniently prevent herself from reading the text.

In the same interview on PBS, Hillary also argued that they hadn’t been able to predict the effects of the South Korean free trade agreement, so it is hard for her to evaluate the impact of the TPP. This is frankly a ludicrous statement considering all the evidence of job loss and lower wages from free trade over the last two decades. Since NAFTA went into effect in 1994, the US has lost 4.5 million manufacturing jobs, meaning that 1 out of 4 factory jobs has disappeared. According to the Economic Policy Institute, NAFTA has cost the United States over 800,000 jobs, PNTR with China cost 3.2 million jobs, and the free trade deal with South Korea cost about 60,000 jobs. These jobs, which were often unionized and higher paying, have mostly been replaced by lower-paying service jobs.

One of the reasons why critical voters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan decided to not vote for Hillary was the fact that they didn’t trust her to not ship their jobs overseas. They feared that she would flip her position on the TPP and TTIP once she got into office, just like she did on trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama while Secretary of State. Only 36% of American voters reported that they believed Hillary to be “honest and trustworthy” in the CNN exit polls. This perception of Hillary was actually an improvement over previous polls, probably because voters were comparing her to Donald Trump. In April 2016, when the public was comparing her to Bernie Sanders, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that only 19% of Americans believed her to be “honest and straightforward” and the words most associated with her were “liar,” “not trustworthy,” and “scandals.” Similarly, a Quinnipiac poll in August 2015 found that “liar” was the word most mentioned in an open-ended question what voters think of Hillary Clinton.

While Hillary was unfairly tarred by Republicans for manufactured scandals like Benghazi and White Water, the public perception of her as being duplicitous is not unfounded when it comes to the issue of free trade. In a speech to the Brazilian bank, Banco Itau, in 2013, Clinton stated, “My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders.” Wikileaks also revealed that Clinton stated in a 2013 speech, “But If Everybody’s Watching, You Know, All Of The Back Room Discussions And The Deals, You Know, Then People Get A Little Nervous, To Say The Least. So, You Need Both A Public And A Private Position.” Hillary’s willingness to say one thing in public and another in private appears to be operating in her stance on the TPP. When Politico asked Virginia governor and long-time Clinton friend, Terry McAuliffe, whether Hillary would support the TPP, he responded: “Yes. Listen, she was in support of it. There were specific things in it she wants fixed.” This response makes a mockery of Hillary’s earlier dodge that she didn’t know what was in the text of the TPP.

The American people are pretty evenly divided on the issue of free trade. According to the NBC exit polls for the 2016 election, 38% of voters believe that trade with other countries creates more jobs, while 42% believe that it loses more jobs. Traditionally, voters are slightly more positive toward free trade if their party of preference holds the presidency, but there wasn’t much difference between the two parties and the leadership of both parties generally advocated for more free trade. According to a poll by Pew Research in May 2015, 53% of Republicans and 58% of Democrats regarded free trade agreements as a “good thing”. However, these attitudes inside the parties appear to have undergone a major shift over the last year and half, as Trump campaigned for the presidency on an anti-trade platform. In the NBC exit polls, there was a 31 point divide between Clinton and Trump voters over whether trade with other countries “takes away U.S. jobs.”


It wasn’t just the issue of free trade which lost Hillary votes. For many Rust Belt voters, Hillary was also symbol the Democratic Party establishment which had ignored them and spent decades promoted policies which harmed them. As Thomas Frank points out in his book, Listen Liberal, the New Democrats and Democratic Leadership Council led by Bill Clinton abandoned the poor and working class voters who had been its backbone and turned the Democratic Party into the party of Wall Street, Silicon Valley and the white-collar technocrats with degrees from the Ivy League.

Millions of lower-class Americans were harmed by the policies promoted by Bill Clinton’s administration. Since the passage of Welfare Reform in 1996, the number of households living in extreme poverty on less than $2 per day has grown 159%, from 636,000 households in 1996 to 1,648,000 households in 2011. Since the Crime Bill was passed in 1994, the federal prison population has grown 125%, from 95,162 to 214,149 inmates. Under Bill Clinton’s presidency, the number of deportations increased 3.4 times, growing from 42,542 deportations in 1993 to 188,467 in 2000.

Bill Clinton’s top economic advisors were cheerleaders for banking deregulation in the late 90s, which led to Bill Clinton signing the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and Financial Services Modernization Act in 1999. Deregulation of the banking industry caused 8 million Americans to lose their jobs and 7 million Americans to lose their homes during the recession of 2008-10 and cost the American taxpayer $4.6 trillion in TARP payouts.

