Saturday, September 9, 2017

Swing Counties and Why Clinton Really Lost? It Wasn't Sanders Fault...It was Hers

So why did Hillary Clinton lose to Donald Trump?  For many this is now a “Who cares?” and it is time to “move forward” as Bernie Sanders said Thursday on The Late Show.  Yet Clinton cannot.  In her forthcoming book she describes the attacks on her by Sanders as causing “lasting damage” damage to her campaign.  No doubt, Clinton’s new book will seek the causes of her defeat in outside forces–the Russians and Sanders for example–but the roots of her defeat also lie within her own control.  Much could be written about how all the mistakes she made and how she failed to learn from them eight years later.  Yet perhaps one way to capture her mistakes is simply to look at her general election campaign, especially in terms of where she campaigned and how often.
I am in the process of doing a second edition of Presidential Swing States.  In editing that book with Stacy Hunter Hecht I realized it is not simply swing states that make the difference in presidential elections, it is the swing voters within the swing counties in the swing states that are critical.  In this second edition I am doing a chapter on the swing counties.  Looking at county campaign activity tells one a lot about the mistakes made by Clinton in the 2016 general election.
There are 3,142 counties, parishes, or boroughs in the United States.  During the 2016 general election, Clinton/Kaine made a total of 152 campaign visits to 75 counties located in 14 different states.  Trump/Pence made a total of 248 campaign visits to 142 counties in 25 states.  Total, they  made 400 campaign visits to 167 counties located in 26 states.   Between the two campaigns, they only campaigned in 5.3% of the US counties.  For Clinton it was only 2.4% of all counties, for Trump it was 4.5%.  Trump/Pence not only made nearly 60% more campaign visits than Clinton/Kaine, but they visited nearly 90% more counties.  Simply put, they made more visits to more locations than Clinton/Kaine.  Alone that tells one something about why Clinton lost–she did not campaign as much or broadly as Trump–he simply out-hustled her on the campaign trail.
But what is also interesting to consider is where the Clinton and Trump campaigns chose to  visit.
Clinton and Trump demonstrated different tactics in terms of the counties they chose to visit. For Clinton, her most frequent visits were to Democratic Party strongholds located in big urban areas such as Philadelphia, Fort Lauderdale, and Detroit.  For Trump,   the focus seemed less on big Republican strongholds and more on visiting swing areas or counties such as Hillsborough County in New Hampshire or Mecklenberg County in North Carolina.
These contrasting strategies suggest  that Clinton’s focus was either on shoring up her party base or simply trying to maximize her turnout among the Democrats.  For Trump, the focus seemed more on swing voters, perhaps reflecting the fact that either he was sure he had his base or that he was trying to expand or shift it.  All these are possible scenarios.  Yet I would also argue that what the Trump campaign did was more strategic and realistic.  His campaign understood that the key to winning an election is not just holding and mobilizing a base, but it is also going after the s wing voters in swing areas who control the balance of power in presidential elections.
Yes it is possible that Clinton had to campaign in the Democratic Party strongholds to overcome the attacks inflicted upon her by Sanders.  But a stronger argument can be made is that she simply failed to make enough campaign visits in the critical swing countries among swing voters to ask them for their vote.  If that is the case, she violated a cardinal rule of politics once enunciated by Tip O’Neill–never take a vote for granted and always ask for it.  It appears Clinton just did not ask the swing voters in the swing states for their votes, and that is why is lost.

Clinton Campaign Visits
State County Visits
Pennsylvania Philadelphia 8
Florida Broward 7
Florida Miami-Dade 7
Nevada Clark 6
Michigan Wayne 6
Ohio Cuyhoga 6
Pennsylvania Allegheny 5
North Carolina Wake 4
Iowa Polk 4
Florida Orange 3
Florida Palm Beach 3
Ohio Franklin 3
New Hampshire Hillsborough 3

Trump Campaign Visits
State County Visits
New Hampshire Hillsborough 7
Colorado El Paso 6
New Hampshire Rockingham 6
Nevada Clark 5
North Carolina Mecklenberg 5
Florida Miami-Dade 5
Nevada Washoe 5
North Carolina New Hanover 4
Arizona Maricopa 4
Ohio Cuyhoga 4


  1. This is very illuminating. Thanks, professor.

  2. Your numbers don't add up there. I think you are missing part of your visits for both candidates. This list shows 65 for HRC, and 51 for DJT.