My previous post on this topic has gotten some good feedback (yay!) but something else has come up this week that’s making me revisit the question: Some rather good data crunching pointing up the effects of voter suppression on turnout, particularly among Black voters. There’s some really terrific stuff in that thread, and I highly recommend reading it all.
Unfortunately, further analysis doesn’t bear out an assertion that correcting for this would have changed the result. While I don’t at all mean to imply that voter suppression is insignificant—it absolutely is, it’s horrific, and it needs to be stopped—in this particular case, it’s unlikely that it affected the outcome on its own. It factored in, definitely, as I’ll illustrate, but even if we isolated that particular variable, we’d still have the same result.
Let’s take another look at the spreadsheet I assembled for this project:
Though it doesn’t have specific turnout numbers (as it’s based on exit polls rather than official counts, which don’t include demographic breakdowns), it does note turnout as a percentage of the electorate. While fewer voters may have gone to the polls, and undoubtedly suppression efforts (including apathy generated by the propaganda insisting that all candidates were awful) had an effect, that didn’t significantly change what portion of the total number of votes a given group was responsible for. In Wisconsin, for instance, the share of the electorate for non-white voters was exactly the same in 2016 as it was in 2012. Its only change was that white women ticked up a point, and white men ticked down. In Michigan, though there was a three-point uptick in the share going to Latinx and other voters, the Black percentage was down less than a point on average.
Moreover, as the states in question are overwhelmingly white to begin with, very slight drops in relative share aren’t going to affect the results there nearly as much as they would in places where people of color are a larger share of the population to begin with. If we’re going to (as I believe we should) absolve men of color of their role in Clinton’s loss, as they’re a far smaller number of voters than the white men whose support for the Democrat also dropped, then we can’t attribute the loss to even smaller point drops in the non-white share of the electorate. Take Michigan, for example: Even though white men’s share of the electorate dropped two points—those points going to Latinxs and other races—the share of the vote the Democratic candidate got from them dropped twelve points, and that made a far greater difference to the bottom line.
Using the data on the spreadsheet above, I did another set of calculations to see what made the greater difference: The change in demographic share of the electorate or the change in percentage going to each candidate. While there were a couple of cases where changing the share did change the outcome for that state, changing the percentages per candidate changed it more. In Pennsylvania, for instance, Clinton would have gotten four more votes per 1,000 cast had she had the same percentage of the vote as Obama in 2012 than if the demographic shares were the same as 2012.
If you’d like that in hard numbers: In 2012, Black men were 60 out of every 1,000 voters in Pennsylvania. In 2016, they were 40. In 2012, Obama got 54 of those 60 votes. In 2016, Clinton got 33 of the 40. If you gave Black men those same 60 votes they had in 2012, but had them voting for the Democrat at the same percentage they did in 2016, she would have gotten 50 votes out of the 60. Definitely an improvement over the 33 votes she got, right? Only one problem: White men. Their share of the electorate was the same in both 2012 and 2016, but the percentage that went to the Democrat dropped like a stone. In 2012, they gave Obama 148 votes out of every 1,000. In 2016, they gave Clinton 121 votes. Adjusting the Black male vote upward would have given Clinton another 17 votes. But that would have been well outweighed by the 27 votes she lost with white men.
Tl;dr: A couple of points’ difference in turnout among Black voters didn’t make or break the election. The thing that did was white men abandoning the Democrat candidate and putting their votes elsewhere. Absolutely, we need to fight voter suppression, and that should be part of any agenda to fix this problem in the future. It’s racist, it’s undemocratic, and it’s gross. But at the same time, we can’t ignore the fact that left-leaning men abandoned Clinton, because that was the single greatest reason those three key states flipped, and the one variable that would have changed the outcome on its own.
Of course, none of these factors exist in isolation. If we’re to have any hope at all of winning in 2020 (assuming we’re even allowed to vote at all, or haven’t been reduced to radioactive ash), we have to have a multi-faceted approach to fixing the various problems that led to this disastrous situation we’re in. Suppression should absolutely be at the top of that list, because it’s a structural problem that can be addressed on a state-by-state basis via changes in law and by installing infrastructure to make it easier and more likely for people to vote. Such problems are far easier to fix than ridding white men of their obsession with violent domination of everything. But as we’re working on killing voter-ID laws, motivating the chronically apathetic, and other turnout-improvement efforts, we have to spare some energy for fighting that underlying problem, too. It does us no good to get more people out to vote if they’re still voting the same way as they did this time. I admit I have little hope that we’re going to change the voting habits of white men before the next election. I’m not about to suggest that we cater to the me-first tantrums of brogressives any more than we should cater to overt white supremacists. Begging them to consider the well-being of the rest of us didn’t help this time, after all. What we can do, though, along with the structural efforts, is work on groups that have a greater likelihood of change. If we can get people other than white men back to their Obama-voting percentages, we can override them even if turnout alone doesn’t change. We didn’t lose by much this time. 80,000 votes over three states in the face of a three-million lead in the popular vote is a bizarre quirk of fate and population distribution. But because the loss was so narrow, it also should be a lot easier to overcome next time. Let’s dig in to the structural stuff like suppression. But let’s also give some misguided lefties a proper trout upside the head and get them to stop agitating for a bloody revolution and start voting for the only candidates who can save our asses from the GOP.