Why Did Hilary Clinton Lose the 2016 Presidential Election? The Bernie Effect ( By Gizachew Tiruneh, Ph. D.)



According to many analysts and pundits, Hilary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election mainly because she did not do enough to listen to and talk about the economic concerns of the rustbelt workers. This seems to be a plausible argument and it may well have been the underlying factor for Clinton’s loss. A comparison of voter turnouts of Barack Obama’s 2012 and Clinton’s 2016 presidential elections in seven battleground states, for instance, seems to suggest that Obama was far more popular than was Clinton with the American voters. Clinton received higher votes than Obama only in Florida.

Obama-2012Clinton-2016Vote DifferentialHigher Vote   Receiver
North Carolina2,178,3912,162,07416,317Obama

     In the absence of a Democratic Party candidate who could relate to their economic woes, rustbelt workers seemed to have taken a chance on Donald Trump, a populist and nationalist Republican. Trump was consistent with his use of the phrase “the American worker” and promised to alleviate the economic woes of this group during the presidential campaign. Consequently, Democratic-leaning states like Michigan preferred to vote for him rather than for Hilary Clinton. Indeed, the success of Trump’s presidential campaign can be appreciated when compared with that of Mitt Romney’s, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. Not only did Trump win all of the seven battleground states (Romney won only North Carolina), he received more votes than did Romney in these states.

Trump-2016Romney-2012Vote DifferentialHigher Vote Receiver
North Carolina2,339,6032,270,39569,208Trump

     When we compare Trump’s voter turnout success with that of Barack Obama’s, however, a different picture emerges. Obama was able to win more votes in five of the seven battle ground states in 2012 than what Trump received in these states in 2016. Trump had higher votes than Obama only in North Carolina and Florida. The success of Obama’s presidential voter turnout seemed to suggest that Democrats were less enthusiastic during the 2016 presidential election than in 2012.

Trump-2016Obama-2012Vote DifferentialHigher Vote Receiver
North Carolina2,339,6032,178,391161,212Trump

     Despite Trump’s ability to mobilize more supporters than Romney and his smart choice of slogan, “the American worker”, Clinton (even with her controversial decision of using a private email server for her government-related communications) had actually a very good chance of winning the presidency in 2016. One of the reasons for Clinton’s loss of the presidency was probably due to what may be called the Bernie Effect. Bernie Sanders, with his left-of-center political views, seemed to have been more sensitive to the concerns of American workers, and a clear evidence for this was his primary wins over Clinton in Michigan and Wisconsin. The votes in the caucus state of Iowa were also close between the two candidates. Clinton, of course, won overwhelmingly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida. Note, however, that Sanders received hundreds of thousands of votes in each of the four states that Clinton won big.

SandersClintonVote DifferentialState Winner
North Carolina460,316616,383156,067Clinton

     The question, then, is, did the Bernie Effect contribute to Clinton’ defeat?  Sanders’ supporters may have stayed home on Election Day, November 8th, for two reasons: first, they may have been disappointed that their beloved candidate lost the primary to Hilary Clinton. Second, his supporters may have been angered by the leaked information from the hacked data servers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The leaks seemed to suggest that the DNC favored Clinton’s candidacy over that of Sanders’. Indeed, and quite remarkably, the lowest vote differentials between Trump and Clinton in the seven battleground states were in Wisconsin and Michigan, where Bernie Sanders beat Hilary Clinton during the primaries. In Michigan, Trump won over Clinton only by 11,616 votes. In Wisconsin, Trump’s vote margin over Clinton was 27, 257 votes.

TrumpClintonVote DifferentialState Winner
North Carolina2,339,603650,790177,529Trump

     While the proposition that the Bernie Effect may have contributed to the loss of Clinton remains unproven, it seems to be not unreasonable and may be put to test. One way of testing it is to conduct a survey. The sample survey would target Sanders’ 2016 Democratic Party primary voters and ask whether or not they voted on November 8th. Note that Sanders had received about 3.5 million votes in the seven battleground states during the primaries. If a number of Sanders’ primary supporters did not vote on November 8th, what were their reasons? Disappointment that Sanders lost to Clinton? DNC bias toward Clinton? Or a combination of both?

     Such a survey-based study, if done accurately, could also shed some light on the continuing debate about the full impact of the hacking of the DNC data servers during the 2016 presidential election. Put differently, while the hacking (which the Russians are accused of) might not have led to the transfer of actual votes from one candidate to another, it may have robbed potential votes from Hilary Clinton that could have helped her win the presidency.[1]

[1] Election data source for Trump, Clinton, and Sanders results is www.politico.com. For Obama and Romney, the election data source is www.uselectionatlas.org.