Viewpoints

By failing to vote, we ended up with Trump

A polling place in Springville, Ala., shows heavy voter turnout Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. Lines ran out through the parking lot into the street. The turnout of minorities continue to lag behind white voters.
A polling place in Springville, Ala., shows heavy voter turnout Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. Lines ran out through the parking lot into the street. The turnout of minorities continue to lag behind white voters. The Associated Press

On Wednesday morning, there was a collective gasp. A few days later, many Americans still are in shock that Donald Trump is president-elect.

This is not just frustration about losing a close election. Many Americans are bewildered, angry and even frightened by what Trump’s victory says about their fellow citizens. Half the country supports a presidential candidate whom the other half finds wholly unqualified and, yes, deplorable. Or so it appears.

But this is not true. When the votes are fully counted, Trump will have received roughly 60 million. Hillary Clinton will likely have received at least 2 million more votes. Another 100 million Americans who are eligible to vote either did not register or just didn’t turn out.

Trump did not come close to winning a majority of U.S. voters. He received about a fourth of the eligible voters.

Trump’s victory is the result of disparities in voter turnout. We don’t yet know the official breakdown. But we do know that many groups of people who overwhelmingly favored Clinton, such as Latinos and young people, historically turn out at much lower rates than older white people.

Even in high turnout elections, a voting gap remains. These disparities are entrenched. The difference between national eligible voter turnout for Latinos and whites has stayed stubbornly at 16 percentage points in nearly every presidential election going back 30 years, we at the California Civic Engagement Project at the UC Davis Center for Regional Change have found.

With so many people not voting, the will of the people turns out to be the will of just some of the people.

In a repeat of the 2000 presidential election, we saw a candidate lose a close race because supporters did not take their demands to the ballot box at the same rates as opponents. Lower turnout among some historically underrepresented groups once again had a dramatic effect on the nation.

Pollsters gave us a false picture of the U.S. electorate. But it is very likely the race really wasn’t that close in general public opinion. Pollsters consult only those who are likely to vote. This is only a subset of the American people. People who vote less also typically support Democrats in big percentages.

Where do we go from here? Improving voter turnout among historically underrepresented groups should be a top priority, regardless of our political leanings--unless we want to again wake up with a president who doesn’t reflect the will of its people.

We also need to tackle another aspect of our damaged Democracy. Too many Americans clearly feel disaffected to the point that they voted for someone whom many recognized had serious flaws. We need to acknowledge these feelings of marginalization across American society, even if we don’t always understand or agree with those who voice them.

This will be hard. But real leadership means listening to people with grievances and finding ways to address their needs. Deflating Trumpism means offering credible, constructive alternatives to those who voted for him.

And yes, we also need to recognize the large numbers of people who support Trump precisely because of his racist, misogynist and xenophobic statements. That’s the hard part, and is one of America’s most important challenges. We cannot make real social and economic progress in this country without lifting the veil of racism and working to eliminate it. It’s a task for conservatives and liberals alike.

The sun did rise the morning after the election, just as President Barack Obama said it would. But the day was overcast, in part because not enough people expressed their will by voting. We must strengthen our civic culture so that we never find ourselves in this situation again.

Mindy Romero is the director of the California Civic Engagement Project at the UC Davis Center for Regional Change. Contact her at msromero@ucdavis.edu.

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