ANALYSIS: How Donald Trump Won and Almost All of Us Missed It

Exit poll data in the rust belt show how Hillary Clinton lost the election.

November 14, 2016, 11:57 AM

— -- When Loriann Syswerda, 27, walked into her Michigan polling location last Tuesday, election experts and pundits may have thought Syswerda — a white woman with a college degree in a light blue state — would be pulling the lever for Hillary Clinton.

But people like Syswerda across the Rust Belt were poised to deliver one of the most shocking upsets in American political history.

“[Donald] Trump’s policies on tax reform and his promise to bring jobs back made a lot of sense to me,” she said. She acknowledged that she was “disturbed” with Trump’s language about women, but it wasn’t enough to tip the scales toward Clinton.

“I wanted her to be real,” Syswerda said. “All of her words about women’s rights and standing up for women sounded hollow to me.”

So she voted for Trump.

His lead in Michigan is still too small to project a winner, but he won Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin on Election Day, in addition to North Carolina and Florida on his way to the White House.

Political polling nationally and in crucial swing states like North Carolina and Florida showed a tight race, but the polling in Pennsylvania and sparse data from Wisconsin and Michigan showed Clinton with a solid edge. So what happened? The polls hit Clinton’s support dead on but underestimated key Trump demographics.

The penultimate poll by Marquette University Law School — a key poll in Wisconsin — pinpointed Clinton’s support among almost each key group within a few points and hit the racial and education splits among likely voters accurately.

But Trump outperformed several crucial estimates in that poll by double digits. Final results showed Trump’s support up 9 points among women, 10 points among whites, 13 points among rural voters and 16 points among evangelicals.

Pennsylvania polling showed a similar pattern. A CNN/ORC poll in the final weeks pegged Trump’s support 10 percentage points too low among white men and 13 points too low among white college grads — despite hitting Clinton’s support within a few points. And Trump outperformed numbers in a Quinnipiac poll: whites without a college degree by 9 points and white men by 10 points.

This analysis shows estimates for Clinton’s support in state polling was quite accurate across demographic groups. But voters who said they weren’t sure, might not vote or were voting for someone else overwhelmingly flocked to Trump’s side.

And Clinton had turnout problems across the Rust Belt. In Milwaukee turnout was down 57,000 votes from 2012. In the heart of Detroit, turnout was down 41,000 votes from 2012. And Philadelphia was one of only nine counties in Pennsylvania without an increase in turnout since 2012.

While urban turnout stalled, it was white voters without a college degree who doomed Clinton’s chances across the Rust Belt. In Wisconsin, Barack Obama trailed Mitt Romney among non-college-educated whites by only 8 percentage points in 2012. Clinton lost them by nearly 30 points. In Pennsylvania their share of the electorate grew — and she lost them by 32 points, versus only 13 points for Obama in 2012.

Clinton’s support clocked in at least 10 percentage points lower than Obama’s 2012 support in two dozen rural counties across Pennsylvania — including Scranton and its surrounding counties — steel and coal areas that were especially hurt by the recession. Only two of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties showed Clinton outperforming Obama’s share of the vote in 2012.

And in Michigan, Obama won 44 percent of whites without a college degree in 2012 — but Clinton won only 24 percent of them in 2016. Romney’s margin of victory there was only 109,000 votes, versus Trump’s 421,000-vote margin among this group. Turnout was down 16,000 votes since 2012 in counties that Clinton won, versus climbing 82,000 votes in counties Trump won in the state.

Nationally, 3 in 10 Democratic white men without a college degree did not vote for Clinton. And whites without a college degree voted big for Trump, no matter their economic status: 68 percent of those making less than $100,000 per year voted for Trump, as did 67 percent of those making more than $100,000 per year — throwing a twist into the theory that economic stagnation primarily prompted Trump’s support.

But her problems didn’t stop there. Voters under 30 in Wisconsin voted for Obama by more than 20 percentage points in 2012. In 2016, despite driving up the group’s turnout since 2012 levels, Clinton won them by only 3 percentage points.

Clinton faced a similar struggle in Florida. Roughly 240,000 more voters under 30 turned out in 2016 than in 2012, but Clinton received 33,000 fewer votes from this group than Obama did. Trump received 141,000 more than Romney. And third-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein siphoned off 111,000 votes.

Meanwhile, Clinton continued to pour money into expansion states: Her campaign poured $1.6 million into Arizona television ads in the final seven days of the campaign. Priorities USA Action was still on the air in Georgia in the final days.

But in Florida, it was a different story: Nonwhite voters did Clinton in. Exit polls and election results show an additional 213,000 black voters showed up to vote compared with 2012, but Clinton got only 57,000 more black votes than Obama, clocking in at only 88 percent support — the worst for a Democrat in polling back to 1988. She lost the state by fewer than 120,000 votes. Meanwhile, Trump got 61,000 more black votes than Romney in 2012.

“I have watched as a lot of the promises that were made in the past elections went unrealized,” Syswerda said. “I still stand behind my vote.”

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