There’s a simple reason why Donald Trump won 276 electoral votes, and the US presidency: White Americans wanted him to be president. No, not just working-class white Americans. And no, not just white men. As the exit polls both show and infer, it was a broad coalition of white Americans that helped give Trump very narrow victories in a few key states.
Many headlines today are pointing out the fact that Trump did exceptionally well among working-class whites as the fuel to his victory. It’s true he performed well with this group, and took working-class white areas that President Obama won in 2012. But it’s not the complete picture.
First, look at the topline numbers, from CNN’s exit poll of 24,537 voters at 350 voting locations. Fifty-eight percent of white voters chose Trump. A lot of the white areas that Obama won in 2012 went to Trump in this election, as the New York Times points out. Hillary Clinton lost Iowa, which Obama won in 2012. Clinton lost in Obama-won territory across the Midwest, the Rust Belt, and New England as well.
Dig down deeper in the data, and you’ll see that Trump had a broad collation of white support. Nearly half, 49 percent, of white college graduates — who typically aren’t considered “working class” — voted for Trump.
And what about white women? Leading up to the election, many pollsters and pundits speculated that white women were shying away from Trump, especially in light of revelations that he once bragged about groping women without their consent.
Well, again, nearly half — 45 percent — of college-educated white women voted for Trump. That figure was 62 percent for non-college-educated white women.
Altogether, these results, while still preliminary, suggest there was one major demographic factor at work. “After looking at the data from the election last night and talking with a number of social psychologists and political scientists, I think the key driver in this election was white identity,” Jay Van Bavel, who studies intergroup conflict at New York University, said.
And the results show that campaigning on a platform that’s skeptical of international trade and treaties, that insists on strong borders, and that favors deportation for undocumented immigrants and perhaps bans on entire religious groups from entering the US works for these voters.
And this thinking — that Trump’s victory transcends economic issues — shouldn’t be a surprise. According to estimates from spring exit polls and Census Bureau data, the average Trump supporter earns $72,000 a year, well above the median household income of $56,000. Social scientists have also made a compelling case that anxiety over immigration and racial issues is what fueled Trump’s appeal.
(To be sure, it wasn’t only white voters who elected Trump: He also got 29 percent of the Latino vote and 8 percent of the black vote, according to the exit polls.)
All that said, keep in mind that exit polls can often be flawed. As Vox’s Dara Lind writes:
...exit polls concentrate on bellwether polling places, which are liable to swing from one candidate to the other depending on who’s winning — not safe red or blue precincts where the question is how much a winning candidate will run up the vote.
As a result, the kinds of, say, Latino voters that the exit polls will interview might not be representative of the bulk of Latino voters. And the exit polls might be more likely to interview suburban white voters with college degrees in swing districts than well-educated white urbanites — who might plausibly be more likely to vote for Clinton.
We’ll have more data and insight on this election in the future from the US Census Bureau. But for now, it seems clear: Even though the US’s demographics are rapidly changing, the white voters still have a very loud voice.