Since Hillary voted for the Bankruptcy Bill while in the senate, many Americans have been harmed by onerous bankruptcies. Roughly a million American households file for bankruptcy every year. According to Elizabeth Warren who personally talked to Hillary and convinced her to oppose the Bankruptcy Bill as First Lady, Hillary changed her mind and voted for the Bankruptcy Bill after getting 1.1 million dollars from Wall Street for her senate campaign.

Throughout her career, Hillary has worked tirelessly for moneyed interests, which is why she and Bill have managed to raise a total of 3 billion dollars for their political campaigns and their Foundation, plus pocket $153 million in personal speaking fees. Examining who gave Hillary money reveals why so many voters believed her to work at the behest of special interests. Five of her top nine campaign contributors during her political career are JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and DLA Piper, which is a law firm that has represented Merrill Lynch Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, US Bank and Bank of China.

In the two years after leaving the State Department, Hillary received a total of $3,310,500 in personal speaking fees from 12 financial firms. In addition, she received $1,641,000 in fees for 8 speeches that were fully or partially paid for by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and TD Bank, which were the two largest investors in the Keystone XL Pipeline. In addition, Bill Clinton received $2,155,000 in speaking fees from TD Bank and its affiliate TD Ameritrade, while Hillary was Secretary of State. We will never know whether prosecutors would have found enough evidence to indict the Clintons for violating public corruption laws, since there will be no investigation with the power of subpoena. Nonetheless, these two Canadian banks appeared to be very grateful for the way Hillary helped along the application to the State Department to build the Keystone XL pipeline. The State Department headed by Hillary hired Cardno Entrix, a company with ties to TransCanada, to conduct a environmental impact study which minimized the potential harms. Just as troubling is the $1,915,000 that Bill and Hillary received from UBS Bank, which also appears to have been in gratitude to the Secretary of State for working out a deal to avoid turning over thousands of its depositors’ bank records and shielding US tax dodgers from paying millions in back-taxes and fines for tax evasion.

With this problematic past, Hillary was widely perceived as corrupt, dishonest and part of the establishment, which had ignored the needs of ordinary Americans in favor of the wealthy and special interests. Despite these problems, Hillary still should have won against Trump. Both of the candidates were widely disliked, but the CNN exit polls show that 5% more US voters viewed her favorably compared to Trump and 3% more considered her honest and trustworthy compared to Trump. Hillary outscored Trump by a 23 point margin on the question of whether American voters considered her qualified to be the president and by a 20 point margin on whether they thought she had the right temperament to be president.


In the same exit polls, Clinton did better than Trump in terms of her personal qualities. The voters who thought that the president should “care about me”, have the “right experience” and have “good judgment” all voted for Clinton by large margins. However, “can bring change” was the personal quality that 39% American voters thought to be the most important in their president, and in that category, Trump voters overwhelmed Clinton voters by a 68 point margin.

It is remarkable that Trump received 46.1% of the popular vote, but only 33% consider him to be honest and trustworthy, only 38% consider him to be qualified and only 35% consider him to have the right temperament to be president. In other words, roughly 10% of the American electorate voted for Trump despite the fact that they think him unsuited to be president.

Why did so many Americans vote for a candidate who they viewed unfavorably? Some might argue that Americans voted for Trump, because they liked his bigotry enough to overlook his other negative qualities. Nonetheless, 70% of those same voters report being bothered by Trump’s treatment of women and only 25% want to deport undocumented immigrants. The exit polls suggest that people voted for Trump despite viewing him unfavorably because: 1. they want change, 2. they oppose free trade, 3. they disliked Hillary Clinton who was seen to represent corruption and the status quo.

It should come as no surprise that so many Americans voted for change. According to the CNN exit polls, only 33% of voters believe that the country is going in the “right direction,” whereas 62% believe it is on the “wrong track.” Likewise, 62% of voters believe that the condition of the national economy is “poor.”

The American people was so desperate for change, that they were willing to vote for candidate who had the lowest approval rating of any candidate since polling started. According to the average of reputable national polls, only 37.5% of Americans had a favorable view of Donald Trump on election day, compared to 41.8% who viewed Hillary Clinton favorably. CNN exit polls found that 32% of voters “have reservations” about the candidate they voted for and another 25% voted for their candidate, because they “dislike opponents”. In other words, 57% of voters were casting negative votes either because they disliked or feared the alternative or because they felt that their candidate was less flawed than the alternative.

