Real Reasons Hillary Lost

February 14, 2018

Why did Hillary Clinton lose the US Presidential election?  She did get more votes.  But lost.  Her votes were in the wrong places.

After the fact, all the experts redid their forecasts to predict what had happened – including Hillary. They have been looking closely at the minutia.  Should she have spent more time in Pennsylvania or Ohio or Wisconsin?  What about Comey’s role?  Should they have spent more money on social media advertising?

These are important issues, for sure, and given the closeness of the election might have made a difference.

To me, the issues are really macro, longer term, based on the bigger trends.  Despite the fact that the voters don’t seem to take a long term view, there were a number of major long term trends against Hillary Clinton.

Starting with the fact that Democrats had already been in power 8 years. Every government gets elected to get defeated.  Once you have been in power long enough, the odds of your next victory become lower and lower.   Getting reelected more than once is quite a feat.  Particularly tough for Hillary to overcome was Obama’s charisma – it’s a hard act to follow.

Secondly, as a Woman in a country that is very slow to social change, she had an uphill battle.  The U.S. is slow to social changes, particularly in southern areas.  While it may be unfair, a candidate that is “different” in kind, say gender or colour, has to be exceptional to gain acceptance and change a norm.

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Third, one of the biggest macro trends to overcome was created by WWII which caused the U.S. to misread their place in the world.  After the war when most other industrialized countries were decimated, the U.S. was largely unharmed leaving it the only player in the game.  This superior position at the time was celebrated in jingoism even while the rest of the world spent its resources on rebuilding.

That jingoism continued the delusion through to today.  Cries of “greatest country in the world” or American Exceptionalism don’t exactly jibe with the U.S.’s standing on many, many dimensions.  It is still a huge country that consumes a lot, but quality of life has declined markedly compared to the growth in other states.

While the U.S. was gloating, resting on its laurels, the rest of the world rebuilt their infrastructure to levels superior to where the U.S. is today.  That is readily apparent in the source of manufactured goods around the world.  This has created immense dissatisfaction among U.S. voters.  They had been told for decades they were “the best” and now feel entitled to be, even though those days have gone.  Something had to be wrong with the country’s leadership.

The dissatisfaction with their state in life, led voters to be suspect of Washington insiders, which Hillary clearly was. The conventional thinking was you needed a career politician to make the system work.  However voters were convinced that the system didn’t work and it was the fault of the politicians in Washington.  That has been growing as a trend for a few decades and continues.  While Trump’s inept mismanagement may create a backlash, in the past fifty years, since Lyndon Johnson, only George H.W. Bush, a one term President, has been elected out of the Washington establishment.  The rest have been state governors – and Obama who had just arrived in Washington the year before.

That means the odds for a “Washington” candidate were pretty small.  And probably still are.

Then there was the fact that Hillary was married to former President Bill Clinton.  It seemed like nepotism - despite her experience as Secretary of State and Senator, many thought she was given a distinct advantage due to her husband.  This was likely doubled by her gender with socially conservative voters.  It came with some negativity towards Bill.  Ironic that her opponent, Trump, had committed much worse marital improprieties than Bill and subsequently has shown a total disregard for concerns about nepotism.

Then there was the messy nomination process which the Democratic Party fumbled badly.  Bernie Saunders carried an energetic wave of support that was much more enthusiastic than Hillary’s but was seen as too left for the Democratic Party.

In the end, irony of ironies, the Democrats got the candidate they wanted and the Republicans were saddled with the candidate they didn’t want – the P.T. Barnum of politics.

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