The Real Reason Hillary Clinton Lost, According to Data Analysis

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waves at a campaign rally at the Zembo Shrine in Harrisburg, Pa. Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016. (Sean Simmers/ via AP)

Democrats are in much bigger trouble than simply saying that Hillary Clinton lost because the Russian-Trump conspiracy stole it from them.

According to an extraordinarily thorough study of voter data from the election, the primary reason Hillary Clinton lost was because a sizable number of Obama voters from 2012 voted for Donald Trump in 2016. In fact, about 70% of Trump’s victory margin in key states was from the Obama-Trump voters.



In recent months, Canter and other members of Global Strategy Group have delivered a detailed report of their findings to senators, congressmen, fellow operatives and think tank wonks – all part of an ongoing effort to educate party leaders about what the data says really happened in last year’s election.

“We have to make sure we learn the right lesson from 2016, that we don’t just draw the lesson that makes us feel good at night, make us sleep well at night,” Canter said.

His firm’s conclusion is shared broadly by other Democrats who have examined the data, including senior members of Clinton’s campaign and officials at the Democratic data and analytics firm Catalist. (The New York Times, doing its own analysis, reached a similar conclusion.)

Each group made its assessment by analyzing voter files, reports that show who voted in every state, and matching them to pre-existing data about the voters, including demographic information and prior vote history. Using this process, the groups have determined how people voted – in what amounts to the most comprehensive way to analyze the electorate short of a full-blown census.

The findings are significant for a Democratic Party, at a historic low point, that’s trying to figure out how it can win back power. Much of the debate over how to move forward has centered on whether the party should try to win back working-class white voters – who make up the bulk of Obama-Trump voters – or focus instead on mobilizing its base.

Turning out the base, the data suggests, is simply not good enough.

“This idea that Democrats can somehow ignore this constituency and just turn out more of our voters, the math doesn’t work,” Canter said. “We have to do both.”

Democrats are quick to acknowledge that even if voters switching allegiance had been Clinton’s biggest problem, in such a close election she still could have defeated Trump with better turnout. She could have won, for instance, if African-American turnout in Michigan and Florida matched 2012 levels.


It’s fascinating to me that so many could vote for a radical leftist like Obama and then the very next election vote for someone who says he’s a conservative.

But perhaps the mystery can be explained by Obama’s style. He couched his radicalism in soothing words and sugary sentiments. Love him or hate him, President Obama connected with people on a gut level. By hiding his radicalism behind themes like “unity” and “community,” he was able to get elected without revealing his true agenda. How badly would Obama have lost if he had run in 2008 on a platform that included Obamacare? Or Fin Reg? Or immigration reform? I guess we’ll never know.

As for the Democrats, it appears they are going to double down and go for increasing the minority turnout and the vote of their radical base. But that means further radicalizing the party and putting at its head out-of-the-mainstream politicians like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Unlike Obama, neither of those politicians has the former president’s gift of being able to obfuscate extremism, making each of them an easy mark for a decent campaigner.

I guess there’s no way to statistically show just how bad a campaign Hillary Clinton ran, unless you just look at the outcome. But no matter the numbers, there can be no argument that Hillary Clinton was the most disliked and the least trusted candidate in the modern era. She ran an empty campaign devoid of ideas except to ask voters to elect her because she is a woman.




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