If you’ve been sharing that post on Facebook that reads, “Bernie would have won in a landslide,” you need to stop.
Neither party has been able to hold the White House for three terms since the passage of the 22nd Amendment, with only one exception (which I explain later in this piece). Further, the implementation of new state-issued ID requirements (and long lines) suppressed the participation of voters of color in key swing states, and this would have been the case regardless of whose name appeared on the ballot. Furthermore, white voters made up 69% of voters in 2016. The President-elect won 58% of white voters overall. 53% of white women voted for him. 63% of white men voted for him. All of my fellow Bernie Sanders primary and caucus voters out there need to acknowledge these facts and the data that demonstrates the role of racial prejudice in defining the white vote, regardless of gender, regardless of socioeconomic class, regardless of age, regardless of education. From the “Southern Strategy,” to the “Reagan Revolution,” to the present day, racial animus has been front and center in white voter targeting and mobilization.
No Democratic presidential candidate since 1964 has won the majority of white voters in a presidential election. (Go ahead, Google it).
Talking heads, pundits, meme makers and social media rant writers tend to put bias before all else. And this is fine when it comes to providing Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, Jon Oliver, Trevor Noah and other comics engaging in a social critique with material. But it’s not ok when it comes to making decisions that impact our lives. To paraphrase Daniel Patrick Moynihan, everyone is entitled to invent their own opinions, but no one is entitled to fudge the facts.
Why Hillary Clinton Lost and Why Sanders Would Have Lost as Well
The fact is that this was not an election decided by voters who were rejecting the establishment. If the President-elect was a riding a wave of animus toward the elites in power, if voters were trying to send a message to the professional politicians, we would have seen a wave of Senate seats flip parties. But we did not see this. Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin all preserved the party in power. Only New Hampshire and Illinois saw a change.
Republican Senate candidates explicitly pursued a strategy of ticket splitting. But ticket splitting did not occur. The same story can be told district by district in the House of Representatives. Voters in contested races did not reject incumbents, or their crony-insider political party machines. They re-elected the establishment and gave them a mandate.
The fact is that this was not an election decided by voters who are socioeconomically poor. The majority of voters who made less than $50,000 voted for her, and the majority of those making more than that amount voted for him.
This disparity is not one that emerged as a result of tremendous general election organizing efforts, or the absence thereof. The evidence that his support was not actually amongst those with low incomes was exposed by none other than Nate Silver on May 3, 2016 (the day of the Indiana Primary) entitled, “The Mythology of Trump’s Working Class Support.” There’s plenty of good debates going on about the appeal of the economic populist message in this election cycle, but as Nikole Hannah-Jones pointed out on Democracy Now, the majority of folks disadvantaged by a neoliberal, globalized economy that relies on automation, outsourcing, depressed wages and so forth, did not vote for him—they voted for her.
In addition, Hannah-Jones explained that we cannot ignore the role of state-issued photo ID laws in states considered to be the bellwethers for those making economic populist arguments. In Ohio and Florida, voters not possessing state-issued IDs were forced to vote on provisional ballots. This was not the case in previous elections. In Indiana and Wisconsin, you cannot vote without a state-issued photo ID. This was not the case in previous elections. In Michigan, if you wish to vote but do not have a state-issued photo ID, you must complete an affidavit. This was not the case in previous elections. A Harvard Law School study found the following:
The expenses for documentation, travel and waiting time are significant—especially for minority group and low-income voters—typically ranging from about $75 to $175. When legal fees are added to these numbers, the costs range as high as $1,500. Even when adjusted for inflation, these figures represent substantially greater costs than the $1.50 poll tax outlawed by the 24th amendment in 1964.
In other words, not only was his support from wealthier folks, his support was from folks who were not impacted by state-issued photo ID laws. Turning them out simply meant reminding them to vote. Her support, her turnout vote, because it came from low-income folks, was disproportionately and adversely impacted by state-issued photo ID laws, and long lines. Translating the support of her pool of support amongst registered voters into actual ballots cast was a Herculean task, because it meant fighting voter suppression, whose egregiousness we don’t yet have a full grasp of, but whose deleterious effect is undeniable in places like North Carolina.