In a deeply flawed two party system where both parties are deeply beholden to special interests which don’t represent the majority, it should come as no surprise that the US has one of the lowest turnout rates for its elections in the world. Only 41% of voters “strongly favor” the presidential candidate for whom they ended up casting their vote in 2016, compared to 65% in 2012. Nonetheless, one side got more negative votes than the other. The CNN exit polls show that a higher percentage of the Clinton voters “strongly favored” her compared to Trump voters who “strongly favored” him. In contrast, a higher percentage of the Trump supporters voted because they “dislike opponents.” In other words, a larger proportion of Trump voters were not voted for him, but against Clinton. If the Democrats had run a different candidate who didn’t have Clinton’s baggage, they probably would have won.

Many American voters were willing to vote for a candidate who was openly racist, sexist, xenophobic, islamophobic, egotistical, mendacious and down-right delusional, simply because he was willing to bombastically declare that he would bring back American jobs that had been exported overseas and because he campaigned on shaking up Washington and “draining the swamp” as he colorfully termed it.

The American people generally detest business as usual in Washington and many of them were willing to overlook all of Trump’s obvious faults because he promised to change Washington, whereas Clinton promised to continue the detested status quo. Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” resonated with an American public where only 19% approve of Congress, according to Gallup’s latest poll, and that percentage is up compared to the 9% approval rating in November 2013. In a September 2015 poll, Gallup found that 52% of Americans believe that most members of congress are corrupt and 69% believe that most members of congress are “focused on the needs of special interests” more than “the needs of constituents.”

The widespread belief that the US congress represents special interests, rather than the majority of the American citizenry, is not wrong. Gilens and Page (2014) examined 1779 policy issues at the federal level between 1981 and 2002 where public polls were conducted on the issues, broken down by the income level of the respondents. Using multivariate analysis, Gilens and Page found virtually zero relation between public opinion on an issue and its chance of being enacted as policy by the federal government. However, they found a very high correlation between the preferences of economic elites and policy adoption. Mass based interest groups have some influence and business interest groups have even more, but the group with the most influence over policy adoption was the polled preferences of economic elites.

In a contest between change with bigotry and no change with corruption, Americans really didn’t have much of a choice. A political and media system which leads political parties to select candidates with such low public approval ratings is clearly a deficient system in desperate need of reform. The message which should be taken away from the last US election is not that America voted for bigotry in overwhelming numbers, but rather that millions of Americans are willing to tolerate bigotry if it comes from a candidate promising to change a system which they despise.

Many people voted for Trump because they saw it as a vote to change the system which is hurting them. The median annual wage in America is $28,851, which is close to the federal poverty level of $28,410 or less for a family of five. 38% of wages earners make less than $20,000 per year. Between 1979 and 2013, the median wage rose just 6% in real dollar terms and the wages for the tenth lowest percentile of the population fell 5%. What is particularly galling is the fact that over this same time period average hourly productivity of American workers rose 124.9%, meaning that almost all the additional wealth American workers were producing went into their employer’s pockets, rather than increasing their wages.

A tiny percent at the top has grown fabulously wealthy while wages have stagnated for the bottom 90% of American workers. According to Saez and Zucman (2014), the top 1% of households hold 41.8% of all wealth in America and their wealth has been growing at 3.9% per year since 1986. In contrast, the bottom 90% of households hold just 22.8% of the nation’s wealth and their wealth has grown at just 0.1% per year. A household in the bottom 90% has an average of $84,000 in wealth, but the 16,070 households in the top 0.01% have 4,417 times as much wealth on average and they control 11.2% of the nation’s total wealth. According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, 20 Americans hold as much wealth as half the US population.

The economy has been particularly bad for younger generations. Between 2000 and 2013, the average hourly wage in constant dollars fell 10.5% for recent high school graduates and 7.4% for recent college graduates. At the same time, the unemployment rate for both groups nearly doubled and the underemployment rate more than doubled.

