Donald Trump called his stunning election victory a “landslide.” It was.
Despite this fact, everyone’s favorite online mathmagician and polling guru Nate Silver chimed in explaining that this election was not a landslide.
Actually way below average for a winner's total:
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) November 28, 2016
Twitter snark knows no bounds for the political class. How else might someone display their intellectual superiority every thought prosed in sarcastic scribe?
Of course, Nate Silver, a man of numbers but not history, pointedly leaves out some very important context to the story.
Being elected as a Republican is demonstrably more difficult.
Take the “traditional” electoral map, for example.
When dealing with “landslide” language, one has to work within the framework that is the common consensus.
Trump had a long, arduous task ahead of him to win the election. With how the media was playing up the state polls, this was the general “toss-up” map that both candidates were contending in.
For Trump, he would need to get Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio. Even then, he would need to grab a mixture of: Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Maine’s 2nd congressional district.
There wasn’t a ton of wiggle room.
Even the celebrated punditry at the illustrious Nation agreed. Hillary had “the historic pattern of Democratic advantage.”
— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) November 20, 2016
The Reason for the Democratic Advantage
Simply put, the Democrats have two advantages: New York and California.
Between the two states’ electoral votes – 29 and 55 respectively – a Democrat is nearly one-third of the way towards winning an election. Throw in Illinois’ 20 votes and you’re 39% of the way towards the presidency. All from simply 3 states.
Republicans do not have that advantage. The largest safe Republican state is Texas, with its 38 electoral votes. Add in the smattering of deep southern states and Republicans have a similar, but lower, safe electoral total.
The climb is simply higher for Republicans, for better or worse.
It wasn’t always that way.
As Nate Silver noted, Republicans dominated the 1980s with double landslides.
Ronald Reagan, the former governor of California, famously walloped incumbent Democrat president Jimmy Carter. The reasons for this are many and studied in countless places. People were unhappy, then, with stagflation and the country’s direction.
Even more famously, Reagan nearly swept the entire country in his 1984 reelection bid.
President Reagan only lost Minnesota by 3761 votes to former vice president and senator Walter Mondale of Minnesota.
The country used to flip states much more reliably than it does now. In fact, the state that has remained unflipped for the longest time is Minnesota which last went for a Republican in Richard Nixon’s where he only lost one state – Massachusetts.
Compare Trump’s 2016 electoral map to Bill Clinton’s 1992 map.
The makings of the current electoral map start to take shape. Clinton, however, made inroads in the deep south, taking Arkansas (his home state) as well as Louisiana, Georgia, and Tennessee. Changing demographics and polarization can be attributed to the stability in states now.
As has been pointed out, states used to be more variable in elections. California, the bed rock of modern liberalism, last went Republican in 1988. So what changed?
The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act
In 1986, president Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act. While the bill made crackdowns on the hiring of illegal immigrants, it also legalized any illegal immigrants in the United States prior to January 1, 1982.
In 1992, any immigrant legalized by the IRCA was now eligible to become a citizen.
According to The Atlantic, [The program] was expected to grant legal status to 350,000 illegal immigrants. Instead more than 1.3 million illegal immigrants–a number roughly equivalent at the time to a sixth of the adult male population of rural Mexico–applied for this amnesty, most of them using phony documents in what has been called one of the greatest immigration frauds in American history.
Further investigation by the Washington Post reveals:
The Department of Labor sponsored two survey studies following up on several thousand of the IRCA immigrants — in 1989 and then again in 1992, five years after the law went into effect. Those studies suggested that immigrants made significant wage gains in the years after legalization, many of them by obtaining better jobs. Government records also revealed over time how many of them became naturalized citizens. In 1996, the year the entire IRCA cohort was eligible, a quarter of a million were naturalized. By 2001, one-third of the entire group had been.
While none of these numbers are enough to tip a state on their own, changing demographics and trends can also account for the increasing liberalization or conservatization of a state.
The above statistics do not include, for instance, children born to these newly legalized citizens. Neither do they include children born in the United States to currently-illegal immigrants.
All countries labeled in dark blue have automatic citizenship for people born in the country. As one can see, the idea of birthright citizenship is mainly an American concept. Europe, Africa, and Asia, by far, do not grant citizenship to those born in their countries.
