Looking at demographics is always fun. And a presidential election offers a good excuse to look at data.
One note of caution, as always, is that most eligible voters and almost half of registered votes don’t vote in the United States. So, if all non-voters actually did go to the polls, the patterns seen among voters would like shift and maybe to a drastic degree. We don’t actually know which parties and candidates, policies and positions that any given demographic supports. We just know who and what is supported by those within a demographic who vote and respond to pollsters.
That said, among the voting population, there are interesting patterns. Much of it is expected. White people voted for Trump. And many point out that it was working class or rather less educated whites. But I’d note a few things. A surprising number of well-educated whites voted for Trump, his having ‘won’ the educated voted among some white demographics. Plus, it is important that less educated working class whites have been a solid majority for Democrats these past decades. Heck, Trump even pulled college-educated white women to his side — the one demographic that Clinton should have had in the bag, considering she is a college-educated white woman.
Still, it’s not just about the white vote and who supposedly wins it or rather who loses it. Trump managed to get about a third of Hispanics and Asians, along with over a third of the ‘Other’ category. He even took about one in ten blacks, doing better than many previous GOP candidates. In an important state like Florida, it might have been minorities who helped push him toward victory (Cuban-Americans disliking Obama’s policy toward Cuba and Haitian-Americans angry about Clinton’s treatment of Haiti).
Others bring up the rural vs urban divide. That divide exists, but it isn’t a simple or necessarily reliable divide. And it doesn’t perfectly match to the class and racial divide. Most working class people, including working class whites, live in urban areas. Also, many minorities live in rural areas. Trump, for example, did even better among rural Hispanics, helping swing even more rural counties in his direction. Yet, Clinton didn’t do horribly in rural areas, taking about a third of the rural vote, even though she lost some rural areas that went for Obama. Besides, consider how many of those rural areas became rural. Many of them used to be small thriving towns with downtowns and factories before turning into ghosts of their former selves, essentially shifting from urban to rural in a single generation.
Say after me, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Many poor Americans don’t forgive the Clintons and the Democrats for NAFTA. That is how Trump has turned the GOP into a weird beast of economic populism or, if you prefer, economic demagoguery.
Another interesting thing is where populations are found. Rural populations are shrinking, but they’re still large. About a fifth of the American population remains rural, which is more than 60 million. Even most of the urban areas in the country are spread all over. There are tons of urban areas in the Midwest and the South. And the largest cities combined still aren’t the majority of the population. The South is the largest regional population in the country — about equal to the Northeast and Midwest combined, larger than the combined area of the West Coast, Mountain West and Southwest, and almost twice as populous as California and New York taken together. Texas alone is approximately equal to California.
If we ever had a popular vote in this country, elections would be dominated by the Southern vote and swung by votes outside of big cities. Metropolises, as large as they are, still only represent a minority of the population. The combined population of all the biggest cities in the country (a million or larger) is only around a third of the total national population. Besides, only some of those major urban areas are on the West Coast and the East (Mid-Atlantic) Coast. Furthermore, a large part of the urban vote is conservative and Republican, which would become more influential in a popular vote. The fact of the matter is most conservatives and Republicans live in areas that are urban, not rural. This was partly hidden in the past because many conservative demographics, from minorities to the white working class, voted Democratic.
It’s hard to know what a popular vote would look like. As I like to repeat, almost half of Americans don’t vote. That is because many people either don’t like either party or because they’ve been told their vote doesn’t matter. They may be independents, third party supporters, or simply Republicans in blue states and Democrats in red states. Our political system is intentionally designed to create disenfranchisement and demoralization among voters. We never see what it would look like to be in a functioning democracy.
Even among conservatives, a surprising percentage hold views that are liberal, progressive, and economic populist (e.g., majority of Americans support abortion rights, gun regulation, and basic welfare). Even if self-identified conservatives dominated in a popular vote, they might end up being a lot more liberal and even leftist in their actual politics. Some of the most left-wing parts of the country used to be the old industrial and mining regions with a powerfully unionized and sometimes openly Marxist white working class. These are now what many consider to be ‘conservative’ strongholds, but that only came after a half century of abandonment and betrayal by the Democratic Party.
Anyway, this election doesn’t really say anything about the American population. Neither major candidate, Trump or Clinton, won the majority of eligible voters. There is no way to predict the future based on this past election.