Presidential Campaign

The exit polls tell us one sure thing: Voters wanted change

I finally got enough sleep after Election Day to function mentally. Here’s my take from a deep dive into the 2016 exit poll.

Voters in the Rust Belt were especially tired of hearing Democrats say how good the economy was while working families were having a hard time paying their mortgages and feeding their families every month.

{mosads}President-elect Trump proved that simple messages work best. (Disclaimer: I am not related to Steve Bannon, chairman of the Trump campaign). Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s message on the economy was too complex.

Saying the economy is bad, like Trump did, rang truer to voters in the industrial Midwest than Clinton’s message that the economy was getting better, but we had a lot more to do to make sure everyone enjoyed the fruits of economic growth under President Obama.

The proof was that the overwhelming majority of economically marginal white voters without a college degree supported Trump (67 percent) over Clinton (28 percent). If that isn’t enough to make the point, barely half (51 percent) of the voters from lower middle-class households supported the Democratic nominee.

The coda to the 2016 campaign was General Motor’s announcement the day after the election that it was laying off 2,000 workers in its assembly plants in Ohio and Michigan. Those 2,000 workers were hurt by international trade. Exit polls showed there were more voters who thought international trade took away American jobs (42 percent) than those who believed it created jobs here (38 percent).

On this issue, Clinton’s change of heart on trade didn’t help her. The voters who thought trade agreements were bad went for Trump more than two to one (65 percent to 31 percent).

Frustration with the pace of economic growth went hand in hand with anger toward the political and economic establishment.

Only a third (33 percent) of the voters thought the country was “generally going in the right direction.” An overwhelming majority of the electorate (62 percent) believed the U.S. was “seriously off on the wrong track.” The large bloc of voters who were bent out of shape went for Trump (69 percent to 25 percent) … big-league.

The anger toward the condition of the economy extended to anger with the federal government.

Few voters (29 percent) were pleased with the federal government, while more than twice as many voters (69 percent) were unhappy.

Guess whom the anti-federalists supported? Trump, of course, 58 percent to 36 percent.

The Republican congressional majority deserves much of the blame for the poor performance of the federal government but the guy at the top, Obama, and his favored candidate, Clinton, took the hit.

One of the most fascinating pieces of data from the exit poll was the overall opinion of the candidates.

Clinton’s negative rating was high, but it not nearly as bad as Trump’s. The former secretary of State’s popularity was 10 percent points underwater, but Trump’s was buried in the subterranean depths of the ocean with a net negative of 22 points.

So why did the candidate with the biggest negative do almost as well as the Democratic nominee in the popular vote?

The answer is that voters weren’t voting against Clinton as much as they were expressing their frustration with the status quo.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the populist icon from the Bay State, put it best when she told the AFL-CIO last week that “They voted for him (Trump) despite the hate. They voted for him out of frustration and anger and out of hope he would bring change.”

Voters were buying change while Clinton was trying to sell status quo.

When a candidate is tainted with Wall Street and the economic policies of the incumbent president, it’s difficult to sound like an agent of change. It didn’t matter much that voters thought the GOP nominee treated women like dirt (70 percent) and that he was unqualified for the job (60 percent).

Those things should have mattered, but they didn’t. The most important quality that voters wanted in a president was someone who could change things. These change voters overwhelmingly (83 percent to 14 percent) supported the Republican nominee.

Clinton neglected the populist economic message that would have won the industrial Midwest — and the presidency.

In the future, Democrats must strongly address bread-and-butter issues like a higher minimum wage and pay equity for women that will appeal to working families. Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) dream is to privatize Social Security and Medicare. The Democrats have a good opportunity to fight against the GOP and fight for the working families who canceled Clinton’s bid for the White House.

And once Trump is in charge, he will need to walk a tightrope. He needs to turn toward the GOP establishment to govern without alienating his populist base.

He split the difference between the establishment and the base when he chose Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus to be his White House chief of staff and hard-right populist Bannon to be his senior strategist.

The big news is the president-elect is considering Mitt Romney, the GOP establishment poster boy, to be his secretary of State.

After four years of Donald Trump in the hot seat running the U.S. government, Trump will represent the status quo — which will be a major liability if he doesn’t live up to his promises to speed economic growth.

Time will tell.

Bannon is CEO of Bannon Communications Research, which works with progressive groups, labor unions and Democratic candidates. He contributes regularly to two nationally syndicated progressive talk radio shows, “The Leslie Marshall Show” and “The Jeff Santos Show.” Bannon is also political analyst for CLTV, the cable news station of the Chicago Tribune and WGN-TV and a senior adviser to and contributing editor for, the social media network for politics.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Paul Ryan

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video