Racism Is No Excuse

Let’s not overstate the racism factor. While there is much wailing about those awful racists who voted for Trump, a closer look at the numbers suggest that the real story of this election was the people who didn’t vote for Trump … or Clinton, or anybody else.

Carl Beijer, who writes for leftie publications, argues that this wasn’t so much the bigot election as the apathy election.

From 2012 to 2016, both men and women went from caring about the outcome to not caring. Among Democratic men and women, as well as Republican women, care levels dropped about 3-4 points; Republican men cared a little less too, but only by one point. Across the board, in any case, the plurality of voters simply didn’t care.

White voters cared even less in 2016 then in 2012, when they also didn’t care; most of that apathy came from white Republicans compared to white Democrats, who dropped off a little less. Voters of color, in contrast, continued to care – but their care levels dropped even more, by 8 points (compared to the 6 point drop-off among white voters). Incredibly, that drop was driven entirely by a 9 point drop among Democratic voters of color which left Democrats with only slim majority 51% support; Republicans, meanwhile, actually gained support among people of color. …

… The major trend in 2016 was one of increasingly apathy. Within that broader trend, the demographic patterns are muddy. Deviations in relatively support from group to group don’t map well onto the standard media narratives that dominated this election; for example, apathy grew more among women and voters of color than among men and white voters. Among the candidates, Clinton either broke even or lost support among every single demographic group, while Trump won support among voters of color and boomers.

See Carl B’s blog for more data.

I’ve read that, particularly in the Rust Belt states, if the same numbers of people who came out for Obama in 2012 had voted for Clinton in 2016, she would have won those states, even though Trump did better than Romney did in those rust bucket states. For example, this anecdote is from Wisconsin:

Urban areas, where black and Hispanic voters are concentrated along with college-educated voters, already leaned toward the Democrats, but Clinton did not get the turnout from these groups that she needed. For instance, black voters did not show up in the same numbers they did for Barack Obama, the first black president, in 2008 and 2012.

Considering how razor-thin the margin of victory was in Wisconsin and elsewhere — there’s your loss.

It also appears that some people who voted for Obama in 2012 voted for Trump in 2016. So were they not racist in 2012?

Was the loss this year a “whitelash” against the Obama Administration? If so,why didn’t that cost President Obama the election in 2012? I can believe that some bigots are more worked up now than they were in 2012, considering that Trump and his followers have been stoking the fires. But if Democratic voters, including nonwhite ones, had voted as usual, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

During the primaries we were way oversold on Hillary Clinton’s alleged support among African American voters. She clobbered Sanders in the early southern primaries because huge majorities of black voters chose her, and that gave her a lead that he could never catch.  Clinton supporters even held this up as proof that Bernie Sanders is racist, which was absurd, and not that Democratic voters in the South just plain didn’t know who he was. As I wrote several times during the primaries, as time went on he won larger and larger percentages of black voters, and he had the support of a majority of black millennial voters.

But Beijer wrote back in June that people were misreading this.

Hillary Clinton has won an overwhelming majority of black voters who have participated in the Democratic primaries: the Wall Street Journal places her share at 75.9 percent, and my math puts it at 77.9 percent. This is certainly a better showing than we’ve seen seen from Bernie Sanders, who has won support from about a quarter of black voters.

But on this basis, Clinton’s partisans have routinely concluded that their candidate has won some kind of democratic mandate from black Americans. While this is true in the trivial sense — she has won votes from a majority of those who actually voted — this framing overlooks the overwhelming majority of voting-age black Americans who either voted against Clinton or declined to vote at all. In fact, based on an analysis of exit polls, turnout numbers, and census data, an extraordinary 87.9 percent of voting-age black Americans have not voted for Clinton.

The news stories revealing that the Clintons were worried about African American voters began to turn up in September.

“Hillary Clinton’s campaign is in panic mode. Full panic mode,” said Leslie Wimes, a South Florida-based president of the Democratic African-American Women Caucus.

