I went to campaign for Clinton in suburban Pennsylvania a few weeks before the election. It was a suburban, upper-middle-class, swing district with Trump signs on one lawn and Clinton signs on the next. The goal was for me to get out the vote with likely Clinton voters who were kinda flaky and might or might not actually make it to the polls. It was clear pretty early on, though, that that didn’t even remotely describe the people whose doors I knocked on. There were a few threads that ran through the responses I got.
The first, and most prominent, was “you’re the 5th person who’s knocked on my door this week, fuck off”. Ok, seems pretty reasonable.
The second required a bit more reading between the lines. But it was clear, from what people said and how they said it, that no one wanted to tell me they were voting for Donald Trump–and not just because I was with the Clinton campaign. It was also clear that some of them were going to. One woman saw I was with the Clinton campaign, said “I’m not voting”, and slammed the door shut. Another game a long, tortured response about how she didn’t know who she was voting for; after a follow-up question she replied “I guess I’m not sure we’re voting for Clinton”. The men, in contrast, all seemed to be voting for Clinton. Which is not to say men in general voted for Clinton–they didn’t–just that the Clinton campaign’s model of the of the suburban upper-middle-class female vote seemed to have more misses than the upper-middle-class men. I’m guessing may of their male counterparts were already thought to be likely Trump supporters.
There are two different theories circulating liberal circles about how it was that Trump won 47% of the American public’s votes. Maybe it’s because the economy has failed them, and they’re pissed as hell. Or maybe it’s just because they’re racist and don’t give a shit about Others.
We elected what seems to be the most xenophobic, ignorant, impulsive president in generations. But one thing that all of the attempts to explain (voxsplain?) the election result miss is: in modern American politics, most people just vote for their party’s nominee no matter who they are. A blowout national election is a 8% margin. So in a year where the Republican candidate seemed terrible, and the Democratic one was uncharasmatic, Clinton winning 48% of the vote vs. Trump winning 47% just doesn’t seem that far outside of what you’d expect.
And, sure, all of the explanations have some truth to them. Trump certainly did well among the tiny fraction of the electorate that votes primarily on white nationalism. And I’m sure Trump also did well with recently-laid-off coal workers.
And probably my pet theory is also only a small portion f the explanation. But I think it’s probably one people are under-weighting.
I’d guess that the biggest misses between polls and election day wasn’t the pissed off working class white male. I’m guessing it was the moderate, “cultured” suburban voter.
I’m guessing they see one candidate who’s kinda bleh. Seems really fake when you listen to her speak–you’ve heard people play political-speech madlibs, and this is exactly what it sounds like. There are also lots of stories about her corruption, which, well, who really knows, but it kinda just fits into her uninspiring persona.
And the other candidate–say what you will about him, but he speaks like he’s a real person. He says stupid shit sometimes, because that’s what people do. He supports a weird set of policy positions, but everyone has their pet causes and at least he has things he cares about–not things his policy team told him to care about. You’re not really sure if you support what he’ll fight for, but at least he’ll fight for something. At least he cares enough to, and cares enough to do it even though people tell him not to. He’s the all singing, all dancing crap of the world, and she’s just, well, kinda a normal crap.
And so you really do kinda want to vote for Trump, and you’re really not excited to vote for Clinton. But if there’s one thing you’ve learned, it’s that you’re not allowed to support trump. If you’re a man, you’re a sexist pig; if you’re a woman you’re a betrayal to your gender. If you’re white you’re a xenophobic racist; if you’re not then what the fuck are you thinking!
And you really do worry about some of the reasons you’re not allowed to support Trump. Lots of important sounding people are saying that he can’t be allowed to be the commander in chief, and I mean, it kinda does seem like they have a point. Sometimes a president has to be, well, presidential, and that he certainly isn’t. But the other reasons you’re not allowed to support him–yeah, he’s probably an asshole, but that’s not what this is about anyway. And the shaming has turned into meta-shaming, into shaming people who aren’t shaming him, and that kinda pisses you off. When you see your friends doing that, shaming people for not shaming another friend–I mean, come on, lay off it already!
You’re not really excited to vote for either of them, but you’re probably even less excited to vote for Clinton than Trump. But when a pollster calls you up and asks you who you’re voting for, pussy-gate weighs heavily on you. You can’t quite bring yourself to admit to someone else what you’re planning to do. So maybe you say you won’t vote, or haven’t made up your mind, or that maybe you’re voting for Gary Johnson, who you think is probably some sort of centrist or something.
There were no shy Trump voters in the Republican primary because shy Trump voters didn’t vote for him in the primary. They might not even have been registered Republicans, and if they were they probably voted for Jeb!. But when push came to shove, they voted the way they wanted to.
It’s uninspiring to think that a combination of random personal factors, unimportant cultural tropes, and less-important arguments against Trump would cause people to vote for an authoritarian presidential candidate–the same people who voted for Obama eight years ago. But sometimes grand theories are too grand.
And us smug Clinton voters–voters who took a stand for democracy on election day–if the Democratic candidate was authoritarian, and they were running against Ted Cruz: who would we have voted for?
Non of this is to belittle the impact of a Trump victory. We just elected a president who ran a xenophobic, ignorant, incoherent, impulsive, offensive campaign, and whatever he turns out to be when he get to the White House I’m terrified of him being the world’s commander in chief. But I don’t think we, as a country, elected him because we like to watch the world burn. I think it was probably more of an accident than that.