On November 8, 2016, an estimated that 231,556,622 Americans were eligible to vote. However, only 136,884,643 of the Voting-Eligible Population (VEP) voted, at a turnout of 58.9%. With 94,671,979 [40.9%], of the VEP, becoming non-voters. Since 2012, the number of non-voters amongst the VEP has risen by 1,268,774 [1.4%].
Clinton’s downfall in November, was significantly due to the rise of non-voters in certain swing states which, per Politico, were leaning towards a Clinton victory but Trump eventually won. These states were Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Carolina. Florida was a neutral leaning state, eventually going to Trump.
Trump sealed an electoral college victory over Clinton by 306 to 232, however, had Clinton won Florida along with either Wisconsin, Michigan, or North Carolina the electoral college would have swung her way, by at least 4 electoral votes. As it would have, had she won Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Carolina but not Florida, in such a case Clinton would have won by 8 electoral votes.
Clinton lost Florida by only 112,911 votes. However, Florida experienced a 1.7% increase in VEP turnout from 2012 to 2016, and the number of VEP non-voters increased by 884,671. Crucially amongst these new non-voters was a significant amount of African-American’s, a demographic which won Obama the election in 2012. Similarly, this African-American vote made up Clinton’s most dominant demographic, with 82% of registered voters leaning in Clinton’s favor. However, this demographic did not turn out in the same numbers, costing Clinton Florida’s electoral college votes.
In North Carolina, VEP turnout remained the same with the number of VEP votes rising, along with the number of non-voters rising. Trump won the state by 173,315 votes. Montanaro claims that had African-American voters made up “the same share of the electorate as 2012, and Clinton won 90%, she would have picked up 126,000 votes”. However, had Clinton achieved the same margin as Obama, of 96%, then Montanaro claims “Clinton would have picked up 191,000 votes”. This would have been enough votes to have swung the state, giving Clinton another 15 electoral college votes over Trump.
In 2012 Obama won the state of Michigan by 449,313 votes, however, in 2016, Clinton lost Michigan by 10,704 votes. The crucial factor for this loss being that Clinton won 295,730 fewer votes than Obama in 2012. Since 2012 Michigan gained an additional 50,541 non-voters. In the five largest counties – Oakland, Wayne, Macomb, Kent, and Genesee – Clinton received 137,465 fewer votes than Obama in 2012, meanwhile, Trump gained 43,136 more than Romney in 2012, meaning these five counties saw 94,329 fewer votes in 2016 than in 2012.
The greatest drop in votes for the Democratic Party was in Wayne County, where Obama picked up 77,411 more votes than Clinton. In Wayne County, Trump received 15,322 more votes than Romney in 2012. Therefore, in Wayne County alone, around 60,000 people did not vote, depending on third-party votes. Meaning, had 20% [12,000] of the non-voters in Wayne County, alone, voted the same way as in 2012, Clinton would have won the state of Michigan by just over 1,000 votes.
As in Michigan, the same can be said in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin saw turnout drop by 92,285 since 2012. In 2016 Trump picked up only 2,682 fewer votes than Romney in 2012. Meanwhile, Clinton dropped 238,449 votes from Obama in 2012. Clinton lost Wisconsin by only 22,748 votes, meaning Clinton would have needed less than 10% of the dropped Obama votes to have won the state.
In 2012, Obama picked up 332,438 votes in Milwaukee, however, in 2016 Clinton only picked up 288,822 votes. Assuming both parties lost 10,747 votes to third parties, the Democrat’s lost 33,127 votes in 2016 who became non-voters, in Milwaukee alone. Therefore, had 69% on these new non-voters in Milwaukee alone, voted the same way as in 2012, Clinton would have won the state of Wisconsin.
The empirical evidence from these four states suggests that had Clinton won a larger number of new African-American non-voter in North Carolina or Florida, combined with roughly 23,000 non-voters in Milwaukee and approximately 11,000 non-voters from Wayne County, she would have gained an electoral college majority, becoming the first female President of the United States.
So where did Clinton lose the election?
She failed to motivate enough people to actually turn out and vote. It was apparent that she was the preferable option over Trump, amongst many Americans. However, they may have preferred her but they did not like her. Nor, were they going to go out of their way to vote for her.
Whereas, Trump may be deeply unpopular nationally, but where it matters Trump motivated enough support to maintain enough of Romney’s vote from 2012 to capitalize on Clinton voter’s lack of motivation.
The research was taken from Ben Piper’s: Power of the non-voter (2017).