Hillary Clinton lost the election in the Midwest. Donald Trump won 50 Midwestern electoral votes that went to Barack Obama in 2012 — Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio — plus 20 more in Pennsylvania, where the two-thirds of voters beyond metro Philadelphia are Midwestern in culture and concerns. Trump could have lost Florida and still won.
In the popular vote, Clinton came close to equaling Obama’s 2012 percentages in the South and not-yet-fully-counted West, and her 4 percent drop in the Northeast cost her no electoral votes. But in the Midwest and Pennsylvania, the Democratic presidential percentage dropped from 54 percent in 2008 and 51 percent in 2012 to 45 percent in 2016.
Those drops came mostly outside the Midwest’s big cities, though black turnout sagged notably in Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee. University towns turned in their typical lopsided majorities — e.g., 68-26 percent in metro Madison, Wisconsin.
But in Midwestern outstates — counties outside metro areas with a million-plus people — the shift away from Clinton looked like the shifts of white Southerners away from Democrats in decades past.
Iowa, the largest state with no metro area of a million-plus people, was typical: 54 percent Democratic in 2008, 52 percent in 2012 and 41 percent in 2016. The drop was similar in Wisconsin outside Milwaukee and Madison (54 to 50 to 41 percent), Michigan outside Detroit and Grand Rapids (55 to 52 to 41 percent), Ohio outside Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati (48 to 47 to 35 percent) and Pennsylvania outside Philadelphia and Pittsburgh (48 to 44 to 36 percent).
Similar outstate drops were not quite enough to carry Minnesota for Trump and were swamped in Illinois by metro Chicago. But they were enough to switch the Midwestern electoral vote from 80-38 Democratic in 2012 to 88-30 Republican this year.
These outstate areas aren’t growing demographically, but they’re not tiny, either. They cast 100 percent of the votes in Iowa, 61 percent in Wisconsin, 47 percent in Michigan and Pennsylvania, and 44 percent in Ohio.
What accounts for the abandonment of Clinton in areas hitherto reachable for Democrats?
The outstate Midwest is loaded with non-college-educated whites — 62 percent in Iowa, for instance. Nationally, that demographic moved from favoring Mitt Romney by a 25 percent margin in 2012 to favoring Trump by a 39 percent margin this year. In the Midwestern outstates, the shift was even more vivid.
Such voters have been bypassed by sluggish Obama-era economic growth, and many believe that their jobs have been lost by trade agreements and that their wages have been undercut by low-skilled immigrants in other parts of the country. Trump emphasized these issues, and previous Republicans hadn’t. That’s part of it.
There’s also the condescension of Clinton and her campaign, headquartered in trendy Brooklyn, New York. “Religious beliefs,” candidate Clinton said in 2015, “have to be changed.” She told a Manhattan audience that half of Trump’s supporters were “irredeemable” — “deplorables” characterized by “implicit racism.”
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