The fact is that this was an election decided by voters who were anti-immigrant. He launched his campaign by calling Mexicans criminals, drug dealers, rapists and murderers. His most repeated refrain from the campaign trail and the convention was, “Build a wall and make Mexico pay for it!” He went on to propose a ban on Muslims. On the campaign trail he singled out Syrian and Somali refugees. Amongst all of the election night bloviating, no one, not one single journalist or analyst pointed to the August survey of his supporters demonstrating that 91% of those who strongly supported him wanted that wall built.
This survey occurred at the same time he met with Mexico’s president, and delivered his “modified” stance on immigration. When divided along partisan lines, 63% of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents supported his border wall, and 84% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents opposed it. This was all of course, before he started saying in nationally televised debates and widely broadcasted rallies that “illegal immigrants are pouring over the border to vote.” This led militant, white supremacist organizations to grab their guns and deputize themselves to serve as
“poll watchers.” Something that Comedy Central tried to find the humor in on Election Day, but became impossible to laugh at because of the well-documented record of hate crimes he inspired.
The fact is that this was an election decided by white voters regardless of class, gender or age. She won 90% of the Black vote, 70% of the Latino and Asian vote (some would say even more), and racked up similar margins in all other communities of color. In fact, one of the reasons why Arizona went from reliably red state to a contested one was because Native Americans offended by his “Pocahontas slurs,” including the Navajo Nation, supported her.
White voters supported him.
Half of white millennials voted for him, 40% voted for her and 10% voted for a third party.
Over 60% of white voters over 30 supported him.
What makes this remarkable are the margins of both white men and white women voting for him.
No Democratic presidential candidate has won the white vote since 1964. When Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, he famously said, “We have just delivered the South to the Republican Party.” Lee Atwater became notorious when he explained exactly how the GOP could reliably use the Southern Strategy of white resentment toward people of color to win the White House. History proved them both right. The GOP won in 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984, 1988, 2000, 2004, and 2016 because of the white vote.
While it is true that white women saw some migration toward Democratic presidential candidates before September 11, 2001, the data show that the margins of white women voting for Republican presidential candidates have remained reliable and steady ever since, regardless of who runs.
Here’s more data to prove this point: In 2004 George W. Bush won 55% of white women, compared to 44% for John Kerry. In 2008 John McCain won 53% of white women compared to 46% for Barack Obama and in 2012 Mitt Romney won 56% of white women compared to 42% for Obama.
The first woman to become the Democratic Party’s nominee for the presidency —she, herself a white woman— lost the white women’s vote. 43% of white women voted for her, 53% of white women voted for him. The only group of white women she won were college educated white women. That said, despite the fact that 76% of college educated white women stated their disapproval of his sexual conduct on October 23, on Election Day (when it counted) college educated white women only voted for her by a margin of 51% to 45%.
Bill Clinton did better than Hillary Clinton among white women. (Let that sink in).
According to Barney Frank, “gays and Jews” are the only white men who vote for Democratic presidential candidates. In an article called, “So Long, White Boy,” Thomas Schaller writes that the only white men voting for Democratic presidential candidates are Union members, and even in that specific demographic, white men in labor only skew Democratic by single digits. The data show that white men reject Democratic presidential candidates, even when aggressively courted:
What about Super-Bubba himself, Bill Clinton? By siphoning off 22 percent of the white male vote in 1992, Ross Perot would appear to have prevented Clinton from breaking the Democrats’ pattern. But more revealing is the fact that when in 1996 Perot’s support among white men fell by half to 11 percent, Clinton’s support improved by a meager 1 percent. The truth is that Clinton was no more dependent on white male votes for his two wins than Gore and Kerry were penalized for garnering the same level of support from these voters in their two defeats.
