The 2016 presidential election result was bad news for the Democrats, not just because they lost against the supposedly most beatable Republican candidate, but just as worryingly because the loss represented another chapter in the collapse of the Democrat vote.
The numbers are pretty stark: in 2008, Barack Obama garnered 69,498,516 votes. In 2012 he could only muster 65,915,796, or around 3.5 million less than 4 years earlier. By 2016, Hillary Clinton, as of the count today, had 59,923,027 votes, a staggering decline of 6 million on the previous Democrat total, and 9.5 million less than Obamaâ€™s first victory. Clinton performed only marginally better than John Kerry against George W Bush in 2004, when the size of the electorate was smaller by 25 million.
By comparison, the Republican vote has been reasonably stable – 62,040,610 in 2004, 59,948,323 in 2008, 60,933,500 in 2012 and 59,692,974 in 2016. This is good news only relative to the Democrat dismal results. You would hope that in the expanding electorate your own vote would keep growing, at least proportionally. Both parties are failing to grow their voting base, though the Democrats have been failing quite spectacularly. In many ways, of course, itâ€™s a matter of personalities: a young, charismatic black candidate is clearly more exciting to voters than an old, wooden, white woman, particularly one that is part of a corrupt political dynasty. Still, the Dems have a long way to go in front of them to recover.
Beware of Republican triumphalism â€“ or Trumpalism â€“ however. Far from achieving a swing towards him and growing the party base, Trump actually received less votes than that â€œEstablishmentâ€ â€œcuckâ€ Romney â€“ 1.2 million fewer in fact. Had Trump been able to replicate the Romney vote this year, his victory over Clinton would have been far more emphatic. It might be a bit of stretch to conclude that Trump did not win the election, Clinton lost it, but not that much of a stretch.
Yet all throughout the campaign we have heard the boasts from the candidate himself as well as him many surrogates and boosters about how he is expanding the Republican party base by reaching to previously neglected and electorally disenchanted and self-disenfranchised groups â€“ â€œthe forgotten peopleâ€ or Trumpâ€™s victory speech – or by winning over â€œTrump Democratsâ€ to the Trump GOP fold.
Yet looking at the numbers, the party base clearly has not been expanded under Trump. Quite contrary, it has shrunk back to the 2008 levels, the landslide defeat of McCain by the fresh Obama. So what is actually happening?
It seems clear from the analysis of exit polls from the past few presidential elections that Trump has not grown the GOP party base â€“ he has been remaking it.
At the risk of glib overgeneralisation, Trumpâ€™s Republican Party is older, poorer, less educated, less urban, but to a small degree more diverse than Romneyâ€™s party four years ago. So much for the media stereotypes.
While the Democrats still won the majority of those with incomes under $50,000, Trump increased the share of those earning less than $30,000 from 35 to 41 per cent, the highest swing of any income bracket. In terms of education, in 2012, only 35 per cent of those who never finished high school voted Republican, and 48 per cent each of those who only finished high school and those with some college or associate degree (this is the majority of the electorate: 53 per cent in 2012). In 2016, Trump won 51 per cent of those with high school education or less, and 52 per cent of those with some college or associate degree.
So you can say that Trump has indeed attracted more of those feeling disenfranchised and abandoned in our modern world and globalised economy; working class, blue collar, less well off, less educated voters â€“ the Trump Democrats (see the best illustration below).
But this was achieved at a cost of pushing away parts of the middle class â€“ the better off, the better educated voters, who I imagine were put off by Trumpâ€™s temperament, style and populist policies. There are very few #NeverTrump conservative intellectuals and pundits in the greater scheme of the American population, but clearly there are a lot more #NeverTrump average conservatively-inclined people out there.
In terms of income, Obama in 2012 won the support of 46 per cent of those earning between $50,000 and $100,000, and 44 per cent each of those between $100,000 and $200,000, and over $200,000. In 2016, Hillary retained the 46 per cent of those between $50,000 and $100,000, increased to 47 per cent her share of the $100,000 to $200,000 voters, and to 48 per cent those sitting between $200,000 and $250,000.
In 2012, the Democrats won 47 per cent of college graduates and 55 per cent of those with postgraduate qualifications. In 2016, they won 49 per cent of college graduates and 58 per cent of postgraduates. The Republican loss in these demographics is even starker, since not all of these former Republicans went over the Democrats, as many would have voted Libertarian and Independent instead: a fall from 51 to 45 per cent of college graduates and from 42 to 37 per cent of postgraduates.
The Trump GOP is also more diverse, albeit marginally. Identity politics on the right has no doubt played part in the election, but Donaldâ€™s victory should not be overblown into some sort of revolt of angry white people, as many liberals would have it. Romney in 2012 actually achieved a higher white vote than Trump â€“ 59 per cent of whites, which made up 72 per cent of the voting population. Trump won 58 per cent of whites, who four years later made up only 70 per cent of those voting. In other words, he got a marginally smaller share of a shrinking population. In 2012, the Republicans won only 6 per cent of the black vote, 27 per cent of Latinos, and 26 per cent of Asians. Under Trump, these shares increased to 8, 29, and 29 per cent respectively. The share of â€œothersâ€ (only 3 per cent of the population) fell slightly from 38 to 37 per cent. For all the talk about racism and bigotry of Trump and his supporters, he did better in the non-white America than Romney (who, to be fair, had the disadvantage in this regard, running against Barack Obama, rather than an old white woman).
To summarise: increasingly, this is not your grandparents’ or your parents’ GOP – not even that of your older siblings. Certainly not the Republican Party of Reagan anymore, but slowly becoming the Republican Party of Trump. We are in an uncharted territory.