Sunday, December 18, 2016

We Did Not See You

One of the greatest mind expanding events of my life came when some of my in-laws moved to a small little town in Texas called Cleburne.  This town of somewhere around 30,000 in population is about thirty minutes south of Fort Worth.  It is a very different place than my surroundings in Southern California.  Experiencing Cleburne changed my worldview.

Like many small towns in America, Cleburne has a main street.  I traveled down its Highway 67 and marveled.  Store after store was vacant.  The streets had so many potholes that it made Los Angeles look pristine.  Real estate prices are minuscule compared to Southern California prices.  One can buy a large home for less than one can buy a condo in California.

During one of my visits, I visited a donut shop.  I walked in and was amazed that the inventory was extremely low and the selection very narrow.  I noticed that the heating and air conditioning was off.  The lights were off as well.  I was helped by the owner.  No employees appeared on the premises.  This shop was barely making it.  I made my purchase and walked out of the shop and looked at vacant store shop after vacant store shop and wondered where did everyone go?   The stories that I did not know about those who left concerned me.  Where did they go?

Cleburne’s stories are not isolated to Cleburne.  My wife and I once traveled from Cleburne to Waco along the back roads and went through small town after small town, all with lots of vacant storefronts.    

My experience with California is not the same.  The closet situation existed twenty years ago with a town called East Palo Alto.  The main highway in the Bay Area Peninsula is Hwy 101.  On the west side is Palo Alto, the homes of Stanford University and Silicone Valley.  But on the east at the time was East Palo Alto, a depressed area with a high crime rate.  It had small shops similar to those of Cleburne.  Then a number of large box stores, such as Ikea, came in and the area changed.  People who avoided the area started to shop in East Palo Alto.  New homes were built there and Silicone Valley employees began to buy there.  The area was reborn and the question became where did everyone who lived there before go?

In California suburban areas when storefronts go bust, some developer comes in and reconstructs a strip mall.  The new investors tend to be corporations and wealthy investors.   

Fiat Chrysler has announced that the Dodge Viper will be discontinued.  That has great meaning for Detroit.  The home of the automobile will loose its last manufacturing assembly plant within Detroit proper within the next year.  That raises a key question for all the auto assembly workers from Detroit.  Where did they go?

I shared these experiences with my sister-in-law from Cleburne.  She told me the story of a machinist she met.  He works two jobs and supports a family and has barely enough.  He has not voted in many a presidential election, but this November he made sure he voted, and he voted for Trump.

The people who are the subject of the many dislocations that our economy has experienced over the last twenty to thirty years are still there.  An analysis of the voting patterns of rust belt and other mid-western states indicate that those who we may wonder where they went are still there.  It also appears from the voting data that they came out from wherever they went and voted for Trump.

RealClearPolitics tracked sixteen battleground states.  Hillary Clinton won six of them.  The average percentage difference or spread from the last polls and her actual results among all six was a negative 0.2%.  In essence, she underperformed her predicted wins in these six states by 0.2 percentage points.  Though she bettered her predicted performance in Nevada by 3.2% and Colorado by 2.0%, she barely won the Democratic stronghold of Minnesota by 1.5% when she was supposed to win it by 6.2%, a swing of 4.7% in Trump’s favor and a swing larger than the margin of error of most polls.

This swing towards Trump was replicated in other battleground states.  He won the remaining ten by an average swing of 3.65%.  In essence, the pollsters predicted that his margin would be 3.65% less than it turned out to be.  Trump was predicted to win Missouri by 11.0% and he won it by 19.1%, a difference of 8.1%.  Wisconsin had a 7.3% difference and Iowa had a 6.5% difference.  Again, many of these results were greater than the margin of errors in the underlying polls.  Therefore, the probability that the polls reflected late deciders may not adequately explain why the polls fell short on election eve.  The real explanation is that people came out to vote for Trump who normally would not vote in a Presidential election. 

Understand that this voter is not in the voting models of contemporary pollsters.  Current voting models start with a base from the last election and project off this base.  If a major voting block failed to vote in the last election, pollsters assume that they won’t vote in the coming one.  But this election had a major voting block that did not register with the pollsters.

Trump appealed to this voter by talking about the American blue-collar worker.  He blamed their troubles on bad trade deals, automation, and a host of other things.  They came out from wherever they are to vote for him.  He is now their hero. 

Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post called this voter the “angry white voter.”   There is a problem with the term “white” since Trump got more Blacks and Hispanics than Romney and some of these groups share the “angry” characteristic.  But if this is true then the question to ask is why?  There is one significant difference between this voting group with others.  This voter lost and lost a lot.  This voter is not wealthy or part of a corporation.  These are individuals with not a lot to support a family.   Other emerging voting blocks have unmet aspirations such as college for kids and some semblance of economic promise, much of which has now been delayed.  But the angry voter lost much of that and disappeared waiting for someone to speak to them directly, and that person turned out to be Trump.  They hurt, and he reminded them that they are in pain.  Whether you like him or not, Trump knew they were there and what to say to them. 

This voter is from the old economies of the Midwest and rustbelt states.  Without the electoral college we may never have known about this voter, and Trump would have returned to his penthouse in Trump Towers.  Our future would be in the new economies of the coasts, and the last hope for the angry voter would have been lost.  But it was not to be, and now Trump has to mend two economies, one new and one old into a single national economy.   

In the final analysis, this election was about economics and not about character.  Clinton appealed to her voters on the basis of race and gender politics, and Trump handed her the evidence that supported her argument on a silver platter.  It was a strong argument.  And a great many people bought into it with all of their emotions and hopes, and these people are crushed.   They do not see the wisdom of the Electoral College and believe that the plurality of four million votes in California and its high-tech economics should overcome Trump’s two million vote plurality in the other forty-nine states, many with an old rust-belt economy.   One person I met distinguished it as the United Peoples of American versus the United States of America. 

In the end Clinton failed to see the economic pain of what should have been her constituency.  These are Democrats with a large “D”.   Her staff advised her to go to these people and reassure them that they were being heard, and she did not.

This country is divided and each side feels extraordinary pain.  And each side should respect the pain of the other.

Here is the rub.  If Trump fails to give this lost and hurting voter that is still there the economic promise that he promised, they will come out from wherever they came from and vote again.  Only this time, they will vote against him out of lost hope and even greater anger.    

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