There is one clear and undeniable conclusion about the 2016 presidential election everyone, regardless of political stripes or polka dots, should agree on. The media and political minded pundits and experts will be debating what happened and more importantly why it happened for years to come. I am no expert, but I do have some ideas. I may even have insights. I actually did do actual research. I read. I crunched statistics. I consulted tea leaves and mediums. In short, I left no turn unstoned.
I found the above graph in an article from the Washington Post. Of all such graphs, charts, and tea leave cup residue I looked at, this was the most informative and compelling. I have added US census data concerning the number of house holds in each income bracket, but beyond that what you see is exactly what WAPO published.
This graphic is really fairly easy to read and understand, but I will go over it anyway. Consider those with a house hold income more than $200,00.00. In 2004 Republicans, under GW Bush, Republicans received nearly 30% more votes than Democrats. Another way of saying that is Republicans won nearly 80% of those votes. In 2008, Obama moved that demographic hugely, going from losing by just under 30% to winning by just over 5%. That is a huge movement within this demographic, a turnaround of 35%. This is the biggest change in a single voting demographic on a percentage basis in four election cycles. Romney reversed that in 2012 winning by 10%. Trump lost ground with this demographic when compared to Romney, winning by under 2%.
The more than $200,00.00 income demographic represents just 5.6% of house holds in the US. When you are talking about winning 30% of a 5.6% demographic that would roughly correspond to 1.7% of all votes. That would be the true significance of this demographic. Critical only in a close election.
Far more significant to the 2008 election were the gains Obama made in the three lowest income brackets compared to 2004. 2008 saw shifts of about 13% in demographics representing nearly 75% of US house holds. That roughly translates to about 9.7% of all votes. Round that to 10% for ease of thinking. This is truly significant.. Such a shift turns a 50/50 draw into a 40/60 blow out.
Fast forward to 2016. While 2008 represented a high water mark for democrats in all demographics, those gains over the 2004 results stayed in place for the most part, dissipating somewhat in three demographics and actually increasing in one, except for one crucial demographic. The under $30,000.00 a year demographic, under Trump, represented a complete reversal of the Obama 2008 gains to the point Democrats lost support overall. Trump out performed GW Bush in 2004 by nearly 4%, out performed Romney by about 15%, and out performed Obama's 2008 total by about 19%.
The 2008 shift was significant on every level, in every income demographic. If the 2016 election cycle can be viewed as a referendum on the Obama years, democrats did achieve lasting gains for all income groups over $49,000. However, they were unable to tip the scales on the upper income groups and more importantly they actually lost ground with Americans in the lowest income bracket.
That loss of support in low income Americans is the most significant and the most surprising result of the 2016 election. It dwarfs any shift on either a percentage of demographic basis or on the basis of total numbers of voters when compared with any other statistic. Nothing compares to it. Not race, sex, income level, or any other means of parsing votes into little blocks. The most significant change in the minds of voters came from low income voters.
This result is pretty ironic when you consider the messaging the Democratic party has been throwing out over the past eight years. Rich people are not paying their fair share. The system is rigged to favor the 1%. White people are the root of all evil and are unfairly advantaged by "white privilege". America is racist. Yet, the Obama years represent a net loss for Democrats among low income voters. The very people such messaging targets. How can this be?
I will leave you to consider that in light of what I have just shown. I will take up speculating on the why's of it in A Trump Victory? How did that happen! Part 2.