Circus Maximus MMXVI: I break down in the middle and lose my thread

10 11 2016

I forced myself to listen to the radio yesterday morning, but last night I couldn’t do it, and today, still, radio silence.

Twitter, however, is still a go, with so, so many people saying THIS ONE THING is why Clinton lost/Trump won.

This gent, however, digs into the data to warn us “waitaminute”:

Read through the entire thread, as he really digs into and compares data across a number of states.

As he helpfully notes, there is no, one reason, and no reason that holds across all states. The “US electorate”, after all, is actually 50 states electorates, plus the D of C. What mattered a lot in one state may have mattered very little in another. Mistakes might either have tipped that electorate or were of no consequence whatsoever.

I don’t know that anyone has AN ANSWER to what happened on Tuesday, and if they do, I won’t believe ’em. I do think, however, that we can identify the possible pieces (or threads, if you will), that resulted in the overall electoral map, recognizing that the “thickness” of those threads varied across the states.

The parties: Republicans generally voted for Republicans and Democrats generally voted for Democrats, with some (varying) amount of crossover.  That’s been the general trend in American politics and there’s little evidence of deviation from it. The roles of the RNC and DNC were secondary to those of the campaigns.

The candidates: Each was flawed, each in his or her own way. Trump deviated a great deal from the standard Republican candidate, while Clinton was pretty much a standard Democratic one. What horrified Clinton supporters about Trump—his lack of political experience and unstable temperament—delighted his supporters: he was an outsider who spoke his mind. Similarly, his supporters derided her as a corrupt (emails! Clinton Foundation!) insider, with her experience a strike against her.

Some have argued that Sanders would have performed better than Clinton, but that’s awfully hard to conclude. He might have done better with some white voters, but not as well with black voters. That Feingold lost to the demonstrably terrible Johnson in Wisconsin leads me to doubt the “Sanders coulda. . !” advocates, but it’s also possible that Sanders at the top of the ticket might have helped Feingold. I doubt Sanders could have outperformed Clinton, but it is possible.

The campaigns: Given the candidates, did campaign strategies make sense? Arguably, Clinton erred in not spending time in Wisconsin, a decision driven in no small part by polling. Was there too much reliance on what turned out to be flawed state polls? What about ad strategy: too much on Trump’s flawed character and not enough on empathy for those attracted to him? Not enough reachout generally?

Turnout: This is of a piece with the campaigns itself. I had thought infrastructure and organization mattered a great deal in turning voters out, but Trump was able to do so with apparently relatively little staff. Does this mean that organization doesn’t matter generally, or that he was an outlier, able to pull people in via other means?

Racism/white nationalism: One of those possible other means, of course, was the implicit and explicit appeal to white nationalist grievances.

On the one hand, this is obvious, insofar as his support was overwhelming white, while Clinton’s was more ethnically mixed. On the other hand, there are also certainly plenty of Trump supporters who while tolerating the racism also seek to distance themselves from it, as well as to downplay the racism of the candidate himself. Those who revel in racism and those who tolerate racism collaborated to elect Trump, which matters a whole lot; but that they are also distinct may (or may not) matter as well.

(Add: class) As for those who suggest (often while touting Sanders) Clinton should have paid more attention to the “white working class”, well, if the key motivator is “whiteness” as opposed to “class”, then what? Is it possible to peel away an attachment to whiteness such that white workers consider themselves as part of a larger, multi-ethnic working class? Finally, initial data (subject to change) that I’ve seen suggests that Trump pulled the bulk of his support from the solidly-middle and upper-middle classes.

Actually, class deserves more than a parenthetical aside, not just for this campaign but for those going forward. It’s just that disentangling it from race is damnably difficult.

Sexism: How  and how much did it matter, one way or the other, that Clinton is, yes indeedy, a woman? How did that affect campaign strategy and tactics? How did it effect how the press covered her? How did it affect willingness to vote for her?

Voter suppression: Some states (WI) had tough voter i.d. laws such that some citizens couldn’t register to vote; some states (WI, NC) reduced the number of polling places and polling hours or relocated polls to locations less convenient for Democrats. Did this effect turnout? If turnout was down, as it was across many locales, could this be tied to suppression or simply to lack of enthusiasm?

The press: There have been a number of analyses of the amount of media attention given to policy versus everything else (emails emails emails), as well as a sense that few took Trump seriously enough to consider what his administration would actually look like.

They complained about her lack of press conferences, but said little about his similar lack. They (media organizations, not necessarily individual reporters) consented to having their reporters penned up. And Trump rather easily slid away from demands for his tax returns. Was she covered too much, too unfairly? Was he not covered enough? How did the coverage affect voting behavior, if at all?

The role of the press is highly contentious and will likely see the greatest play, not least because one of the media’s favorite activities is to talk about itself.

James Comey’s letter: This might be a sub-variable of the press, given how the press shouted about SHADOW OVER CLINTON WON’T GO AWAY. Still, should be considered on its own terms, especially given apparent widespread agency animus to Clinton. And, again, don’t know if or how it mattered at all.

Wikileaks: Again, another sub- of the press. Did the press give adequate context to the emails, especially in terms of ordinary operating procedures to campaigns? What of any (alleged) connections between Wikileaks and Russia? And even if there is a connection, does it matter?

Polls: They got it wrong. Why?

Voters: This would seem to be an output rather than input variable, but insofar as candidates will configure their campaigns around what they think will appeal to those voters, how voters respond to those campaigns will in turn affect the campaigns. What motivates and de-motivates voters? What do voters know, and what do they know that just ain’t so? What is the mix of rationality and irrationality among the voting public? And what of those who’ve voted before, but didn’t this time?

None of these variables is independent, of course. Some of these pieces reinforce and magnify others, while some minimize; and the relative size and  position of those pieces vary from state to state.

And this is crucial: Clinton won the popular vote (final tally t.d. unknown) and lost the Electoral College vote, so any wholly national focus will be wrong. What worked for her in one state could have worked against her in another, but given that the majority of voters did, in fact, vote for her suggests that she didn’t do everything wrong.

Finally, I’m trying to see a way to put together a rational understanding of what happened, but, as Carl Schmitt reminded-warned us, there’s a great deal to politics which is decidedly irrational.

Which means, of course, that you could do everything “right” and still lose.




2 responses

10 11 2016
10 11 2016

Still can’t listen to the news, although I did go online today.

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