Declining prospects for recent high school and college graduates
Year Recent high school graduates Recent college graduates
Real average hourly wages Unemploy ment rate Underemployment rate Real average hourly wages Unemployment rate Underemployment rate
1994 $9.57 14.6% 28.1% $15.88 5.3% 10.2%
2000 $11.01 12.1% 20.8% $18.41 4.3% 7.0%
2007 $10.89 15.9% 26.8% $18.24 5.5% 9.6%
2013 $9.85 23.9% 41.9% $17.04 8.6% 16.9%
Notes: Data is from January of the listed year. Recent high school graduates are aged 17-20 and not enrolled in further school. Recent college graduates are aged 21 to 24 who do not have an advanced degree and are not enrolled in further school.
Source: Economic Policy Institute (2014-05-01) “The Class of 2014”, http://www.epi.org/publication/class-of-2014/

People who voted Trump may not know the statistics, but they know in their gut that they are being screwed by a system which funnels wealth to the top and hollows out the safety net that used to take care of them. They didn’t pay much attention to Trump’s promise to cut taxes for the rich or when he said that wages were too high, but they did hear him loud and clear, when he denounced the trade deals and mocked the politicians who negotiated them as incompetents and “losers”.

The pundits in the mainstream press tutted about Trump’s foul language when he described the TPP as “rape,” but this kind of language thrilled workers who had lost their jobs to globalization:

I’m going to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has not yet been ratified. So, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is another disaster done and pushed by special interests who want to rape our country, just a continuing rape of our country. That is what it is too. It’s a harsh word. It’s a rape of our country. This is done by wealthy people that want to take advantage of us and want to sign another partnership. Hillary Clinton not so long ago said, this is the gold standard of trade pacts, the gold standard!

Those same Americans stood up and cheered every time Trump promised to bring back their jobs from Mexico and China and sock it to the big corporations who export American manufacturing jobs. Trump didn’t sound at all like a conventional Republican on the campaign trail when he talked about calling up the head of Ford and threatening to impose a 35% tariff on every car and truck built in Mexico, until Ford agreed to scrap its plans to build a 1.6 billion dollar plant in San Luis Potosí, Mexico. Of course, strong-arming a company with tariffs violates NAFTA, just like Trump’s vow to impose a 45% tariff on American companies manufacturing goods in China would violate permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with China, but Trump voters weren’t concerned with legal niceties.

It might have baffled pundits when the Democratic firewall fell in the Rust Belt, but Trump spoke to laid-off factory workers in a way that Hillary Clinton never even tried. He tapped into their anger and the betrayal they felt at being sold out by the wealthy elites and the politicians in Washington. In a speech in Pennsylvania, Trump declared that “NAFTA was the worst trade deal in history” and promised to renegotiate it. Trump promised that “we can turn it around fast” and bring back American jobs. Reading the transcript of the speech makes clear why the working class in Pennsylvania turned out to vote for Trump in a blue state:

Pittsburg played a central role in building our nation. The legacy of the Pennsylvania steel workers lives in the bridges and railways and skyscrapers that make up of our great American landscape, but our worker’s loyalty was repaid-you know it better than anybody-with total betrayal. But our politicians have aggressively pursued a policy of globalization, moving our jobs and our wealth and our factories to Mexico and overseas. Globalization has made the financial elite who donate to politicians very, very wealthy…
Many Pennsylvania towns that used to be thriving and humming are now in a state of total disrepair. This wave of globalization has wiped out totally, totally our middle class. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can turn it around, and we can turn it around fast…
The people who rigged the system are supporting Hillary Clinton, because they know as long as she is in charge, nothing is going to change.

Trump didn’t just promise to bring back American jobs, he also pledged to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. He didn’t sound at all like a Republican on health care either. In January 2016 he said on ABC’s The Week:

I want people taken care of. I have a heart. If somebody has no money and they’re lying in the middle of the street and they’re dying, I’m going to take care of that person.

Trump threw Republican small-government ideology out the window when he promised in an interview on 60 Minutes on Sept. 27, 2015 that the government would pay for health insurance for uninsured Americans:

TRUMP: “Everybody’s got to be covered. This is an un-Republican thing for me to say because a lot of times they say, ‘No, no, the lower 25 percent that can’t afford private. But —’ ”
PELLEY: “Universal health care.”
TRUMP: “I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”
PELLEY: “The uninsured person is going to be taken care of. How? How?”
TRUMP: “They’re going to be taken care of. I would make a deal with existing hospitals to take care of people. And, you know what, if this is probably —”
PELLEY: “Make a deal? Who pays for it?”
TRUMP: “— the government’s gonna pay for it. But we’re going to save so much money on the other side. But for the most it’s going to be a private plan and people are going to be able to go out and negotiate great plans with lots of different competition with lots of competitors with great companies and they can have their doctors, they can have plans, they can have everything.”

