Exit polls show racial and generational divides among electorate

Wednesday, November 9, 2016 - 7:05pm

President-elect Donald Trump’s victory over Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has baffled many Americans expecting a Clinton victory in light of earlier polling — but some experts say voter demographics could explain Trump’s upset win.

Adding to the questions for some, it was confirmed Wednesday that despite losing the Electoral College and the presidency, Clinton won the popular vote by a small margin of about 0.2 percent.

Michael Traugott, a research professor at the University of Michigan’s Center for Political Studies, said will be much explanation in the coming days as to why the polling data was so wrong in their predictions.

“We know what the explanations are likely to be on why the polling was wrong … they didn’t estimate turnout too well,” Traugott said. “They might have had a problem in detecting support for Trump — some would call them shy Trump voters. This will require a very careful review of the polls, but clearly they misestimated.”

The exit polls released thus far show a sharp divide in race, gender and educational status — among other deviations — for voters in the 2016 presidential election.

While there is still much analysis to be completed in the coming days, so far it appears that middle-class, white America was the tipping point demographic in winning Trump the election.

Exit polls illustrate that women overwhelmingly supported Clinton overall, as did voters under the age of 45. Other than gender and age, race proved to be a strong indicator of which candidate demographic groups would support. As predicted by pollsters in previous samplings, 58 percent of white voters overall supported Trump while 74 percent of non-white voters voted for Clinton.

Delving deeper into each demographic, race consistently emerged as a point of divide. Each age bracket of white voters had a majority that voted for Trump, while all age brackets of minority groups overwhelmingly supported Clinton. Additionally, white woman voted for Trump in much higher numbers than women of color.

For Josh Pasek, a professor of communication studies, one possible explanation of the failure of the polls stems from which voters were included.

“I’m guessing that what happened here is that a lot of the models that worked in the past … ended up undercutting the actual enthusiasm among Trump voters,” Pasek said. “That is largely because Trump voters aren’t traditional, regular, habitual voters. They were energized this time. And a lot of that is because the voter models under-predicted whether they turned out or not.”

Other than failure of the voter models, Traugott said there is also national pattern of rising rural support for Trump that likely wasn’t captured.

“The analysis of the exit polls show not only about who people voted for but why the selected the candidates that they did,” Traugott said. “It’s clear that Trump was the anti-establishment candidate. He campaigned against Washington. In hindsight, that turned out to be a powerful message.”

Educational attainment also proved to be a key indicator among voters in this election. Across almost every demographic, the majority of college graduates or postgraduates voted for Clinton, except for white college graduates who supported Trump by 4 percent over Clinton.

Turnout data is still being collected, but the data thus far suggests that 2016 voter turnout was up 4.7 percent around the country from the 2012 election, a trend that included Ann Arbor and the surrounding counties.

However, Pasek said despite the rise in voter turnout, it wasn’t enough for the Clinton campaign.

“If you look at the areas that have reported their full turnout numbers, it’s clear that the highest turnout was not in the city of Ann Arbor itself, it was in the surrounding areas,” Pasek said. “That is very telling. The kinds of turnout rates we were seeing were not the kinds of rates the Clinton campaign was hoping for if they wanted to have a clean win in the state.”

On campus, the average millennial voter both did and didn’t match up to national exit poll averages according to Michigan Daily survey data.

Similar to what the exit polls show, student voters at the University overwhelmingly supported Clinton — in the most recent poll, 76 percent of respondents said they planned on voting for her. University respondents differed from the national norm, however, in that more whites and males on campus showed support for Clinton rather than Trump, though it is worth noting that exit polls have suggested individuals nationwide concealed their vote for Trump in pre-election surveys.

In terms of partisanship, the election was broadly similar to past ones — young people, as well as minorities and women, continued to support Democrats while older generations and more white males continued to vote Republican.

Traugott said mobilizing every voter base was key in this election.

“Young people have a tendency to support the Democratic candidate over the Republican candidate, and it looks like the margin of victory is going to be very small,” Traugott said. “This is an example of how every little bit helps.”

Pasek said while this election continued to show an ideological divide based on age, the past few cycles are suggesting that electoral divisions are shifting more toward geographical differences.

“When you’re older, you accumulate more wealth, so the tendency is for people to become more conservative because they don’t want to see their wealth redistributed,” Pasek said. “But I think we are moving away from that, we are seeing larger demographic differences that are less about age and more about other things.”