It’s hard for people who follow the daily ups and downs of the candidates to accept the fact that voting in America is remarkably stable from election to election. Regardless of who the candidates are, people who voted Republican in the last election almost always vote Republican in the next one, and it’s the same for Democrats. It’s been true for the last five or six presidential elections. And these patterns are amplified by the Electoral College, where only a few states switch from one party to another between elections. Democrats have won the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections (there was that glitch in 2000 with Bush v. Gore at the Supreme Court). Obama beat John McCain in 2008 by more than 9 million votes. He beat Mitt Romney in 2012 by almost 5 million votes. For Trump to win, he needs all of the people who voted for Romney plus at least 5 million more. And they have to be in the right states—the swing states, especially Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida. Where can Trump get those votes?
Trump’s base is the white working class, especially men. But the white working class didn’t vote for Obama—they were Republicans long before Trump arrived on the scene. Obama got only 36 percent of the white working-class vote in 2012—and, among white working-class men, he probably got less than that. The white working-class men who voted for Obama are mostly in secure Democratic states like New York, Illinois, and California. Even if Trump won some of them away from Hillary, it wouldn’t help him in the electoral college.
There undoubtedly were some white working-class voters who didn’t vote at all in 2012 because they were turned off both by Obama and by Romney’s corporate-CEO aura. But will enough of them vote for Trump to change the outcome of the vote in five or six swing states? The experts who count votes say no. People who didn’t vote in the last election are not likely to vote in the next one—that’s part of the stable pattern of American politics.
And Trump seems likely to lose some of the people who voted for Romney—especially some Republican women, turned off by his abusive remarks. Romney got about 45 percent of the female vote. If 3 or 4 percent of Republican women don’t vote for Trump, that would be devastating for him, especially in the swing states. And the polls right now show it could be much worse for him: A NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in March found that 47 percent of Republican female primary voters said they could not imagine themselves voting for Trump. A poll of female voters overall (CNN in March) found that 73 percent had a negative view of Trump.
What about independents—the biggest group in the electorate, people who tell pollsters they are neither Republicans nor Democrats? Political scientists have found very few independents who are actually swing voters; almost all vote consistently for one party. They may like to think of themselves as “independent” of party labels, but in practice almost none of the independents who voted for Obama in 2008 voted for Romney in 2012, and almost none of the independents who voted for McCain in 2008 switched to Obama in 2012. Almost all of the independents who might vote for Trump already have voted Republican in past elections.