Trump may turn out to be a charlatan who was just spouting the language of economic populism to get elected, but at least he addressed the mood of the country, whereas Hillary Clinton seemed to be utterly tone deaf on the campaign trail. Her lack of responsiveness to the anti-establishment, anti-elite fervor in America is hardly surprising when considering that Hillary walled herself off and carefully orchestrated her campaign events to avoid any unscripted questions from the public. Between Dec. 5, 2015 and election day on Nov. 8, 2016, Hillary only held two press conferences which lasted a total of 24 minutes and neither were announced beforehand, so that only the tame journalists who traveled with the campaign and needed to maintain their inside access were around to ask any questions.

Hillary was willing to go on Fox News to appeal to Republicans for their votes, but she did not grant a single interview to progressive media like Democracy Now, Young Turks and The Nation, to make the case why they should vote for her. Hillary even avoided the media, like MSNBC, Washington Post, Vox and the Huffington Post, which reliably supported her throughout the campaign. Instead of granting hundreds of interviews and making her case to the American public like Trump did, Hillary relied on extensive media operation in her PACs to generate pro-Hillary news.

In the end, Hillary’s campaign to win Republican votes was a wasted effort, since only 8% of Republicans crossed party lines to vote for Hillary, which was the same percentage of Democrats who crossed over to vote for Trump. After all the brouhaha in the media about disaffected Republicans who were alienated by Trump’s bigotry and attracted to Clinton’s moderate positions, their effect was negated by the number of Trump voters who Hillary alienated in her own party.

The conventional wisdom held that Hillary would win by holding moderate positions that appealed to political independents who are assumed to occupy the middle ground on every issue between the Republicans and the Democrats. A Gallup poll in Jan. 2015 found that 43% of American voters don’t identify as members of any party, so the number of independents appeared to have grown bigger than either party. The beltway punditry generally thought that Hillary just had to steer a middle course that would contrast favorably with Trump’s extremism in order to win. On election day, however, it turned out that 31% of American voters self-identified as independents which was only 2% more than in 2012 and Trump won their vote by a 4 point margin over Hillary, which was similar to the 5 point margin that Romney won their vote over Obama in 2012.

In the end, roughly a quarter of the people who had called themselves independents in January 2015 ended up joining a party in the 2016 election, according to the exit polls. On a national level, the independents ended up not having much of an effect, largely because their votes were siphoned off into third parties. The percentage of votes going to third party candidates grew from 1.85% in 2012 to 6.02% in 2016, and most of those voters identify as “independents”. Anyone listening to Gary Johnson or Jill Stein speak does not come to the conclusion that steering a moderate course is the way to win independents, despite what the pundits may think. A number of pro-Hillary pundits such as Rachel Maddow posited that the large third party vote in 2016 cause Trump to win, but the Libertarian vote was 3 times larger than the Green vote. If all the

Nonetheless, there was significant swing among independents in the 3 critical states that gave the election to Trump. Trump won independents by a 7 point margin over Clinton in Pennsylvania, a 10 point margin in Wisconsin, and a 16 point margin in Michigan. The independent swing wasn’t as strong in Pennsylvania as in the other two battleground states, but 11% of Pennsylvania Democrats switched parties to vote for Trump.

It is widely assumed by the pundits, that the way to win independent is to steer a middle course, but anyone listening to

One thing that

whereas in In Pennsylvania  fewer independents Michigan, fewer Democrats voted for

more of their  the voters identified% of However, Many of them either stayed away in disgust on election day or they have since decided to join a party, since only 31% of voters identified as independents in the CNN exit polls. Independents voted overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008 and 2012, but in 2016 they voted for Trump by a 4 point margin.

The other reason why Trump won is because he appealed to the working class in ways that Hillary did not. Trump won voters without a college degree by a 7 point margin over Hillary, whereas Obama won by a 4 point margin in 2012 over Romney. Among white voters without a college degree, Trump won by a 37 point margin over Hillary.

Political independents who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 switched parties to vote for Trump, because he at least was willing to speak to their problems, whereas Clinton blithely ignored them. Clinton ran a campaign whose campaign slogans of “I’m with her” and “stronger together” were based on identity politics and political correctness, rather than focusing on policies which would improve the lives of Americans.

, judging much as 42% of Americans, meaning they are athan either are the largest group in America,  According to the exit polls, 8% of Democrats crossed party lines to vote for Trump, but in the critical states of Pennsylvania


moneyed interests and  governed in favor of moneyed  policies had harmed many Americans in the past.

