The Real Reason Hillary Lost

Almost as surprising as Trump's victory was the tidal wave that followed the earth quake -- the tsunami of punditry determined to explain what had happened. Proof of the post-election hysteria was the nearly universal error -- a big one -- made by even the most august analysts and publications.

One of the dominant "facts" that immediately circulated was that Clinton captured a substantively lower popular vote than Obama did in the two previous elections. The narrative instantly arose that many former Obama supporters did not vote this time around and the gap explained Trump's win. The problem was that nearly all analysts compared Obama's final tallies with Clinton's still-being-counted votes, and the latter were understated by at least five percent. This is because some states, notably California, allow residents to mail in their ballots on election day, including residents who are overseas and whose ballots are not received and counted for days, even weeks.

The day after the election, Clinton votes tallied close to 62 million. When the final vote is counted, while she is not likely to receive as many votes as Obama in 2008 (69 million), she will likely match or even surpass his votes in 2012 (66 million). And she will widen the gap against Trump's likely final tally of 63-64 million, since most outstanding ballots are in liberal states. Most states will submit their final vote counts for the December 19th meeting of the Electoral College, where the 538 Electors will cast a presidential ballot, largely in concert with the result of the state they represent.

While the post-election votes will not change the result, they do change the narrative.

First of all, there are many factors that contributed to Trump's victory, many of which are impossible to quantify. We can only speculate which of the many factors had the greatest impact: middle class angst, rejection of Washington gridlock, anti-Clinton sentiment (both Clintons), populist nationalism, an undercurrent of racism and anti-feminism, etc. No analysis will ever unbundle all of these factors in a coherent way that prioritizes their influence. That is the essence of complex phenomena -- they are very difficult to make sense of and nearly impossible to extract learnings from, let alone predictions about.

Second, there is one hypothesis that I'm willing to go out on a limb to reject -- the starkly pessimistic view that America is not ready for a female president and that it was an undercurrent of misogyny that did Hillary in. I can neither prove nor be certain that this hypothesis is wrong, but I can point to her popular vote that will rival Obama's last run. And I can insist that it's impossible to separate Hillary the woman from Hillary the politician. Would a male version of Hillary, identical in every respect except gender, have fared better against Trump? Possibly, but some counter-factuals are pointless in contemplating because they are so speculative as to render them meaningless. Hillary had an enormous amount of baggage relating to her personal operating style, her husband's legacy and concerns about a Clinton dynasty being perpetuated. Were these headwinds secondary to her gender? I doubt it. She was one of the most competent but disliked candidates to ever run. To argue that her gender was an insurmountable obstacle is to underweight everything her name connotes for many Americans.

What is the real reason Hillary lost the Electoral College vote? There is no single reason and not even a tidy handful of them. The answer can only be "all of the above." Obama was asked after the election if he was worried about being the last Democratic president for a while; his answer, naturally, was that he was not. A more relevant question would have been if he thought Americans were ready for a female president. We already know that a majority of voting Americans were. And there are reasonable odds that an even greater majority will be even more ready in four years.