Some Final Reflections On the 2016 Presidential Election: The Politics of Race, Class, and Gender within the American Electorate
by Kofi Natambu
The Panopticon Review
Seven weeks ago on November 8, 2016 the national voting public of the United States—some 137 million people—elected Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States. To say that this utterly bizarre election was one of the most openly divided, loathsome, and disturbing in American history would be a massive understatement. This election also greatly dramatized and even expanded the already very deep and persistent divisions of the country along racial. class, and gender lines and revealed once again just how dependent the two major political parties are on the electoral and ideological domination of these divisions not only politically and economically but culturally as well. The national electoral data and overall demographic analysis of the final election results (click on the the link at the top of this page to see electoral map charts and graphs for empirical specifics) demonstrates just how distinct and even vastly different these various voting constituencies were and how they remain fiercely divided and at odds ideologically and in terms of social philosophy with regard to every major political, social, and economic issue facing the country. Just as in the 2012 presidential election battle between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney these various groups also formed specific bloc voting coalitions with like minded constituents who in turn voted for and/or against both the perceived and real agendas of the respective candidates on the basis of these widely differing perspectives and desires. However unlike 2012 a close analytical examination of the statistical breakdown of regional voting patterns along geographic lines in 2016 reveals that Trump even more than Romney commanded an even larger share of the national white vote in a substantial majority of states overall which resulted in Trump winning six more states overall (for a grand total of 30) than Romney who won 24 states in 2012. This resulted in Trump being able to win a whopping 200 more electoral votes than Romney amassed even though technically Romney's and Trump’s share of the white vote was virtually identical at 59%. This national domination of the white vote for Trump was significantly greater this year because contrary to earlier wildly inaccurate reports by the media that the national turnout of voters was down from 2012, it actually turned out that in fact the 137 million votes cast in this year’s election is the highest number in history and that the overall turnout adjusted for aggregate increases in the general voting population was even larger than it was in 2012. By contrast Hillary Clinton only received an abysmal 37% of the national white vote, which was not only two percent lower than the 39% share of this vote that President Obama received in 2012, but was also the lowest percentage that ANY Democratic Party candidate had received for the presidency since 1984!
For example, a close analytical examination of the statistical breakdown of regional voting patterns along geographic lines reveals that not only did Donald Trump win a commanding 14 of the 15 southern states in the country by a very wide and decisive margin (a heinously reactionary region of the country that I still insist on grimly referring to as 'the New Confederacy’). By contrast Clinton only won the single southern state of Virginia. So while Clinton was able to win 19 of the remaining 35 states overall her margin of victory was in the final analysis significantly smaller than Obama’s in 2012 who won 24 of these same 35 states in 2012. The major reason for this difference in national outcomes is that the national white vote across ALL class and gender lines generally (and in every age group as well except millennials from 18-29) and especially in midwestern states where Trump won 8 out of 10 states (in 2012 Obama won 7 out these same 10 states) ensured that Clinton would wind up not only winning 100 fewer electoral college votes (232) than Obama won in 2012 (332) but 74 fewer than Trump (306) did this year.
However in the final analysis Clinton lost the election by LESS THAN ONE PERCENT OF THE VOTE in only three (3) counties from the three states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. This was clearly because Clinton couldn’t manage to win at least one half of this one percent more from white voters who were the great majority of voters in the three counties that Clinton barely lost. So even though Clinton managed to win the national popular vote by nearly 3 million votes out of 137 million votes cast and received over 73% of the national black, Latino, and Asian American vote overall (with 88% of the black vote going to Clinton) she was not able to overcome not only the 63% of the national white male vote that went for Trump but even more disturbingly Clinton received only 47% of the national white female vote (by a very stark contrast 94% of black female voters voted for Clinton). The fact that 53% of the voters from the largest share of the national electorate went to Trump--white females comprised 36% of all the voters in the U.S. presidential election this year--not only signified that a very deep political and ideological fissure remains in the U.S. national white feminist community generally (for example a substantial majority of white female voters have, like their white male counterparts, voted for the Republican presidential candidate (who in every single instance has been a wealthy white male) an astonishing thirteen straight times since 1968 (and 16 out of the last 17 presidential elections since 1952!). These harrowing facts are exacerbated by the ongoing reality that the huge racial split in voting between whites and every other racial and ethnic group in the country along not only ideological and class lines but age as well that has always characterized the American electorate generally is now even wider and deeper than ever. The fact that Trump won nearly 90% of his final tally of 63 million votes overall from white American voters and of that number over half were white women voters was not only devastating for Clinton on a symbolic level but was finally a decisive statistical factor in her losing the election to Trump.
MORE COMMENTARY ON THE ELECTION AND WHAT IT MEANS:
"The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President—a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit—and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.
