An Election of Issues, Not a Census
By Mark Uncapher
Reading the election analysis of left-leaning strategists and their media allies, one would be misled into thinking that election 2016 should have operated as a “national census day” in which the voters register their “identity” status. In this view, an algorithm using the variables of race, ethnicity, gender, ethnicity, education, income, religion and marital status would replace actual voting in order to determine an election’s outcome. And should this “formula” fail to predict the electoral outcome, it is either because “their” constituencies failed to turn out in sufficient numbers or other voter groups exhibited more solidarity than they expected.
In just about any other context, the making of overly broad generalizations about individuals based on their identity characteristics is associated with bigotry. Yet these “identity based” generalizations remains an acceptable form of electoral analysis. Missing from this “identity based” analysis is an appreciation of the impact issues have on voters.
Polling data shows a striking consistency with which voters identified their priorities. Again and again, voters ranked their top concerns as the economy and jobs, usually followed by national security and terrorism. Surveys varied regarding their next most common responses, but the terms “corruption in government,” “healthcare” and “government spending ranked on the top tier.” (The variations are largely a product of survey design, including which issues were offered as an alternative and how questions are phrased).
The Pew Research Center’s National Survey of Latinos, for example, found that the top voting issues for Hispanic voters were virtually identical to all registered voters. An overwhelming share of Hispanic voters (86%) said the economy would be very important to their vote; among all voters, 84% cite the economy as very important. Terrorism was cited by 80% of Hispanic voters, an identical share to all registered voters.
The “identity based” approach to politics reflects a deeply condescending view of voters. Even if acknowledging that different voters share very similar concerns, the purpose of the “identity-based” approach is that that voters are unlikely engage in enough independent thought to reach any different conclusions as others within their same “group.”
Yet more voters, 48%, wanted the next president to be more conservative than to continue President Obama’s policies (28%) or to be more liberal (17%). Interestingly, Trump picked up 23% of voters wanting a more liberal president, while Clinton earned only 13% of those seeking a more conservative president.
Attitudes about the Federal government also shaped voters. Seventy-six percent of voters either enthusiastic or satisfied with the Federal government voted for Hillary Clinton. Her problem in part was that only 29% voters shared this view. Of the 69% of voters dissatisfied or angry, Trump won 58% to 36%.
Certainly, attitudes toward both presidential candidates as individuals also shaped the election in significant ways. Barely 2% of voters had a positive impression of both Trump and Clinton. Among 20% of voters with an unfavorable impression of both major presidential candidates, Trump won by a 3 to 2 margin, with another fifth of these voters voting for someone else.
The broad strength of Republican Party policies in the election can be seen in the Congressional races. Collectively Republican House candidates garnered 3.2 million more votes than their Democratic opponents, even as Trump was losing the national popular vote.
Six states with 97 electoral votes previously carried by Barack Obama had Republican Senate candidates running for reelection, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Although Trump won all six states, every single Republican senate candidate ran ahead of the national ticket. On average, these swing state Republican senate candidates ran 3.4% ahead of Trump.
Issues were what mattered in the 2016 election and that tilted the results toward Republican victories.