“They have a big problem because they thought Obama and Michelle saying, ‘Hey, go vote for Hillary’ would do it. But it’s not enough,” Wimes said, explaining that too much of the black vote in Florida is anti-Trump, rather than pro-Clinton. “In the end, we don’t vote against somebody. We vote for somebody.”

This article is from November 1.

African-Americans are failing to vote at the robust levels they did four years ago in several states that could help decide the presidential election, creating a vexing problem for Hillary Clinton as she clings to a deteriorating lead over Donald J. Trump with Election Day just a week away.

As tens of millions of Americans cast ballots in what will be the largest-ever mobilization of early voters in a presidential election, the numbers have started to point toward a slump that many Democrats feared might materialize without the nation’s first black president on the ticket.

The reasons for the decline appear to be both political and logistical, with lower voter enthusiasm and newly enacted impediments to voting at play. In North Carolina, where a federal appeals court accused Republicans of an “almost surgical” assault on black turnout and Republican-run election boards curtailed early-voting sites, black turnout is down 16 percent. White turnout, however, is up 15 percent. Democrats are planning an aggressive final push, including a visit by President Obama to the state on Wednesday.

But in Florida, which extended early voting after long lines left some voters waiting for hours in 2012, African-Americans’ share of the electorate that has gone to the polls in person so far has decreased, to 15 percent today from 25 percent four years ago.

Voter suppression was a factor in some states that Clinton lost, but not in all of them.  See Voter suppression didn’t cost Hillary Clinton the election at Vox.

Here’s another analysis:

Of the nearly 700 counties that twice sent Obama to the White House, a stunning one-third flipped to support Trump.

Trump also won 194 of the 207 counties that voted for Obama either in 2008 or 2012.

By contrast, of those 2,200 counties that never supported Obama, Clinton was only able to win six. That’s just 0.3 percent crossover to the Democratic side.

Again, if we were to claim that racism cost Clinton the election, we’d have to conclude that people who were not racist in 2008 and 2012 had become so in 2016. Or, maybe, Clinton lost because not enough voters were enthusiastic enough about her to go to the polls and vote for her. Take your pick.

It’s true that a lot of outspoken white supremacists supported Trump. But I’m writing this because I’m seeing way too many people say that we can’t win over those racist voters who elected Trump, so we’re doomed. It isn’t that simple.

18 thoughts on “Racism Is No Excuse

  1. I can certainly understand the “apathy” theory because I was feeling that way myself although I did vote. I just didn’t feel good about it. IMHO, the Trump victory was a vote against a woman and for a “strong man who would take charge and rescue everyone who was unhappy”. However, I also feel it is a good thing because it woke a lot of people up. Some people I know are taking Hillary’s defeat very hard. What to do about things I don’t know because I am not politically sophisticated enough. I did learn at the dog park this AM that a million woman march is being planned for 1/21 in D.C. And one woman said she is attending a march in Portland on the same date. Perhaps there are others being planned across the country. They tried to get me involved but I’m too lazy.

    • granny eagle — I might try to go to the Million Woman March depending on who is organizing it. If there’s even a whiff of the Clinton contingent behind it, probably not. But my marching days are probably over, anyway. I’d probably have to rent a wheelchair and have somebody push me to participate.

  2. If it’s a vote against a woman, why did Clinton lose in places where she performed well in 2008? Did they turn sexist in eight years?

  3. I agree, racism was involved but it was not THE factor mainly responsible for the loss. Neither was sexism.

    Clinton lost because there was little if any enthusiasm around her campaign, which is not surprising when she ran on incrementalism designed to maintain the status quo at a time when voters clearly wanted more. And as much as Clinton supporters didn’t like the “lesser of evils” view of the campaign, Clinton ran as if that were the case,making most of her pitch about voting against Trump while providing little if any discernible reasons beyond the shop worn platitudes why voters should vote FOR her.

    Clinton and her campaign were victims of their own hype. For the last two years, people were running around saying Hillary will be the next president, she was the most qualified, etc. And it appears they internalized that and took support for granted and didn’t feel they needed to focusing on pitching voters on why they should vote for Clinton. Being Hillary Clinton was enough. It hurt them in the end.