If Clinton had been willing to stand up and say in every speech that she had changed her mind about the TPP and had been wrong about NAFTA, she probably would have won. If she had been willing to publicly call for a $15 minimum wage in every speech, she probably would have won. She quietly switched her position on those issues for political expediency, but few believed her sincerity. If she had proclaimed her change of heart in every speech, she probably could convinced 34,000 voters in switch their votes in those 3 critical states or convinced an extra 78,000 voters who stayed home to show up and vote for her.

The tragedy of the 2016 election is that the Democrats had the perfect candidate to counter the anti-establishment rhetoric and economic populism of Donald Trump. All the available polling shows that if the Democrats had nominated Bernie Sanders who addressed the concerns of voters, he would have easily won the general election. A poll of 1,600 registered voters, conducted by Gravis Marketing two days before the general election, found that Sanders would have received 56% of the vote, compared to 44% for Trump. Likewise, the polls taken during the primaries found that voters supported Sanders over Trump by an average margin of 10.4 points.


Of course, a general election between Trump and Sanders probably would have been far closer. Trump would have hammered Sanders as a nefarious communist who honeymooned in the USSR, a deadbeat dad who had a child out of wedlock, a deadbeat bum who lived on unemployment checks in the 1970s, and an atheist Jew. Trump would have had more campaign money to pour into these negative ads, because Wall Street and other moneyed interests would have backed him to the hilt against Sanders.

While Trump would have viciously attacked Sanders, it is also true that Sanders would have been able to attack Trump in ways that Clinton was too handicapped to even attempt. Sanders would have denounced Trump as a hypocrite on free trade, pointing out how Trump went all over the world looking for the cheapest foreign workers to make his apparel. Sanders would have hammered Trump for saying that wages were too high in America and for refusing to pay the workers who he hired to build his hotels. Sanders would have harped endlessly on the campaign trail about how Trump owed big favors to Wall Street since he owed millions in debt to major banks and how Trump was raking in millions in campaign contributions from Wall Street, drug companies, etc. Hillary couldn’t attack Trump on free trade, corruption or being a puppet of moneyed interests, because she had so many skeletons in her closet when it came to these issues, so instead she tried to attack Trump on things like his foul language and divisiveness, which frankly mean much to people who had been harmed by the neoliberal policies she had spent 3 decades promoting.

Of course, we can’t know for certain what would have happened in the general election, but people tended to like Bernie the more they heard him. His average favorable rating grew from 18% to 48% over the course of the campaign and he was the only candidate who had a higher favorable rating than unfavorable. In contrast, Hillary’s favorable rating fell the longer she campaigned.

Many pundits were convinced that Sanders’ socialism would have doomed him in a general election, but the polling says otherwise. Red baiting only works effectively when people can be convinced to fear a candidate, but once people heard Sanders explain what he means by Medicare for All and free tuition at public universities, most people concluded that he was nobody to fear. Even people who disagree with Bernie, say that he is honest, straight-forward and a passionate defender of civil liberties, which undermines the whole image of the devious communist undermining America and the authoritarian despot.

Ads filled with hammers and sickles and scary images of Russia and Cuba might have riled up the Republican base, but they were not going to sway many of the independent voters who ultimately decided the 2016 election. A YouGov survey in January 2016 found that 15% of independents and 18% of all Americans were less likely to support Bernie Sanders because he calls himself a “democratic socialist”, but 8% of independents and 12% of all Americans were more likely to support him because of the label. Among Democrats, the label of “democratic socialist” actually helped Sanders more than it hurt him according to the same poll. In other words, all the ringing of hands over Sanders being a socialist was very overblown and other factors were far more important to American voters.

I also suspect that the label of “democratic socialist” would have helped as much as it hurt Bernie in the general election because many people would have taken it as evidence that he was authentic and different from the standard politician. At a time when so many Americans are sick of smooth-talking politicians who rattle off insincere talking points, a a politician who calls himself a “socialist” and refused to join any party for decades strikes many people as authentic. Nobody adopts that label in America for political expediency, so that label signaled to many that Bernie was completely sincere and was independent from corrupt Washington. In the same way that many people took Donald Trump’s fowl mouth, his racist comments and his self-aggrandizing braggadocio as a sign that he was authentic, independent and uncowed.  along with Bernie’s uncombed hair and his   so it was a signal for many that Be and   In the same way that people voted for a black man with a Muslim name in 2008 and decided to vote for him because they though he represented change, an old Jew with a Brooklyn accent who wears rumpled suits and talks   Barack Hussein Obama in 2008 and decided that he wto  People looked at him and said, “well, h and refuses to take money who doesn’t comb his hair and wears rumpled suits not only embodied  lookNobody calls themselves a “socialist” in America

Hillary lost the general election not only because she was unpopular among independents and rural votrs, but she also alienated the white working class in the Rust Belt and she failed to excite the youth who stayed home on election day. In each one of these demographics, Bernie was uniquely strong.

