Where did all of the Democratic voters go?

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Clinton lost states no Democratic presidential candidate had been defeated in since George H.W. Bush carried 40 states, including Michigan and Pennsylvania, in 1988.


Clinton leads the popular vote, but she received about 5 million fewer votes than President Obama did in 2012. At the same time, Trump won about as many votes as Mitt Romney did in 2012 and only a little more than Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain to produce 'Don't Sweat the Small Stuff' Lifetime movie starring Heather Locklear An August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done Meghan McCain on Pelosi, McCarthy fight: 'I think they're all bad' MORE (R-Ariz.) did in 2008.

Most critically, the votes Clinton lost stood out in states essential to both candidates’ paths to 270 electoral votes. In the 10 most competitive swing states, Clinton underperformed Obama’s 2012 tally by nearly 1.2 million votes. Besides Pennsylvania and Michigan, she became the first Democratic presidential candidate since 1984 to lose Wisconsin.

Democrats turned out a record number of voters in the nation’s largest urban areas and did well in traditional swing counties such as Chester and Montgomery counties in Pennsylvania, home to some of the all-important Philadelphia suburbs.

But Clinton lost other rural and small-town counties in Pennsylvania and in other crucial states to Trump by a much larger margin than Obama did in 2012. Clinton scored better than Obama in just one of the 36 Pennsylvania counties with populations of less than 100,000.

Trump improved on Romney’s performance in counties like Luzerne, York and Lackawanna, where union jobs have declined precipitously in recent years. In 19 of the 24 Pennsylvania counties where Trump gained more than twice as many votes over Romney as Clinton lost to Obama, 94 percent of the population is white.


“The Reagan Democrat coalition moved his way pretty strongly in some of these places, or they just didn’t vote for her,” said Mark Stephenson, a Republican data analytics expert. “You can have 10 counties that make up 1 percent of the vote that overwhelm a big county that makes up 8 percent of the vote, and that seems to be what happened in a lot of these swing states.”

Florida was one of the few states where Clinton’s total outpaced Obama statewide. Clinton outperformed Obama and beat Trump by 853,000 votes in the five counties with populations over 1 million residents — Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough and Orange. Obama had won those counties by a combined 695,000 votes.

But Trump outperformed Romney by a wider margin: In the 31 counties with populations between 100,000 and 1 million, Trump won by 801,000 combined votes — 300,000 more than Romney’s margin four years ago. Trump beat Clinton by 171,000 votes in Florida counties with fewer than 100,000 residents, improving on Romney.

Overall, Trump won Florida by about 220,000 votes.

Clinton’s strategy “was really, really hyper-focused on urban communities,” said Steve Schale, a Florida Democratic strategist. “There were more than enough votes that came out of the places where we needed to win.”

Clinton also suffered from a predictable decline in the African-American vote, a critical loss in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. If the Democrat had won those three states, she would be the president-elect.

In Michigan, Clinton won 517,000 votes in Wayne County, home of Detroit. Four years ago, Obama won 595,000 votes there. Clinton also suffered serious drop-offs in Macomb County, a Detroit suburb, and in Genessee, home of Flint.

In total, Trump won Michigan by about 12,000 votes.

The results, strategists and observers said, illustrate a dramatic shift in political power toward rural areas, at least this year. 

“Clinton’s performance in suburban counties like Chester demonstrate that she succeeded in part in executing her campaign strategy,” said Brock McCleary, a Republican pollster in Pennsylvania. “Populism doesn’t play in the suburbs, and that’s what left the political world shaking its head at Trump’s strategy. Right and wrong in American politics is often determined by whether a moderate Chester County mother would approve. Not this time.”

Clinton over-performed Obama’s Michigan vote total in just six counties, centered around the growing cities of Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor — where Obama held a last-minute get-out-the-vote rally before polls opened — and Battle Creek. Trump, on the other hand, over-performed Romney in 75 of the state’s 83 counties.


Virginia illustrates the drop-off between Obama’s performance and Clinton’s among black voters. In seven jurisdictions in which black voters make up a majority, Clinton received fewer votes than Obama did in all but one: Richmond city. In Philadelphia, which is 44 percent African-American, Clinton’s margin over Trump was 11,000 votes lower than Obama’s margin over Romney.

Clinton’s focus on urban cores helped her win Nevada, a state dominated by two urban centers. Clinton took more votes than Obama in both Clark (Las Vegas) and Washoe (Reno) counties — and she underperformed Obama in the other 15 counties in the Silver State. Clinton’s margin in Clark County alone, where she beat Trump by 81,000 votes, was three times the size of her statewide margin.

“We did not lose this in base Democratic counties,” Schale said.

At the same time, Trump performed better than Romney in all 17 Nevada counties.