Bill Clinton made inroads with white women when he ran for re-election in 1996, yet like all other Democratic presidential nominees since 1964, he lost white men by large margins. That said, Bill Clinton did not lose white men by the same margin Hillary Clinton did. White men handed the President-elect the keys to the White House. He won white men by 32 points. In 2012, Romney won them by 27. He didn’t just win by a larger margin of white men, he turned out a larger number of white men overall to the polls. In June of this year, Nate Cohn wrote a column called, “There Are More White Voters Than People Think.” And indeed, overall voter turnout in 2016 was nearly what it was in the record-setting 2008, but the difference was that a combination of the “enthusiasm gap” and voter suppression drove down turnout amongst voters of color by 10 points, while a self-proclaimed birther who in 2011 insisted that he was “more serious than ever” about running for president and sent “special investigators to Hawaii to uncover one of the greatest cons in history,” drove up white voter turnout to a record high.
Then There Was 1988
Like I said before, the fact is that no political party has held the presidency for three terms, with one exception. Since the 22nd Amendment established term limits for the presidency, there have been eight opportunities for a party to hold the presidency for more than two terms. In May of 2015, in an article entitled, “The GOP and Willie Horton: Together Again,” Politico’s Roger Simon wrote: “…the 1988 presidential campaign pitting George H.W. Bush against Michael Dukakis and the use of race to transform a losing campaign into a winning one is back in the news.”
The campaign would forever etch Atwater and Roger Ailes into political legend. Bush was losing and losing badly to Michael Dukakis (by 17 points) when Willie Horton became part of the national dialogue.
As Stone wrote:
Atwater held a series of focus groups in an office in a shopping mall in Paramus, New Jersey, and then went to the Bush family home in Kennebunkport, Maine, with the results: Tell Dukakis voters about Willie Horton and they stopped being Dukakis voters.
Atwater told Bush: “We’re 17 points back and they’ll pick up 10 more points at their convention and we won’t win. Even with a good campaign, we won’t win. You can get so far behind that even a good campaign won’t win it for you.”
And Bush’s response?
“After that,” Atwater said, “it was an easy sell.”
The result? 89% of Black voters supported Dukakis, 70% of Latino voters supported Dukakis, but only 40% of white voters supported Dukakis. The one and only time a political party was able to hold the White House since the passage of the 22nd Amendment was when the GOP directly tapped into a reservoir of antipathy and resentment that coalesced because it directly appealed to authoritarianism and the many forms of racial prejudice motivating white voters.
2016 Was Like 1988
Today the data tells the same story. When the now President-elect launched his campaign, 54% of the GOP believed that “deep down President Barack Obama is a Muslim.” This when only 24% of Republicans had a favorable view of Islam. Therefore, his proposed ban on Muslims, promise to turn back refugees from Islamic countries and plan to put mosques under surveillance struck a chord. At the same time, his support from those scoring high on the authoritarian scale was overwhelming and unyielding. He declared himself the “law and order candidate,” and referred to his supporters as the “silent majority” days after five police officers in Dallas were killed. He took the phrase “Make America Great Again” from Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign. And as Eoin Higgins wrote earlier this year:
Who are the silent majority? What does the term mean? And why are they coming out for Trump?
The answer has its roots in the intense white backlash to the Civil Rights Movement and the Civil Rights Act. It’s a throwback to the coalition that helped Richard Nixon rise to power in 1968, and has much of the same connotations of white backlash to racial change and civil rights. Trump is tapping into that same coalition and ideology in his quest for the presidency.
White backlash is back. And so is the silent majority.
We can talk all day and all night about this that or the other. But the facts and available data demonstrate this was a white backlash election that no Democratic candidate could have won.
I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary. It is easy to buy into the narrative that Bernie’s economic populist message would have won over white voters, but the evidence doesn’t support that conclusion. Hillary Clinton’s white supporters and Bernie Sanders’ white supporters are ultimately the same: low income, college educated, Union members, etc, with the exception of white millennials.
