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What a Surprise on Election Day

By John Sharbaugh, CAE
CEO/Executive Director of TSCPA

Nov. 14, 2016

Conventional wisdom and the overwhelming majority of most polls led one to believe that Hillary Clinton was going to be the 45th President of the United States.  I certainly was among those who thought I would be able to stop watching election coverage early in the evening on Election Day and find something else to do.  The outcome of the election seemed like a foregone conclusion.  But then I learned in the immortal words of Yogi Berra that “it ain’t over till it’s over.”  This was certainly the most surprising election result of my lifetime.  Most people counted Donald Trump out many times through the entire election process, including the primaries, but at the end of the day he ended up winning and will be sworn in as our next President on January 20, 2017.

There will be many people trying to figure out over the upcoming months exactly what happened in this election and how Trump won and Clinton lost.  Pollsters, the media, political analysts and partisans will all be analyzing and offering interpretations of how this actually happened.  I do not claim to be an expert, but I have a few thoughts based on the early data coming in from the election.

First, this election featured the least liked candidates of my lifetime.  Both Trump and Clinton had very high negatives among the voting public, with Trump being viewed as the worse of two evils.  So in many cases people were not voting for someone, they were voting against someone.  The enthusiasm level of this election was pretty dismal and many people were asking incredulously, “are these two the best we have?” or words to that effect.  In the end it appears Trump’s supporters had a slight edge over Clinton’s in their enthusiasm to see change in Washington, and they saw Trump as the candidate better positioned to bring change, however it might be defined.

The public’s lack of enthusiasm was demonstrated in the voter turnout this year.  Around six million fewer voters turned out to vote than did so in 2012.  And around two-thirds of those no shows were Democrats.  So that put Clinton at a distinct disadvantage.  And among those who did vote many only voted in down ballot races and passed on voting for President.  In Michigan, where Clinton lost by around 13,000 votes it is estimated that 90,000 Democrats left the top line on the ballot blank.

And among those who did vote, Clinton did not perform as well as her predecessor, President Obama, with many traditional Democrat leaning voters.  Exit polls showed Clinton won six percent less support among racial and ethnic minorities even as this group grew in its share of the electorate.  Union households also did not provide as much support for Clinton as in the past.  She won the group by eight percent but President Obama won them by 18 percent and 20 percent in his two elections.

Another contrast in the voting public that played a role in the outcome was the sharp divide between urban and rural voters.  Clinton did very well in large cities and populated areas while Trump scored well in rural and far suburban areas of the country.  She won big on the coasts and Trump did well in the heartland or what has been called “fly over” country.  And part of that explanation may relate to the economic conditions that exist in those two worlds.  Many people in the center of the country and the former industrialized upper mid-west have seen their communities lose jobs and employers over the past few decades and they were looking for someone who would focus on their concerns.  Trump appeared to be a champion for their interests and they rewarded him with their votes.

In addition to Trump’s victory, the Republicans also did better than expected in the U.S. Congress.  While they lost six seats in the House they still command a majority.  While they were anticipated to possibly lose control of the Senate, which did not happen.  While they still hold a majority, it is a slim one and is not filibuster-proof.  But having control of all branches certainly provides a better opportunity to get something done.  It is anticipated that during the first 100 days of Congress they will move on some kind of tax reform, repeal and replace Obamacare and do something on immigration reform.  As they say, the devil is in the details and those have not yet been spelled out.  And it is doubtful the Democrats will just agree with anything, so anticipate a tough go to make any kinds of significant change.  Legislating is always harder than campaigning.

Texas in many ways mirrored the country at large.  Trump beat Clinton with 52 percent of the vote and won 227 of the state’s 254 counties.  He won by around nine percent and by more than 800,000 votes.  But when you breakdown where the votes came from you see a similar picture to the national results.  Hillary Clinton carried six of the most populous counties in Texas including:  Bexar, Dallas, El Paso, Harris, Hidalgo and Travis.  But Trump was the winner in the vast majority of the remaining counties.

We are likely to see this division between city and rural play out in the upcoming session of the Texas Legislature.  The political leaders from cities and rural environments often see problems and the solutions to them differently.  So it is likely there may be disagreements as to issues such as roads, water and education that fall on philosophical differences between urban and rural legislators.

Well the votes are now in and the next step is to move to the legislative process.  Let’s hope our elected leaders keep the people in mind as they go about crafting solutions.  One thing is clear, if they don’t, they are only an election away from the possibility of being replaced.  If nothing else, this most recent election proves you can never count on a sure thing.  The voters always have the last say.