In the swing state of Pennsylvania in 2016, Trump did significantly better than Romney had four years before. Trump received 2,912,941 votes while Romney got 2,619,583. This increase had two components. About 376,000 more ballots were cast in 2016 than in 2012, but in addition Trump did better percentagewise. He got 48.8 percent (Clinton got 47.6 percent) while Romney got 46.8 percent (Obama got 52.0 percent) of the Pennsylvania vote. This would indicate some sort of Trump Revolution, but, if so, it was a limited one. It did not reach a majority. But notice something else: Trump and Clinton together garnered 96.4 percent of the total ballots, while in 2012, the major candidates received 98.8 percent in Pennsylvania. The third parties nearly trebled their votes in the four years, from 69,000 to 192,000. Their share went from 1.3 percent in 2012 to 3.6 in 2016. Trump won the Pennsylvania plurality by 70,000 votes while the third-party votes increased by much more than that. If Pennsylvania indicated a Trump Revolution, it also indicated a Third-Party Revolution, a move to third parties that allowed Trump to get the plurality and Pennsylvania’s electoral votes. Did Trump really carry Pennsylvania because of a Trump Revolution or because Clinton, whatever the reasons, was not a good candidate, and a sizeable number of voters went to third parties as a result wanting to vote neither for Trump nor Clinton?
The Michigan turnout did not increase in 2016 as much as the Pennsylvania vote did—65,000 more ballots were cast than in 2012. Trump, however, did get 265,00 more votes than Romney and garnered 47.3 percent of the total compared to Romney’s 44.6. But again “others” made the difference. In 2012, only 1.4 percent of the ballots were not cast for the major parties, while in 2016 it was 5.2 percent, with the totals increasing from 65,000 to 250,000. Trump’s plurality (again not a majority) was a mere 10,000 votes. The move to third parties again allowed him to win a plurality and get all of Michigan’s electoral votes.
In Wisconsin, 128,000 fewer ballots were cast in 2016 than four years earlier, and Trump got only 1,500 more votes than Romney. That doesn’t indicate a Trump Revolution as much as it appears to be a lack of enthusiasm for both major candidates. However, Trump did win the plurality at 47.9 percent compared to Romney’s losing percentage at 45.9. Trump’s margin was 22,000 votes, and again the third parties swung the state. In 2012, they got 28,000 votes and 0.9 percent of the total. In 2016, third parties garnered 137,000 votes accounting for 5.4%.
What does this indicate? Was there really a Trump Revolution that has changed the electoral landscape? Trump took these three key states, but he did not get a majority in any of them. In other words, most voters were against Trump. In each of them, he won because Clinton performed more poorly than he did. As a result, third parties surged tipping each state to Trump.
What does this mean for the future? Is there an enduring Trump Revolution that has shifted the electoral patterns? Perhaps the first thing to note is that he did not get the majority of the vote in the country. He did not even get the plurality. What is seldom noted is that the percentage he did get was not better than what Romney got four years earlier. This certainly is not a revolution.
In some key states, however, he did do better than Romney, but even so, he did not get a majority in them, and third parties surged. Of course, the best guarantee of his winning such states this time is to get more than 50 percent of the vote. At least so far, however, polls do not indicate that this is likely. Trump’s presidency has appealed strongly his 2016 base, and he has failed to attract additional supporters outside that base.
If his support continues at less than 50 percent, Trump has to pray (although I doubt he does) that the third-party surge will continue into the upcoming election so he can win electoral votes with only pluralities. That, of course, is the point to Republican support for the bizarre presidential campaign of Kanye West—the hope that it will siphon votes that would otherwise go to a Democrat. So far, at least, there is no indication that third parties will get the percentage of votes that they did last election when many voters did not like either candidate. My guess is that many of the voters for the Libertarian or Green parties assumed that Trump would not win but did not want to vote for Clinton. Checking a box for a third party was thought to have no real consequences while preserving a sense of integrity for the Clinton doubters. Voters this time are unlikely to think this way. They are more likely to realize that votes for third parties can have consequences and help elect someone they don’t want. This time around, they are likely to realize that they should make a choice between Trump and Biden even if they don’t much like either and not vote for a third party. Furthermore, in 2016 voters who liked neither Trump nor Clinton but voted for one of them rather than a third party candidate overwhelmingly broke for Trump. Polls now show voters who like neither Trump nor Biden will overwhelmingly vote for Biden.
It is a long way to the election and much can happen, but at least for the moment Trump cannot count on a high level of third party votes to allow him to get crucial electoral wins with pluralities. And besides helping Kanye to get on ballots, there seems to be nothing Trump and Republicans can do to shift votes from Biden to a third party. They, however, have no doubt learned something else from 2016 and other elections: Voter suppression can help clear a path to a conservative victory.
(concluded August 19)