But there aren’t enough white millennials in swing states to offset the white voters over 30 that the President-elect won. And the same “enthusiasm gap” and state-issued photo ID laws, and long lines, leading to voter suppression would have applied. There are no models demonstrating that Bernie could have won more votes from voters of color than Obama.
Bernie wasn’t part of the Democratic Party machine, but as a holder of public office since 1981, he is the “establishment candidate” when pitted against someone who has never served in the military and never served in public office. That means Bernie would have been vulnerable to the same charge lobbed by the antithesis of a career public servant against Hillary Clinton:
“This is just another politician talking folks. Every few years they promise, but nothing changes. Why haven’t you done it over the last several decades in public office?”
Bernie Sanders is a principled reformer, but so is Ted Cruz. And Cruz wasn’t the GOP nominee. This was never a battle of ideas regarding the future of this country. This was an election, history tells us, any Democratic Party candidate was highly likely to lose. This was a backlash election in which white voters rewarded the following statements with their votes:
“They want open borders, amnesty, Muslims who are secret terror cell plants, and hell in the inner cities, and I’m the law and order candidate.”
“They want to raise taxes and then turn around and give all of your money away to illegal immigrants and welfare queens instead of supporting our veterans and putting money back into your pockets.”
“The rest of the world thinks President Obama is a joke because we won’t fight, so we need to bomb them without warning, and take them and their families out—water board them and worse—without apology, which is the opposite of the all talk and no action they offer.”
We need to stop repeating the lie that this election was decided by those left behind and those who feel as though they are outside of the system, and therefore must lash out against it. For all of the 60 Minutes segments and other media spotlight segments on former factory workers, this election was not decided by socioeconomically poor white people.
Economic hardship bearing white voters who were able to cast ballots did not defeat Hillary Clinton. She won low-income voters. She won Union voters. But the number of poor whites is smaller than the number of middle-class whites. And the same state-issued photo ID laws and long lines that suppressed the votes of voters of color suppressed the votes of poor whites. He might have bragged about how he loved the “poorly educated,” but the truth is that white people with college educations and middle-class to upper-class incomes —those with checking and savings accounts, ample credit lines and pensions and/or 401k retirement accounts— are the ones defeated her. White voters, regardless of class, have consistently voted for the GOP.
Bernie would have lost them too.
The President-elect attacked and mocked Muslim, Latino, Asian, Black, and Native Americans without apology. This distinguished him in a crowded field of GOP candidates with extreme right wing policies. He was rewarded for not being “politically correct” and “telling it like it is.”
We need to stop claiming that Bernie Sanders’ economic populism could have won this election, because that ignores the role of racism and xenophobia in this campaign as a net positive in the Electoral College outcome, and it ignores what is well documented regarding the white vote and the inability of parties to hold the White House for more than two consecutive terms. There may not be much we can do in the short term about the latter, but if we care at all about the future of this country and people who call it home, then we need to be honest about white voter bias.
Racial animus was on the ballot. Chauvinism was on the ballot. White people voted for both.
If you have white skin and you’re unwilling to confront white supremacy, institutional racism as well as anti-Black, anti-Muslim, anti-Latino, anti-immigrant, anti-Native American and anti-API sentiment, then you’re part of the problem. This means doing intersectional work. On the campaign trail, she promised living wages and he opposed increases in the minimum wage. She stood strong with equal LGBTQI rights and he promised to appoint Supreme Court Justices to overturn equal marriage rights. Thousands upon thousands just spent months chanting “Trump that b*tch!” and selling/buying/wearing t-shirts reading, “Hillary sucks but not like Monica.” Again, either you’re willing to confront sexism, misogyny and the suffocating, oppressive, marginalizing force of patriarchy, or you’re part of the problem. This applies to men and women.
