Former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton underperformed relative to Barack Obama in 2012 among most demographic groups, according to new research published in the Journal of Political Marketing.
“People have long been interested in how different demographic groups vote in elections. The role of demographics in 2016 received a lot of attention from the campaigns, media outlets, etc,” said study author Aaron C. Weinschenk of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
“In part, I think the fascination stemmed from the fact that the electorate in 2016 was the most diverse U.S. electorate in history and many people thought this would be good news for Democrats. I wanted to gather some data and examine the importance of demographics (and changes in demographics) in shaping the 2016 presidential election. How did different groups vote? Were there shifts in the voting patterns of different demographic groups from 2012 to 2016?”
For his study, Weinschenk analyzed pre-election tracking polls, exit poll data, and state-level variables to better understand role of demographics in shaping vote choice.
“There are a number of important findings that emerged from my study. First, I found (using exit poll data) that in 2016 Hillary Clinton underperformed Barack Obama (in 2012) in 83% of the 35 demographic groups I examined,” he explained. ”
Clinton did significantly worse than Obama among Catholics, men, Hispanic/Latino women, union households, 25–29 year olds, Latinos, 18–24 year olds, Asian Americans, African Americans, and several other demographic groups. Clinton only outperformed Obama among white women, those who identify as LGBT, people over 65, Republicans, those who report being Jewish, and those making more than $50,000.
“Second, I found (using state-level data) that the percentage of whites with low levels of education and the size of the rural population had large effects on vote choice. Clinton did poorly (and Trump did well) in places with low levels of education and in places with large rural populations,” Weinschenk told PsyPost.
“Interestingly, I found that both of these variables were more strongly correlated with Democratic vote share in 2016 than in 2012. In other words, education and the rural/urban divide became more important over time — at least in presidential contests.”
The study also failed to find evidence that changes in overall voter turnout rates had a substantial impact on Clinton’s performance.
“Understanding how different demographic groups connect to candidates and political parties is of obvious importance — if candidates and parties know which groups tend to like and dislike them, they can develop campaign strategies that are aimed at mobilizing supporters and persuading those who might not initially be predisposed to vote for them,” Weinschenk said. “Mobilization and persuasion are, of course, two of the primary functions of political campaigns. Knowing who to focus those efforts on is critical.”
The findings help explain the 2016 election. But there are still several areas for future research. For example, it is unclear what role demographic factors will play in upcoming elections.
“I think it’s important that we continue to study the role of demographics in different types of elections. My study focused on presidential elections, but it would be interesting to see how the patterns that emerged in 2016 play out in the 2018 midterms (and in upcoming presidential elections),” Weinschenk explained.
“Will education continue to be an important demographic factor that shapes how people vote? There was a time in American politics when there wasn’t a strong divide in how people of different levels of education voted. Why was there such a divide in 2016 compared to previous elections and will it continue?”
“I also think that historical comparisons are important. My study primarily compared the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, but it would be really neat to take a long-term approach. By doing that, we might be able to see when particular demographic groups started aligning with (or abandoning) certain political parties,” Weinschenk added.
“We already have some sense of why particular groups like or don’t like certain parties, but I think we could get an even more nuanced picture. By taking a long term approach, we could likely get a sense of what sorts of factors lead groups to align with or leave particular parties (e.g., changing party platforms, attention to certain issues of importance to a given group, historical events, etc.).”
The study was titled: “That’s Why the Lady Lost to the Trump: Demographics and the 2016 Presidential Election“.