Five unanswered questions after Trump's upset victory

Three days after the presidential election, liberals are grappling with the reality of President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpPence: Supreme Court has chance to right 'historic wrong' with abortion ruling Prosecutor says during trial that actor Jussie Smollett staged 'fake hate crime' Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE, while conservatives exult about an unexpected end to Democratic control of the White House. 

Neither side correctly anticipated the outcome on Election Day. And there are still several key questions that have not been definitively answered. 

What happened to Democratic turnout?


Not every single vote has been counted yet, but the general pattern is clear: Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCountering the ongoing Republican delusion Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Poll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future MORE underperformed President Obama’s showing in 2012 by a dramatic margin. 

As of Thursday evening, Clinton has approximately 5.4 million fewer votes than Obama did. 

The lost Obama voters do not appear to have migrated to Trump. The GOP nominee has about 1 million fewer votes than his 2012 counterpart Mitt Romney racked up. 

So what happened?

Libertarian Party nominee Gary JohnsonGary Earl JohnsonBiden broadened Democratic base, cut into Trump coalition: study New Mexico lawmakers send recreational marijuana bills to governor Judge throws out murder convictions, releases men jailed for 24 years MORE received almost 3 million more votes this time around, but it is a stretch to assume that a majority of those supporters were disaffected Democrats. Johnson is a former Republican governor of New Mexico, and his policy platform has far more in common with the GOP than the Democratic Party.  

Jill Stein of the Green Party, a more plausible alternative for Democrats skeptical of Clinton, only improved her 2012 showing by about 700,000 votes.

The most plausible explanation is that a significant segment of the Obama coalition stayed home. The problem was especially stark in the Rust Belt states that proved decisive.

Clinton got half a million fewer votes in Ohio than Obama did, while Trump scored about 100,000 more than Romney. Clinton lost to Trump by about 450,000 votes there. 

In Wisconsin, Trump ran almost exactly equal with Romney, racking up 1.4 million votes. But Clinton came up about 240,000 votes short of Obama’s 1.6 million tally in 2012, leaving her just over 27,000 votes shy of Trump. 

Whatever mechanics malfunctioned on Election Day, some Democrats believe the party has to ask itself some hard questions about what it stands for, especially on economic policy.

In an op-ed published Thursday, Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis argued that ascribing Trump’s victory simply to racism or sexism would mean “missing one of the primary reasons we lost: Democrats stopped listening to millions of people who have voted Democrat [in the past] who feel real economic pain across America.” 

Why was there no Hispanic surge against Trump? 

Liberals were all but certain that Latinos would materialize in large numbers to vote against Trump, whose candidacy was characterized by a promise to build a wall on the southern border, as well as strident rhetoric about illegal immigration.  

The Hispanic surge simply didn’t materialize. 

According to exit polls, Trump drew the support of 29 percent of Hispanic voters, a showing that actually improved on Romney’s 2012 performance, though only by 2 points. The Latino share of the electorate increased by just 1 percentage point since 2012 — up to 11 percent — and any advantage for Clinton on that score was neutralized by the fact that the share of all votes cast by African-Americans declined from 13 percent to 12 percent. 

It’s true that a Romney-level vote share among Hispanics is nothing to boast about — Romney’s performance with the demographic was seen as so bad that it helped spark the Republican National Committee's "autopsy" report in the wake of his loss. But it’s remarkable that Trump did no worse than the 2012 nominee given the tone of his campaign.

The most plausible explanation may be that Republicans have a floor with Hispanic voters somewhere around the Romney-Trump level.

How big a factor was James Comey?

This is one of the great unknowables of the election. 

The FBI director announced only 11 days before Election Day that agents were looking at newly discovered emails that were potentially relevant to the bureau’s earlier investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email and server while secretary of State. 

Clinton aides have continued to blame Comey for their candidate’s shock loss, including on a phone call with distraught surrogates on Thursday. Campaign chairman John Podesta described Comey as the guy "who we think may have cost us the election," according to one surrogate who relayed the conversation to The Hill. 

But the FBI director had cleared Clinton in the new probe before Election Day, and it is tough to make the case that his intervention was determinative of the outcome. 

On the day that Comey made his first announcement about the new emails, Clinton led Trump in the RealClearPolitics national polling average by 4.6 percentage points. As Election Day dawned, her edge had dropped only slightly, to 3.2 points.

But that won’t stop Clinton partisans blaming him for raising fresh doubts about her trustworthiness in voters’ minds.

Did sexism doom Clinton?

If a black candidate for president had led national polls throughout a campaign, had been projected to win by about 3 points in the final polls, and had ultimately lost, there’s no doubt what would happen next. 

Media reports and disappointed supporters would blame the outcome on racism and the so-called “Bradley Effect.” The phenomenon holds that black candidates often do worse in actual results than in polls, presumably because white voters are reluctant to back a black candidate but do not want to reveal this tendency to pollsters.

Clinton’s supporters have always held that there is a sexist dynamic behind many of the criticisms she faced. They say this shows itself in everything from comments about her hairstyle and voice, to widespread doubts about her trustworthiness. 

But did sexism impact Clinton on Tuesday? It’s hard to prove one way or another — in part because Clinton is the first female nominee of a major party, so there are no obvious parallels against which her performance can be compared.

Recent U.S. Senate races that pitted a Democratic woman against a Republican man don’t provide conclusive evidence one way or another as to whether there is a sexist equivalent of the Bradley Effect. 

In 2012, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.) both won their races by significantly greater margins than had been predicted in the final RealClearPolitics polling average. 

In 2014, North Carolina’s Sen. Kay HaganKay Ruthven HaganInfighting grips Nevada Democrats ahead of midterms Democrats, GOP face crowded primaries as party leaders lose control Biden's gun control push poses danger for midterms MORE lost her reelection bid having been slightly ahead in the final RCP average, but the margins were very tight: She was defeated by 1.7 points, having been up 1.2 by points in the RCP average. Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuCassidy wins reelection in Louisiana Bottom line A decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth MORE (La.) also lost a reelection battle that year, but only by about half the margin that polls projected.

Did Trump actually help the GOP down-ballot? 

During the campaign, there had been consternation in Republican ranks about Trump’s many controversies. Senators running for reelection feared he could hurt their chances, leaving them in a bind on how to handle his various scandals. But, in the end, the GOP had a good night in the Senate, retaining its majority and losing only two seats, in New Hampshire and Illinois.

In several instances, Republican senators in competitive races outperformed their poll ratings by significant margins. That was true of Sens. Pat Toomey (Pa.), Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrTexas Democrat Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson announces retirement at end of term On The Money — IRS chief calls for reinforcements Burr brother-in-law ordered to testify in insider trading probe MORE (N.C.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioWisconsinites need infrastructure that is built to last  Republicans struggle to save funding for Trump's border wall Rubio: Dropping FARC from terrorist list threatens Colombians, US security MORE (Fla.), all of whom kept their seats.

It seems more likely than not that, after all the speculation in the opposite direction, having Trump at the top of the ticket was a bonus, not a liability.

— Amie Parnes contributed