California gained more congressional power in 1990 with the new census, jumping from 45 to 52 seats in the house in addition to their 2 senators. This stems from both the IRCA as well as the emergence of Silicon Valley and the tech boom that brought the state to international prominence.
The New Path
With the dominance of certain states in mind, Trump and Republicans needed a new path to the presidency.
Going from the first map with the traditional toss-up states, Trump, as laid out before, needed Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio to have any shot. Those are all reasonable requests for a Republican. Then states like Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and Colorado need to be won as well.
The relative size of those states, however, don’t offer much wiggle room for Republicans. Lose one and the election’s odds just decreased significantly.
Enter: the rust belt states.
The states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Minnesota offer many more electoral votes than the traditional swing states.
Mainstream pundits shrugged at Trump’s odds in these states.
The Michigan number is a GOP trap. It's almost always a GOP trap. https://t.co/ox11VjAZvD
— (((Harry Enten))) (@ForecasterEnten) July 17, 2016
The consensus being that these working blue-collar Democrat states simply did not have enough independent voters to flip an election. If Mitt Romney, successful businessman and son of a beloved Michigan governor could not turn the state red, Trump had no chance.
But the pundits missed one thing: NAFTA.
The North American Free Trade Agreement, love it or hate it, earned blame for the country’s loss of manufacturing jobs. Most especially, rust belt states suffered devastation after the NAFTA’s signing. Factories closed up, jobs left, and new factories boomed in Mexico.
Many of these types of workers have worked in these industrial jobs all their lives. So did their parents. And their parent’s parents. It is difficult to retrain a career refrigerator line assemblyman for a new job at age 50.
Traditionally Democrats protected jobs through unions and politics. The left attacked Mitt Romney for his role at Bain Capital. A documentary detailed the stories of many of these workers who lost their factory jobs to the likes of Mitt Romney.
“When Mitt Romney Came to Town” railed against vulture capitalists like Romney who would buy businesses, streamline costs by cutting pensions, firing employees, and other expense-saving measures to turn a profit. Many times, this also involved moving the businesses either to more business-friendly states or to countries like Mexico or China entirely.
From day one, Donald Trump was anti-NAFTA. In doing so, he put a small chip in the infamous “blue wall” of the rust belt states. Each rally, each speech was another hammer into the foundation.
“NAFTA, signed by Bill Clinton, and supported by his lovely wife, Hillary…” was an oft-repeated line in later Trump rallies.
With each mention, it was another confirmation to the working class voter that life has changed. That the old way of life is going away.
With Trump came hope, a promise.
Make America Great Again wasn’t just a slogan, it was a call to the pre-NAFTA era. Where jobs were aplenty and automation was simply the newest innovation in car transmission technology.
Chip, chip, chip went the famous blue wall.
Each rally was simply a grandiose in-person advertisement to potential voters, who would then amplify the message back home and at work.
Trump’s message worked brilliantly.
The shift from 2012 : Trump makes huge gains in rural America. Clinton makes modest gains in the metros, Utah pic.twitter.com/5C12ylrlB9
— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) November 9, 2016
Nearly everywhere outside of urban metro areas shifted significantly red.
Trump only gave one speech in Minnesota, yet only lost that state by 1.5%. Had he invested more time there, perhaps instead of New Mexico, he could have won that state too – the first time, as mentioned earlier, since Nixon’s 1972 landslide.
With so many electoral votes tied up in a handful of extremely safe blue states, Trump dominated the rest of the field.
In what I call the “2016 Campaigned States,” there’s no doubt that Trump dominated the field.
You’ll notice that the map is much more red than blue, comprising the small, solid red mid-western states. The Democrats have a stranglehold on the coasts, and traditionally had the rust belt as well.
Trump dominated the rust belt and added it to his collection right next to his WWE belt.
When accounting for Democratic electoral votes consolidating to a few key states, Trump won an absolutely historic landslide this election. California, New York, and Illinois may never go Republican again.
But where electoral votes were up for grabs, Trump stomped the Democrats’ yard and induced a landslide.
For a further and much more in-depth analysis of Trump’s blue wall take down, I highly recommend “The Blue Wall Crumbles” by Liam Donovan.
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