Those who agreed with both campaigns may have decided the election
Clinton's appeal among white working-class voters was especially weak
Nearly 18 million voters cast ballots this election despite believing that neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton were qualified to be president.
It was an astonishing dilemma created by two campaigns whose dominant message was that their opponent was unfit.
Those who agreed with both campaigns may have decided the election.
This disillusioned group – 14% of all voters – broke heavily for Trump: 69% to 15%, according to exit polls. About 1 in 7 in this group voted for someone other than the major party candidates. Most were independent voters, with 38% Republicans and 18% Democrats. Had they sat out the election instead, Clinton would have won in a landslide with 53% of the vote to Trump’s 44%. Further evidence of this disillusionment can perhaps be found in total voter turnout; while votes are still being counted, early indications are that turnout is on par with its lowest rate in 20 years.
As both parties scour the exit polls for answers, they may have trouble distinguishing between fundamental shifts in the electorate and a strong distaste for both candidates. Voters who expressed negative feelings for both choices broke in Trump’s favor. Of the 29% of voters who said neither candidate was honest, 45% voted for Trump compared to 40% for Clinton. Of those who had concerns or fears about both candidates, 49% voted for Trump while only 29% voted for Clinton.
These findings suggest both the persistent negative attacks worked so well that some voters agreed with both campaigns. Voters who held their nose in the voting booth appear to have preferred someone new over someone who had been in politics for decades. Among this disaffected group, 44% favored change while only 13% prioritized experience.
Beyond this group of voters, Clinton lagged behind other Democratic nominees in recent elections among groups that make up the party’s base. She failed to make up that group with voters outside that core.
Despite her prospect of being the first female president, her share of the female vote at 54% was no better than average. Her support among men – at 41% – fell nine points from 2008 and was the worst showing for a Democrat since her husband Bill Clinton ran for office in 1992, when he was able to win with the support of just 43% of voters because the general election was split three ways between him, Republican George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot.
While it’s no surprise that African-American voters were more enthusiastic for Obama than for Democrats in other recent elections, even Al Gore in his failed 2000 bid garnered 90% of the black vote compared to Clinton’s 88%.
Among younger voters, Clinton’s appeal was closer to John Kerry’s 54% than Obama’s 66% in 2008. And union voters, long a bastion of the Democratic base, broke for Clinton by a 51% to 44% margin, the worst for a Democrat since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980.
Her support among white voters – at 37% – was the lowest for any Democrat in the past seven elections. Her husband, Bill Clinton, garnered 39% of the white vote in 1992, while Obama got 43% in 2008.
Clinton did better than average among college graduates, including hitting 45% among white voters with college degrees, the best showing for a Democrat since exit polling began in 1972. But she did worse with voters without a college degree – 44% – than any Democrat since her husband in 1992.
Her appeal among white working-class voters was especially weak. Just 28% of white voters without degrees backed Clinton, again the worst performance for a Democrat in exit poll history.
Trump, meanwhile, hit a new high among white evangelicals, carrying 81% of those votes, better than Mitt Romney, John McCain or George W. Bush.