There are, inevitably, miseries to come: an increasingly reactionary Supreme Court; an emboldened right-wing Congress; a President whose disdain for women and minorities, civil liberties and scientific fact, to say nothing of simple decency, has been repeatedly demonstrated. Trump is vulgarity unbounded, a knowledge-free national leader who will not only set markets tumbling but will strike fear into the hearts of the vulnerable, the weak, and, above all, the many varieties of Other whom he has so deeply insulted. The African-American Other. The Hispanic Other. The female Other. The Jewish and Muslim Other. The most hopeful way to look at this grievous event—and it’s a stretch—is that this election and the years to follow will be a test of the strength, or the fragility, of American institutions. It will be a test of our seriousness and resolve…"
—David Remnick, “An American Tragedy", The New Yorker, November 9, 2016:
"...Trump’s presence in American politics has made visible a plague of deep seated civic illiteracy, a corrupt political system, and a contempt for reason; it also points to the withering of civic attachments, the collapse of politics into the spectacle of celebrity culture, the decline of public life, the use of violence and fear to numb people into shock, and a willingness to transform politics into a pathology. Trump’s administration will produce a great deal of violence in American society, particularly among the ranks of the most vulnerable: poor children, minorities of color, immigrants, women, climate change advocates, Muslims, and those protesting a Trump presidency. What must be made clear is that Trump’s election and the damage he will do to American society will stay and fester in American society for quite some time because he is only symptomatic of the darker forces that have been smoldering in American politics for the last 40 years. What cannot be exaggerated or easily dismissed is that Trump is the end result of a long standing series of attacks on democracy and that his presence in the American political landscape has put democracy on trial…"
"Donald J. Trump’s election was a national trauma, an epic catastrophe that has left millions in the United States and around the world in a state of utter shock, uncertainty, deep depression, and genuine fear. The fear is palpable and justified, especially for those Trump and his acolytes targeted—the undocumented, Muslims, anyone who “looks” undocumented or Muslim, people of color, Jews, the LGBTQ community, the disabled, women, activists of all kinds (especially Black Lives Matter and allied movements resisting state-sanctioned violence), trade unions. . . . the list is long…
But the outcome should not have surprised us. This election was, among other things, a referendum on whether the United States will be a straight, white nation reminiscent of the mythic “old days” when armed white men ruled, owned their castle, boasted of unvanquished military power, and everyone else knew their place. Henry Giroux’s new book America at War With Itself made this point with clarity and foresight two months before the election. The easy claim that Trump appeals to legitimate working-class populism driven by class anger, Giroux argues, ignores both the historical link between whiteness, citizenship, and humanity, and the American dream of wealth accumulation built on private property. Trump’s followers are not trying to redistribute the wealth, nor are they all “working class”—their annual median income is about $72,000. On the contrary, they are attracted to Trump’s wealth as metonym of an American dream that they, too, can enjoy once America is “great” again—which is to say, once the country returns to being “a white MAN’s country.” What Giroux identifies as “civic illiteracy” keeps them convinced that the descendants of unfree labor or the colonized, or those who are currently unfree, are to blame for America’s decline and for blocking their path to Trump-style success…
Of course, Hilary Clinton did win the popular vote, and some are restoring to the easy lament that, were it not for the arcane Electoral College (itself a relic of slave power), we would not be here. One might add, too, that had it not been for the gutting of the Voting Rights Act opening the door for expanded strategies of voter suppression, or the permanent disfranchisement of some or all convicted felons in ten states, or the fact that virtually all people currently in cages cannot vote at all, or the persistence of misogyny in our culture, we may have had a different outcome. This is all true. But we cannot ignore the fact that the vast majority of white men and a majority of white women, across class lines, voted for a platform and a message of white supremacy, Islamophobia, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-science, anti-Earth, militarism, torture, and policies that blatantly maintain income inequality. The vast majority of people of color voted against Trump, with black women registering the highest voting percentage for Clinton of any other demographic (93 percent). It is an astounding number when we consider that her husband’s administration oversaw the virtual destruction of the social safety net by turning welfare into workfare, cutting food stamps, preventing undocumented workers from receiving benefits, and denying former drug felons and users access to public housing; a dramatic expansion of the border patrol, immigrant detention centers, and the fence on Mexico’s border; a crime bill that escalated the war on drugs and accelerated mass incarceration; as well as NAFTA and legislation deregulating financial institutions.
Still, had Trump received only a third of the votes he did and been defeated, we still would have had ample reason to worry about our future.
...It is not a matter of disaffection versus racism or sexism versus fear. Rather, racism, class anxieties, and prevailing gender ideologies operate together, inseparably, or as Kimberlé Crenshaw would say, intersectionally. White working-class men understand their plight through a racial and gendered lens... White privilege is taken for granted to the point where it need not be named and can’t be named. So, as activist/scholar Bill Fletcher recently observed, even though Trump’s call to deport immigrants, close the borders, and reject free trade policies appealed to working-class whites’ discontent with the effects of globalization, Trump’s plans do not amount to a rejection of neoliberalism. Fletcher writes, “Trump focused on the symptoms inherent in neoliberal globalization, such as job loss, but his was not a critique of neoliberalism. He continues to advance deregulation, tax cuts, anti-unionism, etc. He was making no systemic critique at all, but the examples that he pointed to from wreckage resulting from economic and social dislocation, resonated for many whites who felt, for various reasons, that their world was collapsing.” Yet Fletcher is quick not to reduce white working-class support for Trump to class fears alone, adding, “This segment of the white population was looking in terror at the erosion of the American Dream, but they were looking at it through the prism of race...”
Age:Overall, younger voters did support Clinton more than their elders did.
And here’s the young voter breakdown.
Gender:No overwhelming showing here: Slightly more than half of men voted for Trump and a bit more than half of women voted for Clinton.
Education:“I love the poorly educated!” Trump once exclaimed. Less educated Americans did vote for him.
Race:Most non-white voters were for Clinton.
Combining education and race gives an even fuller picture.