Diverging cross-currents in the 2016 election
I wrote earlier how Trump's win in Missouri, as well as nationally, was fueled by a surge in support from rural and exurban areas, but that this surge merely continued the direction set in earlier 21st Century presidential elections. However, this continuity masks the underlying intraparty strife that played out in 2016. Even the third-party challenges of Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan in 2000 didn't touch the partisan uncertainty that prevailed in 2016.
One tea party blogger attributed the Trump surge to the common man's electoral revolt against the elites. Maybe so, but that revolt was just a reaction to the elites' own overwhelming rejection of Trump. We would have read all about it as the cause of Trump's defeat, if Trump had lost as expected. Trump's unexpected triumph changed the focus to how such a thing could have happened. But I will examine the elite revolt that other commentators have forgotten.
This is not about how millennial Democrats and Democrat elites in media, academic and old-money circles hated Trump even worse than prior Republican nominees; their votes for Democratic candidates remained consistent, and the intensity of their disdain for Trump didn't make their votes count any more. What drove Trump's performance in certain areas below Mitt Romney's four years earlier was Republicans and Republican-leaning independents changing how they voted.
This post analyzes data from the City and County of St. Louis because those are the areas where I know enough about the neighborhoods producing the results to make meaningful conclusions. Similar trends probably occurred in other urban and suburban areas nationwide, so these observations may be useful on a national level.
Trump's rejection by his party, predictably, was greatest in St. Louis' central corridor, both city and county. As I noted in an earlier post, the most dramatic shift took place in Clayton Township (mostly western Clayton and Ladue), where a half-point Romney win turned into a 19-point Trump loss. It was one of only two townships were Secretary Clinton picked up more of the lost Republican votes than third parties and write-ins did. Trump's next biggest drop came in Missouri River Township (Town & Country), where Trump lost 12 points compared to Romney (but still won). In progressive, formerly Republican Jefferson Township (Webster Groves), Trump suffered an 11-point decline, but most of it went third-party. Another predictable area of Trump decline was Creve Coeur Township, where he dropped nearly 9 points. Trump's greatest decline in the City of St. Louis was the 28th Ward (the very old-money Central West End and Skinker-DeBaliviere), where he dropped nearly 7 points. (Declines in the City are less dramatic because the electorate there is already so Democratic as to leave little room for movement towards Democrats.) In all five of those jurisdictions, Trump trailed the entire statewide Republican ticket (and Clinton led the Democrats).
While Trump's rejection by moderate pro-business and old-money Republicans was expected, the breadth of Republican flight from their populist nominee was surprising to me. Trump also lost a lot of ground in “new money” west county. Trump dropped 10 points in Chesterfield Township, nearly 9 points in Lafayette Township, and 7½ points in both Wild Horse and Maryland Heights Townships. Trump ran last on the ticket in Chesterfield and below median in the others, but still carried all but Maryland Heights.
Trump also suffered lesser Republican flight in areas not usually associated with “political correctness,” such as south county and conservative wards in the southwest part of the city. Clinton picked up almost 2 points of the 6½ points Trump dropped in the City's 16th Ward (St. Louis Hills and western Southampton). Trump dropped nearly 7 points in both Bonhomme (Kirkwood) and Gravois (parts of Affton and Crestwood) Townships, but most of those votes went third-party instead of to Clinton. In most south city wards, as well as Republican Tesson Ferry and Oakville Townships, both Clinton and Trump lost share to third-party candidates. While Trump's performance was median or lower in these areas, he did not trail the entire ticket in any of them.
Democrats suffered from their own intraparty defections. Secretary Clinton suffered more from a decline in voter turnout in many Democratic wards and townships than from actual defection to Trump. Turnout losses may be attributable to millennial voters and former supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders who Secretary Clinton failed to win over, as well as African Americans no longer inspired without the first black president on the ballot.
Though less significant, the well-publicized defections of blue-collar whites to Trump did occur in a few select neighborhoods. Clinton's big wins in Democratic areas camouflaged Trump's gains. At first blush, the 11th Ward (where Clinton beat Trump 67%-27%), 25th Ward (79%-16%), Midland Township (60%-33%) and Airport Township (65%-29%) do not look discouraging for Democrats or hopeful for Trump. But all of these results represent a 6-7½ point drop for Clinton from Obama and a 2-3 point gain for Trump over Romney. Lemay Township (adjacent to the City's 11th Ward) sported the biggest Republican gain, with Trump gaining 3½ points and Clinton dropping 7½ points, enough to give Trump a 2-point win (48%-46%) in the usually Democratic township.
Sample trends in St. Louis County
2012 Obama Romney 2016 Clinton Trump Clayton Township 48.84% 49.47% 55.70% 36.51% Lemay Township 53.16% 44.14% 45.67% 47.51%
Precinct-level returns disclosed some pattern differences within wards. In St. Louis' 11th Ward, Trump advanced most in the Patch neighborhood across the city limits from Lemay and a neighboring precinct in Carondelet, but Clinton advanced in the precinct that includes upscale parts of Holly Hills. In the neighboring 12th Ward, Trump improved in the two precincts bordering the city limits. One of them (southwest of Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery between Gravois Avenue and Morganford Road) was the City's only precinct where Trump won.
Some precincts of relative Trump strength form another interesting pattern. Trump improved (and brought much of the rest of the Republican ticket with him) in most precincts bordering the city limits, from Ellendale (bordering Maplewood) south to the Mississippi River. In addition to the 11th Ward Patch precincts and the 12th Ward precincts mentioned above, Trump also showed improvement in the Lindenwood Park precinct in the 23rd Ward that includes the Shrewsbury Metrolink station and the usually progressive Ellendale precinct in the 24th Ward bordering Maplewood. These precincts in the 12th, 23rd and 24th Wards were the only precincts in those wards (except for statistical noise in one tiny precinct) in which Trump ran better than Romney. All of those precincts also produced the greatest Republican improvement in their wards over 2012 for the rest of the statewide ticket. None of these border precincts are upscale neighborhoods, and they were not among the south side's stronger Republican precincts until recently.
Whether these movements represent permanent party shifts or were merely reactions to unpopular candidates remains to be seen.