A revolution against politics shook the country Tuesday, with working class whites venting their economic and cultural frustration by lifting insurgent candidate Donald Trump to the presidency.
A record gender gap was part of the result, as were dramatic divisions by race, region, religion, urban/rural status and more. But chief among them was yet another demand for change – echoing the change elections of 1992 and 2008, but this time voiced by less-educated white men and women struggling with shrinking economic opportunity and dislocating social trends.
The voting patterns in the ABC News exit polls underlined profound gaps which are likely to endure.
Trump won whites without a college degree by 67-28 percent; that yawning 39-point margin is the largest in exit polls dating back to 1980 and exceeds Ronald Reagan’s 32-point win in that group in 1984, his re-election year. Turnout among this group was not up; indeed whites overall fell to their smallest share of the electorate, 70 percent. Instead, it was the lopsided nature of their vote.
Hillary Clinton, for her part, overwhelmingly won nonwhites, and their share of the electorate inched ahead to 30 percent, its largest on record. But her margin in this group narrowed slightly from Barack Obama’s in 2012, among blacks, Hispanics and Asian-Americans alike.
Many voters shared a sense of frustration with the political situation. Sixty-two percent said the country is seriously on the wrong track. Sixty-nine percent said they’re dissatisfied with the way the federal government is working; 23 percent are angry about it.
The exit poll, analyzed for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, found that all these views peaked among Trump supporters. A vast 93 percent said the country’s on the wrong track, and 86 percent were dissatisfied or angry with how the government is working.
Given such sentiments, of four attributes tested in the exit poll, one clearly finished as most important: Thirty-nine percent put their priority on the candidate who can “bring needed change.” And they voted for Trump by 83-14 percent – on the same attribute that carried a wholly different politician, Barack Obama, to the White House eight years ago.
It held in key battleground states as well. In Pennsylvania, 46 percent picked change as their key concern; in Ohio, 45 percent; in Wisconsin, 44 percent; in New Hampshire, 43 percent; in Michigan, 39 percent. And in each case at least 83 percent of these change voters supported Trump.
The gender gap – 24 points – was the widest since the start of exit polls in 1976, with Clinton winning women by 12 points, Trump winning men by the same margin. The gap reached 30 points or more in four states: Iowa (34), Georgia (34), Kentucky (31) and Pennsylvania (30).
Key for Trump was his margin among white men, 63-31 percent, second only to Reagan in 1984. His 49-point margin among non-college educated white men was especially striking – a record in exit polls since 1980 by 11 points; next closest, again, was Reagan in ’84.
Another record chasm (in available data since 1996) was between urban and rural residents. Clinton won in large cities by 59-35 percent; Trump, in small towns and rural areas, 62-34. The suburbs split closely, +5 for Trump.
The state of the economy played a heavy role. Eight years beyond the Great Recession, 62 percent of voters rated the economy’s condition negatively – rising to 85 percent of Trump voters. Twenty-seven percent said their family’s financial situation has worsened in the last four years – rising to 44 percent of Trump voters. And 34 percent said they expect life for the next generation of Americans to be worse than it is now – rising, again, to 45 percent of Trump voters.
Economic anxiety – and preference for Trump to address it – was especially apparent among non-college whites, reflecting declining incomes for Americans who lack a college degree.
Among a book’s worth of remarkable results is the fact that a minority of voters, 38 percent, rated Trump as qualified to serve as president. (Fifty-two percent saw Clinton as qualified.) Indeed 23 percent of Trump’s own voters described him as unqualified. He won their votes because nearly all of them saw Clinton as unqualified, too.
Remarkable, too, is that 60 percent of voters – in an election Trump won – had an unfavorable opinion of him. (As did 54 percent of Clinton.) Again, even among his own supporters, 20 percent saw him unfavorably; again, almost all of them saw Clinton unfavorably as well. Partisan hostility was almost unanimous: 95 percent of Clinton supporters saw Trump negatively, and 95 percent of Trump’s said the same of Clinton.
In yet another example, 63 percent described Trump as not honest and trustworthy (with 61 percent saying the same about Clinton). Yet again, 29 percent of Trump’s supporters described their own candidate as not honesty and trustworthy – nearly all saying the same of Clinton.
Given their unpopularity, Clinton and Trump alike saw lukewarm support – including many voters who chiefly opposed their opponent rather than supporting them. Just 37 percent of Trump’s supporters, and 46 percent of Clinton’s, strongly supported them – compared with 70 percent of Obama’s and 60 percent of Mitt Romney’s in 2012.
Many voters expressed worry about a Clinton or Trump presidency, and excitement was subdued. Just 17 percent were excited about the prospect of a Clinton presidency, 13 percent excited about Trump. Instead 29 percent were scared about a Clinton presidency – and 36 percent were scared about the Trump presidency that’s now a reality.
The divisions, again, were profound. Among Trump voters, 59 percent were scared of what Clinton would do. Among Clinton supporters, 71 percent were scared of Trump in office.
The election was driven more by political predispositions, economic and social stresses and candidate attributes than by issues. As it was, voters cited the economy and jobs most prominently – and divided down the middle on which candidate they trusted more to handle it.
On immigration, Trump and the voters were not entirely well aligned. Voters by 70-25 percent preferred a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants over deportation. And more opposed rather than supported one of Trump’s signature policies, building a wall along Mexican border, 54-41 percent. Clinton and Trump voters differed widely on these policies, but still, half of Trump voters preferred legal status to deportation.
Trump won, as well, despite considerable concern about his treatment of women; 50 percent said it bothered them a lot, though these were almost exclusively Clinton voters. Fewer overall, 45 percent, said they were highly bothered about the situation regarding Clinton’s emails; These were overwhelmingly Trump supporters.
On another issue, 21 percent called appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court “the most important factor” in their vote – and they favored Trump by a 15-point margin, 56-41 percent.
In perhaps an irony, just 28 percent of Trump voters said they were very confident their votes would be counted accurately, versus 66 percent of voters for Clinton.
Two other groups also told the story of the election. Trump’s margin among evangelical white Christians was 81-16 percent, the widest GOP margin among white evangelicals in available data since 2000. And Clinton’s margin among young voters, age 18-29, was less than Obama’s in 2008 and 2012 alike. One reason: young women voted for Clinton by 63-31 percent. Young men, by contrast, broke almost evenly, 46-42 percent, Clinton-Trump.