White men have not supported a Democratic candidate since 1964. Not one. White women have been targeted and treated as swing voters because they narrowly supported Bill Clinton in 1996, and nearly broke even for Al Gore in 2000. Hence the endless fights for “white soccer moms,” “young white women,” “single white women,” “college educated white women,” “married white women,” etc.
And yet, when push came to shove, white women did not support a white woman.
Overall, they preferred a white man who unapologetically incited and instigated racial violence, and serially and overtly perpetrated sexual violence. Black women, Native women, Latinas, Asian women, all other women of color made the opposite choice and voted for her—against him—by wider margins than men of color. There are substantive reasons for this. The U.S. ranks 33rd in the world when it comes to women in office. These are facts, not footnotes.
White Americans, you either know that you fear, resent and hate people of color, immigrants and religious minorities, and don’t care that your heart is filled with fear, resentment and hate. Or like Lorne Michaels, Jimmy Fallon, Billy Bush and other white celebrities who played along, egged him on, and sought to humanize, endear and ingratiate him to those who vote on emotional impulse, rather than measured consideration, you think you get a pass because “some of your best friends are Black.”
You simply aren’t willing to distinguish your lack of prejudicial intent from the very real, tangible, measurable and egregiously harmful racist outcomes you’ve supported with your actions. Whether you voted for him or not, if you’ve been attacking José Antonio Vargas for simply making a documentary called, “White People,” and asking him and the other 11 million undocumented U.S. residents why they “cut the line” and “didn’t follow the rules”; if you’ve been saying the Black Lives Matter movement is anti-white and dangerous and violent, and you’re quick to share “Blue Lives Matter” posts, but say nothing when trolls begin attacking the character of the Black, Brown or Native person who was just killed; if you’ve been saying that you have the right to wear offensive Halloween costumes without criticism, use racial slurs in everyday speech without consequence, (because rappers use them in their lyrics) that “political correctness is an attack on free speech,” “white privilege doesn’t exist because Asians earn more money than whites and get higher test scores,” or “affirmative action is reverse racism;” if you’ve been saying you’re “pro-life” while unarmed, innocent children are killed by neighborhood watch vigilantes, police officers, border patrol agents, and poisoned by lead and toxins already in their water and soil, or oil pushed through new pipelines, you are a racist.
I’ve just written and cited thousands of well-researched words, but I know that the paragraph above this one is the only thing people will read. I know I will be labeled divisive and prejudiced. You can attack me as the messenger. But I’m reporting the facts.
The only time in modern U.S. history that a political party was able to keep the presidency for three terms was when anti-Blackness was placed front and center. White voting behavior in presidential elections since the passage of the Civil Rights Act has been consistently and reliably anti-Democratic.
Obama won in 2008 and 2012 but lost amongst white voters in both elections. The Democratic Party nominated white men to head the ticket in 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004, and lost the white vote in all of those elections.
Don’t get me wrong: white voters do not bear all of the responsibility for delivering the White House to a candidate who has never served in the military or in elected or appointed office. Between one in four and one in three Latino and API voters also cast ballots for him. Those whose families came to the U.S. fleeing communism have been reliable GOP voters because of economic conservatism. Those who are adamantly anti-choice have been reliable GOP voters because they want to see Roe v Wade overturned. Those who are adamantly homophobic, trans-phobic and hetero-normative have been reliable GOP voters since George W. Bush proposed a Constitutional amendment to “ban same sex marriage.”
But just so we’re clear, there are many Latinos and API voters who enthusiastically cast ballots to uphold every form of racism. This was a white backlash election, but it was also one that revealed anti-Mexican, anti-Muslim, anti-Black, anti-Native and anti-immigrant sentiments are deeply entrenched and very widespread in Latino and API communities.
If you’re still fixated on Wikileaks, and the DNC, if you’re still saying, “Hillary Clinton was the wrong candidate, Bernie would have won” and all of the research I’ve done and presented above hasn’t convinced you, maybe this video the Guardian US published in May will break through.
Unai Montes-Irueste tweets from @unaimi.
Leave a Reply