    I know a staunch Hillary supporter who argued before 11/8 that the dems had to elect Hillary because she was the only democrat who could win. Then on 11/9 said there was no way ANY democrat could have won because, racism. This was a devastating loss given the missed opportunity and what was at stake. Now that Clinton is done, her supporters need to take the blinders off and get real. This can’t be fixed until mistakes are honestly assessed and acknowledged.

  4. I disagree that this was the ‘apathy election’ – the definition of apathy is ‘don’t care’ and voters did care about the country – they just didn’t care for either of the candidates. Keep in mind that Trump just didn’t get less votes than Clinton – he got fewer votes than Romney or McCain. The debates however set records in terms of viewers.

    Rather than call it ‘apathy’, I’d call it despair. They have tried each party repeatedly and both parties have shown themselves to be in it to represent corporate America. If you want voters to re-engage, you have to get big money out of politics -entirely. Then Washington will have no option except to represent the only game in town – the people.

  5. A little off topic…
    It’s a good thing to analyze a defeat from a political perspective, but I think we’d be better served as a nation if we analyzed it from a spiritual perspective. That’s where the greatest damage was done.
    For the life of me I can’t understand how anybody with half a brain and a modicum of life experience could put their faith and future in the hands of a shyster like Trump. Hillary had her shortcomings but they weren’t even remotely comparable to the abominable character of Trump.
    Maybe Hillary’s strategy of letting Trump expose himself for who he really is didn’t have the effect that it should have, but that failure in effectiveness clearly places the blame on the American people. What are we teaching our children when the characteristics that Trump displayed are acceptable for leadership?
    The more I dwell on it, the more floored I become. I think of Jon Stewart’s question of what does make America great…and the answer is…our values. In anger and frustration we’ve turned from our values. Momma used to say: Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.. As a nation I think we’ve done just that.

  6. I think Clinton and her supporters tried to hit people via their minds. They tried to make t-RUMP look so unappealing, but, in turn, they energized his supporters.

    People don’t react to appeals to the mind. They respond to appeals to THEIR GUT!

    And t-RUMP had that down to a t.

    Dem’s need to get away from long-form ads that appeal to the better angels of people’s natures, and hit them in the gut!
    t-RUMP will provide plenty of ammo in that regard.
    If we have elections in the future – and I mean FAIR ones, with no voter suppression, caging, etc… – then we have to learn how to use t-RUMP’s appeal to the gut.

    “Truthiness” won in this election.
    We can’t let that happen if we have fair elections in the future.*

    *You may call me an alarmist, but I really worry about this with what I feel are good reasons.
    I might explain at some time later.
    For now, it’s time for dinner, a few glasses of wine, some whining, and then reading a novel to get away from our political shit-show!!!

  7. Voter apathy in the face of no hope for change sounds accurate.

    For starters I’d suggest going to succinct ‘corporations are abandoning America’ soundbites, since so many people are feeling that one. They need to so simple, factual and memorable that any politician going in that direction comes under scrutiny, regardless of their obfuscation PR. Hell, righty stuff like “Benghazi” or “legislate from the bench” got traction for even the low information types who don’t know the details or what those things even mean. “Corporate greed” doesn’t work since it’s too open ended. The point is keep it simple and accurate, for the stupids.

    A possible example. The concept of offshore tax havens seems insane to me, when there’s the simple solution that all corporations be taxed for the amount of business they do within a country regardless of where they’re based (corporations can run but they can’t hide tax). And if a particular country doesn’t like a corporations use of offshore slave labor they can tax for that as well (slave labor tax).

    I’m not suggesting that these are the answers, but that liberals work on dumbing reality down so that more people can get it, and get angry for the right reasons to then go vote.

  8. The Democratic vote for president declined sharply from 2008 to 2012 to 2016; the Republican vote declined slightly; so in 2016 they were close enough (albeit with Clinton in a small lead) for the tide to turn with vote suppression (Cross Check), racist demagoguery, and interference from foreign hackers and a last-minute nothing-burger pseudo-scandal from the secret police. Those manipulations would not have made a difference if the D lead had held from previous elections, but it did not.

