Mitchell’s Musings 12-4-16: Everything Mattered (Somewhat)

02 Dec 2016 1:26 PM | Daniel Mitchell (Administrator)

Mitchell’s Musings 12-4-16: Everything Mattered (Somewhat)


Daniel J.B. Mitchell


Given the poor performance of political polls in the recent presidential election, one is reluctant to cite poll data to analyze what voters were trying to say. But here goes. The Kaiser Family Foundation did a post-election poll asking voters what motivated them in their choice of candidate. The results suggest that those analysts who are theorizing and explaining really don’t have a good answer, particularly if they are trying to find some single cause. It isn’t just a case of Midwestern manufacturing workers disgruntled about international trade. That issue was clearly present, of course, and back in the day those on the left would have seized on it as the “real” issue (since economics was supposed to be the underlying cause of all things).


Nor is it just loss of “white privilege” due to changing demographics, although that factor is there, too, for at least some voters. But blaming the outcome on racism – which seems to be the trend among some in academia – isn’t THE story, either. The problem is that there is no “THE” story.

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Voters, according to the Kaiser poll, were upset about “the direction the country is headed,” – see the chart above - but no one factor in that nebulous concept seemed to dominate what it meant. Separating out the results by those who voted for Hillary Clinton vs. those who voted for Donald Trump doesn’t reveal some mysterious key to the election’s outcome, as the chart below shows.

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Separation of the results shows that Hillary voters were more concerned about the personality of Donald Trump than about the direction the country was seen to be headed. Trump voters were more concerned about the direction than about the personality of Hillary Clinton. (The fact that 31% said the main reason they voted for Hillary Clinton was that she wasn’t Trump suggests she wasn’t a strong candidate in her own right.) Note that “immigration” might be seen as a racism proxy. But few Trump or Clinton voters saw it as the major factor in their choices.


The fact that the election was close and revolved around margins of relatively few votes in a limited number of “swing” states suggests that a search for a grand cause is misplaced. Right now, the Democrats are doing what the Republicans were supposed to do after the projected Clinton win, i.e., falling into factions and finger pointing. But in a close election, a marginally better candidate on the Democratic side could have reversed the actual result.


Finally, the focus on those in the workforce with less than a college degree needs some elaboration. The standard tale seems to be that THE story was that the jobs for those less than a college degree are drying up due to technology. So it might be worth looking at a new survey released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics which characterizes jobs by minimum educational requirements. (The survey excludes jobs in the federal government and self-employment.) 

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Over 30% of jobs require less than a high school diploma, as can be seen on the chart above.[1] Another 45% require a high school diploma. So that’s about 3 out of 4 jobs. Another 4% require an associate’s (community college) degree. So we are now up to about 4 out of 5 jobs that don’t require a college degree. Of course, there are some folks in those jobs with more education than is required. And there are other forms of training that may be required apart from formal education. But still, we have not run out of less-than-college jobs. There is more to be said on that issue, of course, but – again – the search for THE cause of the 2016 election result is likely to be fruitless. Everything mattered somewhat. And almost anything that might have occurred, but didn’t, to favor Clinton might have reversed the outcome.

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[1] http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ors.pdf. The numbers underlying the chart can be found at http://www.bls.gov/ors/#data and searching for educational requirements.

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