In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s surprising win, part of the “why” picture that has emerged is an uncomfortable truth for Democrats: Hillary Clinton lost votes that Barack Obama had won, particularly in the rust belt and upper midwest.
But that doesn’t mean the electoral map has been fundamentally reshaped. Clinton lost in rust belt battleground states that they’ve won in recent elections, but these states aren’t gone from the Democratic coalition for good. In Wisconsin and Michigan Trump’s win margins were razor-thin. Clinton could have taken back 26 electoral votes simply by turning out Obama coalition voters in two counties.
In Wisconsin, worth 10 electoral votes, Trump’s current margin of victory is just over 27,250 votes. In Milwaukee County, Clinton won 288,986 votes ― down from Obama’s 328,090 in 2012. That’s a difference of 39,104 votes in that one county. Those voters didn’t go to Trump, who received over 32,000 fewer votes in the county than Mitt Romney did in 2012: they just didn’t turn out. If Clinton had gotten those votes that Obama received, she would have won the state.
Wayne County, Michigan, has a similar story: Obama won 77,806 votes more than Clinton’s tally of 517,447 in the county. Trump out-performed Romney’s totals in the county, but only by 14,738 votes ― so the missing Obama voters still could have shifted the race. Trump leads by only 11,423 votes statewide. That’s 16 more electoral votes Clinton lost in turnout.
Decreased urban turnout also helped Trump in Pennsylvania. The president-elect leads by more than 64,000 votes in the Keystone State. A single county wouldn’t shift the outcome as it could in Wisconsin and Michigan, but Clinton did lose a substantial chunk of votes in Philadelphia County compared to Obama ― 25,581, or about 40 percent of her statewide deficit. She lost more than 10,000 additional votes relative to Obama in the working class area around Scranton.
These three counties share a common trait: They are heavily populated by potential black voters, who got out to vote for Obama, but didn’t for Clinton. CNN reports that overall turnout was down among black voters, who made up 12 percent of the electorate compared to 13 percent in 2012. It might not sound like a big drop-off, but combined with higher turnout among rural white voters helps explain Trump’s surprising win.
A combination of factors could have led these Obama supporters not to vote. Clinton’s strategy of attacking Trump ― and assuming that extreme dislike for her opponent would drive turnout ― could have been a factor. Maybe Clinton’s ground game wasn’t as efficient as Obama’s had been in 2008 and 2012. Anecdotal evidence from the Detroit area suggests her get out the vote efforts were lacking.
One overlooked factor in Wisconsin could have been reduced turnout due to the GOP-passed requirement for the first time of photo identification to vote. Photo ID voting laws disenfranchise lower income, urban and minority voters who don’t drive and work during the hours that Department of Motor Vehicle offices would be open to issue a free ID card. Studies have shown that turnout is reduced by about 2 percent when photo IDs are required.
No new restrictions were in place in Michigan or Pennsylvania, but photo ID restrictions in New Hampshire and Virginia, as well as early voting cuts in North Carolina and Ohio likely also affected turnout in those states. Clinton lost North Carolina and Ohio, narrowly carried New Hampshire and won Virginia in a closer-than-expected race.
Yet polls never showed Clinton losing in the rust belt states. Not a single poll in the HuffPost Pollster database showed Trump ahead in Wisconsin ― ever. Clinton led by 6 points on average in the state. Nothing recent showed Trump leading in Pennsylvania, where her lead was about 5 points on average, or Michigan, where she led by around 6 points. People said they were going to vote when pollsters called or emailed ― but it looks like key parts of the Obama coalition in Detroit, Milwaukee and Philadelphia just didn’t turn out.
That cost Clinton at least 26 electoral votes. Democrats will need to give these voters a reason to show up next time.