According to the Real Clear Politics polling average, Hillary outpolled Bernie by a 52 point margin in June 2015, but that difference dropped to just 1 point by April 2016. Only when it became clear that Bernie had no realistic chance of winning, did his polling numbers start to fall compared to Hillary, yet his favorability numbers continued to remain much higher than Hillary’s.

The problem was that few Democrats had heard of Bernie at the start of the primary season. In August 2015, 2 out 5 registered Democrats had not even heard of Bernie Sanders or had heard so little that they weren’t able to form an opinion about him. Few Americans got to hear his message during the early primaries when Hillary established an insurmountable lead on Super Tuesday.  A Harvard study found that Trump, Bush, Cruz, Rubio, and Carson all had more news coverage than Sanders during the year 2015, and Clinton had three times more news coverage than he did.

The Colombia Journalism Review analyzed how the mainstream media covered Sanders’ entry into the presidential race. It concluded that Sanders was treated very unfairly compared to other candidates:

Sanders’s entry into the race was greeted with story after story whose message—stated or understated, depending on the decorum of the messenger—was “This crank can’t win.”

The trouble with this consensus is the paucity of evidence to support it. “This crank actually could win” is nearer the mark. But having settled on a prophecy, the media went about covering Sanders so as to fulfill it. The Times, for example, buried his announcement on page A21, even though every other candidate who had declared before then had been put on the front page above the fold. Sanders’s straight-news story didn’t even crack 700 words, compared to the 1,100 to 1,500 that Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Hillary Clinton got. As for the content, the Times’ reporters declared high in Sanders’s piece that he was a long shot for the Democratic nomination and that Clinton was all but a lock. None of the Republican entrants got the long-shot treatment, even though Paul, Rubio, and Cruz were generally polling fifth, seventh, and eighth among Republicans before they announced.

Other coverage of Sanders ran to caricature, as in Paul Kane and Philip Rucker’s personality piece in the Washington Post, which opened, “He seems an unlikely presidential candidate—an ex-hippie, septuagenarian socialist from the liberal reaches of Vermont who rails, in his thick Brooklyn accent, rumpled suit and frizzy pile of white hair, against the ‘billionaire class’ taking over the country.” The Post’s pieces didn’t lead with Clinton’s hippie past or her age (she will be a septuagenarian in 2017) and didn’t say she rails when she discusses her more ardently held positions (she has a couple). Even the word “liberal,” which doesn’t seem the worst quasi-pejorative to hang on a candidate who calls himself a socialist, sits poorly next to the flattering “populist” that the Post permitted Clinton, especially since she is a mere recent and rhetorical convert to the creed that Sanders has acted on for 40 years.

Other major news organizations ignored Sanders as nearly as they could a sitting U.S. senator who entered the presidential race. ABC’s World News Tonight gave his announcement all of 18 seconds, five of which were allotted to Clinton’s tweet welcoming him to the race. CBS Evening News fitted the announcement into a single sentence at the end of a two-minute report about Clinton.

When the media did cover Bernie, it focused on the horse race rather than his message. That same Harvard study found that only 7% of the media coverage of Bernie in 2015 focused on his policy positions, despite the fact that he relentless talked about policy, trying to turn every question about the horse race in public interviews toward his proposed policies. Almost every interview would start asking about the horse race or trying to get Bernie to attack Hillary on camera, such as this MSNBC interview on August 31, 2015:

Question 1: Let’s talk about Iowa, and the fact that you have cut the Clinton lead down to 7 points, arguably within the margin of error. You are just about tied to Hillary Clinton. To what do you attribute this narrowing of the gap? Is this related to the email controversy and the trust factor?
Question 2: Now you have resisted attacking Hillary Clinton. Are you braced for the onslaught that could come your way from her?

Once the American people heard Bernie’s message, however, they had a very different view of Bernie’s policy prescriptions than the mainstream media pundits, who repeatedly dismissed them as unviable and too radical. Polling, however, shows that Bernie’s positions are surprisingly popular among the American public. Morning Consult and Vox conducted a nationwide poll in Jan/Feb 2016 which found that the majority of registered voters supported Bernie’s economic policies.


