The 10 Biggest Surprises From the Election Results

Voters were polarized along class and racial lines, not ideological ones.

Donald Trump in Wisconsin on Nov. 1.
AP Photo/Matt Rourke
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Josh Kraushaar
Nov. 13, 2016, 6 a.m.

In an elec­tion filled with sur­prises, un­der­stand­ing how Don­ald Trump won the pres­id­en­tial elec­tion is crit­ic­al. And in por­ing over the exit polling, there are nu­mer­ous coun­ter­in­tu­it­ive find­ings that ex­plain why Trump proved to be a lot more ac­cept­able than his de­tract­ors ac­know­ledged. In the spir­it of Against the Grain, here are the 10 most sur­pris­ing find­ings from the data.

1. The Re­pub­lic­an Party united be­hind Don­ald Trump—more so than Demo­crats united be­hind Hil­lary Clin­ton. For all the ex­pect­a­tions that he would be ham­strung by the out­spoken anti-Trump fac­tion of the GOP, he ended up win­ning 90 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­an voters—not far from the 93 per­cent Mitt Rom­ney car­ried in 2012. Clin­ton, by con­trast, won just 89 per­cent of Demo­crats—3 points worse than Pres­id­ent Obama’s share in 2012. The late-de­vel­op­ing Re­pub­lic­an sup­port for Trump, which few poll­sters saw com­ing, con­trib­uted to his sur­pris­ingly sol­id 47 per­cent of the vote.

2. White wo­men swung to Trump at the end. Trump won white wo­men by a whop­ping 10 points (53 to 43 per­cent), smash­ing the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom that his can­did­acy would fuel a his­tor­ic gender gap. In fact, Clin­ton per­formed only 1 point bet­ter than Pres­id­ent Obama among white wo­men—who were sup­posed to be a crit­ic­al part of her base. It’s why she didn’t net more votes in af­flu­ent sub­urbs that she won in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wis­con­sin.

3. Non­white voters pre­ferred Trump to Rom­ney. The most stun­ning find­ing from the exit polling was that Trump won a slightly lar­ger share of the Afric­an-Amer­ic­an vote (8 per­cent) and His­pan­ic vote (29 per­cent) than Rom­ney did in 2012. And among Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans, turnout dropped from 2012.

4. The re­venge of blue-col­lar voters. Trump won an as­ton­ish­ing 71 per­cent of non­col­lege white voters, an even big­ger show­ing than Re­agan achieved in his 1984 land­slide reelec­tion. This al­lowed Trump to sus­tain losses among af­flu­ent col­lege-edu­cated white voters. One­time Demo­crat­ic strong­holds in the Rust Belt—like Young­stown, Scrant­on, and John­stown—turned deeply red. Not­ably, these work­ing-class Mid­west­ern whites gave Pres­id­ent Obama wide­spread sup­port and his mar­gin of vic­tory just four years ago.

5. There was a Comey ef­fect, though it prob­ably didn’t tip the race. Na­tion­al polls showed Trump los­ing among af­flu­ent white voters, who typ­ic­ally vote Re­pub­lic­an but were un­nerved by the GOP nom­in­ee. Yet Trump still man­aged to carry col­lege-edu­cated whites by 4 points. If any group was per­suaded to vote against Clin­ton be­cause of FBI Dir­ect­or James Comey’s rev­el­a­tions, it would have been this one.

6. Trump won 10 per­cent of Obama sup­port­ers. Con­sist­ent with pub­lic polling, Obama’s job ap­prov­al was 53 per­cent in the exit poll. But Clin­ton, his chosen can­did­ate, lost one out of 10 Obama sup­port­ers. It was a re­but­tal to those who claimed they heard a dog whistle of ra­cism in Trump’s cam­paign.

7. There were lim­its to Obama’s per­son­al pop­ular­ity. Des­pite the pres­id­ent’s sol­id ap­prov­al rat­ing, a 48 per­cent plur­al­ity of voters wanted the coun­try to move in a more con­ser­vat­ive dir­ec­tion—20 points high­er than those who wanted the next pres­id­ent to “con­tin­ue Obama’s policies.” Trump car­ried 83 per­cent of these voters. He even car­ried voters who wanted to move in a more lib­er­al dir­ec­tion.

8. The mil­it­ary lead­er­ship is wary of Trump, but vet­er­ans sup­por­ted him over­whelm­ingly. Trump won 61 per­cent of mil­it­ary vet­er­ans, 2 points high­er than Mitt Rom­ney’s share in 2012. Clin­ton warned that he was tem­pera­ment­ally un­suited to have ac­cess to the nuc­le­ar codes and re­minded voters about his acid­ic at­tack on John Mc­Cain’s mil­it­ary ser­vice, but these at­tacks largely fell on deaf ears.

9. Trump got a lar­ger share of the Jew­ish vote than Bush and Mc­Cain. Even though Trump faced cri­ti­cism for not con­demning anti-Semit­ic sup­port­ers on so­cial me­dia, he won a lar­ger share of the Jew­ish vote (24 per­cent) than either George W. Bush in 2000 (19 per­cent) or John Mc­Cain in 2008 (22 per­cent). Two reas­ons: Obama’s Ir­an nuc­le­ar deal was deeply un­pop­u­lar with Jew­ish voters con­cerned about Is­rael’s se­cur­ity, and Trump’s em­brace of his Or­tho­dox Jew­ish son-in-law, Jared Kush­ner, prob­ably al­layed fears that he was a secret big­ot.

10. There was min­im­al split-tick­et vot­ing. At first glance, it looked as if there was no split-tick­et vot­ing in Sen­ate races. The swing states that voted for Trump also reelec­ted GOP sen­at­ors. The two that didn’t (New Hamp­shire and Nevada) voted for Demo­crats. But in a couple of states, there was not­able di­ver­gence between cer­tain vot­ing groups. Sen. Pat Toomey over­per­formed Trump in the Phil­adelphia sub­urbs and lagged be­hind him in rur­al areas. And Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Flor­ida won a re­sound­ing vic­tory by out­per­form­ing Trump among His­pan­ics.


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