    Joe Kennedy told his kids “I’ll be damned if I am going to pay for a landslide.” But a landslide is precisely what the D’s needed, and will need later. Narrow margins aren’t good enough; the R’s will cheat to win. Go big or go home.

    I am grateful for this at least; this election gave us all permission to use four words. Deplorable. Pussy. Fascist. Socialist. I say we run on that last word. Maybe not Bernie again, but one much like him, for I think he would have won.

  9. As long as I am counting silver linings, at least we can say goodbye to the Bush dynasty and the Clinton dynasty. Unfortunately we might get in exchange a Trump dynasty. The silver lining is always smaller than the cloud.

    Looking forward: Bannon wants terabuck infrastructure spending; Pelosi is willing to cooperate. So I see here the makings of an FDR-style devil’s bargain; save the middle class, but blacks and Hispanics get shafted.

  10. I dunno. Mostly I’ve quit paying attention to anything Carl Beijer says. Why? Just some of the reasons:

    1. Here he combines “stayed home” with “voted, but not for a major candidate” and calls them both “apathy.” Oooookaaayyyyy… you would think that actively going to all the trouble to actually vote would earn you some other, any other, epithet other than “apathetic.”

    2. Here he says “nonvoting” means people deliberately choose to stay home, but back during the primaries, “nonvoting” means “oppressed,” ie: somebody actively prevented them from voting. Here’s a quote from his earlier post (which he actually links to in his present post):

    This point is particularly urgent because non-voting is often a sign of significant oppression. When poor people don’t vote, for example, it is often because their boss won’t let them off of work, or because they don’t have reliable transportation to and from the polls. When minorities don’t vote, it’s often because of deliberate voter suppression tactics. To ignore the plight of non-voters is to ignore a major vector of oppression in the United States – a curious move to make when claiming the high ground in the fight for equality.

    3. Judging by most of the election exit polls at the Roper Center website blacks didn’t lose enthusiasm for Hillary particularly, they pretty much just went back to their more usual voting patterns when presented with only white candidates to choose from.


    4. Given that having a black candidate to vote for appears to have especially energized the black voters in 2008 and 2012, I still think the hypothesis that the racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, neonazi, neoconfederate haters were especially energized this year because this was the first presidential election in a long time where one of the major candidates looked, and talked, and acted like them, and that THESE voters were enough to tip election.

    5. I won’t speak for the rest of the country (though I might still *think* this about the rest of the country, because I have traveled a bit), but I have lived in the Deep South for most of my life, and to coin a phrase, “it’s the racism, stupid.” Kevin Drum actually gets it here:


    • hipparchia: I like Kevin Drum as a person, but he’s too much of a centrist Clinton apologist to “get it.” Also the Midwest and Rust Belt are not the Deep South. As I told another commenter here last week, in the Deep South you’re dealing with a different set of dynamics. Growing up in Missouri I was right on the edge of both historical cultural patterns and could see the difference. In the case of the upper Midwest and Rust Belt especially — the areas expected to vote for Clinton that flipped to Trump — you’re looking at a lot of areas that have voted for liberals/progressives in the relatively recent past and who voted for Trump this time. These were the people who used to be the backbone of the Democratic Party when it was pro-Union and pro-working man. So I much prefer my analysis to yours, thanks.

  11. I’m calling it. Trump is going to get eight years, not just the four I expected. Why? Because Dem loyalists and the soi-disant “leftists” who thought Hillary was a fine choice or that we just had to have a woman in the White House right now or that racism/sexism is the driver for every facet of society — if one can judge from the responses I’ve seen so far, they’ve learned NOTHING from all this.

    • paintedjaguar — the one development that’s given me hope is that there’s a serious effort to make Keith Ellison the next head of the DNC. If that can happen, I think we can move forward.

  12. “I’m writing this because I’m seeing way too many people say that we can’t win over those racist voters who elected Trump, so we’re doomed. It isn’t that simple.”

    And good thing it isn’t that simple!

    It’s pretty much what I thought, but since it isn’t that simple I was having a hard time framing it. Thanks so much for doing the heavy lifting.

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