Looking at the poll, it is no surprise that an unknown candidate like Bernie Sanders could take the grassroots of the Democratic Party by storm, despite the fact that the pundits in the mainstream press and the party establishment widely dismissed him as completely unviable and too radical for America. 91% of Democrats, 74% of independents and even 49% of Republicans want to increase taxes on the wealthy in order to reduce income inequality. 70% of Democrats, 53% of independents and even 35% of Republicans want a single payer health care system which is financed by taxes. As this poll makes clear, Hillary Clinton’s policy positions were totally out of step with the base of the Democratic party and she was to the right of the majority of the country.

The mainstream media rarely polls the American people on the critical socio-economic issues, and when they do, the polling results are generally ignored by the media pundits and politicians. Even Vox ignored the results of its own poll and published numerous articles backed Hillary in the Democratic primary, while repeatedly bashing Bernie. Listening to the so-called “experts” in the mainstream media, one would get the impression that tax hikes on the rich to redistribute wealth, single payer health care, free tuition at public universities, and a political revolution are utterly fringe ideas which are beyond the pale of what is acceptable in America, but the majority of Americans appear to hold these verboten views.

The results of the Morning Consult/Vox poll should come to no surprise to anyone who has been paying to public polling. An Associated Press-GfK poll in Feb. 2015 found that 68% of likely voters say that wealthy households pay too little in federal taxes. A Gallup poll in April 2016 found that 61% of Americans say that upper-income Americans pay too little in taxes. A Hart Research poll in Oct. 2013 found that 68% of Americans believe “we should close tax loopholes for large corporations that ship jobs offshore.” Another Hart Research poll in Jan. 2015 found that 75% of US adults support raising the minimum wage to 12.50 per hour by 2020.

Obama judged that a single-payer health insurance and even a public option was too radical, so in a private meeting with the executives of the major insurance companies, he hammered out a deal which mandated that every American must buy health insurance. The insurance industry promised not to lobby against what became tarred as ObamaCare, but it was basically the same plan propounded by the Heritage Foundation in the 1990s and Richard Nixon in the 1970s. The American people, however, are ready for a more radical restructuring of the health care system. According to a Gallup poll in May 2016, 58% of US adults favor the idea of replacing the law with a federally funded healthcare system that provides insurance for all Americans. Likewise, a Kaiser Family poll in Feb. 2016 found that 50% of Americans support universal health insurance provided by the government, including 70% of Democrats and 54% of Independents. Support for universal health insurance depends upon how the question is worded. If described as “Medicare for All” as Bernie Sanders does, then 63% favor it, but if described as “socialized medicine, then only 38% favor it.

The Progressive Change Institute sponsored a poll by GBA Strategies in January 2015 on a whole raft of progressive policies and found solid majorities back many of the agenda items which the Democratic Party leadership considered too radical to touch with a 10 foot pole before Bernie Sanders started campaigning for president. While the objectivity of this poll may be questioned due to the group financing it, its results appear to align with other polls.


His fellow Americans: Sixty-three percent of likely voters support President Obama’s proposal to offer qualifying students two free years of community college. No recent polls have tested support for offering free tuition at four-year colleges and universities.

Sanders: Opposes the Trans Pacific Partnership and similar trade deals.

His fellow Americans: Sixty-two percent of voters oppose fast-track authority for the TPP trade deal, but fewer Americans oppose the agreement itself. A 2014 Pew poll put support for the TPP among Americans at 55 percent.
Pay equity for women

Sanders: Supports a federal law mandating equal pay for equal work.

His fellow Americans: Most Americans agree that women face pay discrimination, but only about one-third favor addressing the problem via legislation.

Sanders: Supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour “over the next few years.”

His fellow Americans: Sixty-three percent of Americans support raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2020.

Sanders: Supports legislation allowing workers to form a union by signing pledge cards.

His fellow Americans: A Gallup poll conducted in 2009, when card check legislation was being debated in Congress, found that 53 percent of Americans “favor a new law that would make it easier for labor unions to organize workers.”
Social Services

Sanders: “Instead of cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and nutrition programs,” Sanders writes on his website, “we should be expanding these programs.”

His fellow Americans: Some polls have found that majorities of voters want to expand Social Security. A poll conducted last year showed that even voters in red states want to expand Medicaid.

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