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A big quality that mattered in ’16 — ‘can bring change’ — won’t help Trump in ’20

To say the least, we’ve had the “change” that Trump represented. But he now represents the more-of-the-same choice on the ballot.

President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump
REUTERS/Carlos Barria

I can’t remember what I was looking for, but I stumbled on an exit poll breakdown of the vote for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016, and was struck by one big number that drove Trump’s win (although, as you recall he “won” without getting a majority or even a plurality of the votes).

A lot of it was obvious. Clinton crushed Trump (by more than 50 percentage points) among non-whites, but Trump carried Caucasians by a solid 20-point margin. Clinton won (by 13 points) among women, but Trump won by 11 among voters of my own distinguished gender. Clinton won huge among the young, but Trump among the old. Clinton by solid margins among the more educated, Trump solidly among the less educated, who had also carried him to the Republican nomination, which led to his famous “I love the poorly educated” comment. I won’t go through the whole list of groups. Sadly, Trump solidly carried those who said they voted the way they did because they disliked the other candidate.

One of the relatively famous such factors (which many feel bodes well for the “likable” Joe Biden this year), is that Trump won by a solid 47-30 percent among the 18 percent of voters who said they had an unfavorable view of both candidates. I don’t think that’s going to help him this time around.

But the one that caught my eye was an exit poll question about “which candidate quality mattered most” to the voter.

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Clinton crushed Trump by 90-7 among those who wanted a candidate with the “right experience” to be president, and won by solid margins among those who said the quality they wanted most was “good judgment” or “cares about me.” But Trump overcame all of those groups by crushing Clinton 82-14 among the very large group (39 percent of all respondents) who said the candidate quality that mattered most to them was “can bring change.”

Obviously, Clinton represented something like continuation of the presidency of Barack Obama, a fellow Democrat in whose Cabinet she had served as secretary of state. I could break the thesaurus listing ways, good and (to me) mostly bad, that Trump might have represented “change” from Obama. And, if we decide that for some of those who wanted “change” from Obama, the race angle may have played a role. But, still, based on all the qualities in the poll, people wanting “change” were one of Trump’s key groups.

And they got it. Trump equaled change across many factors. And how does America feel about that change? Views differ, of course, but now that Trumpism is the status quo, his pitiful approval rating, mired within a point or two either side of 40 percent is the beginning of an answer. To say the least, we’ve had the “change” that Trump represented. But he now represents the more-of-the-same choice on the ballot.

Joe Biden isn’t exactly the changiest candidate. He’s been around forever. And perhaps, to some, he represents the restoration of the status-quo-ante.

But Trump, despite losing the popular vote and benefiting from foreign interference, “won” 2016 as the candidate of “change.” 

Since then, he has struggled throughout his tenure to maintain a 40 percent approval rating for the job he’s doing as president. 

It’s hard to believe that he can count on the “change” vote to carry him over the top a second time. He doesn’t have any new ideas or even new party tricks. He’s unquestionably the “more of the same” candidate. 

The full readout of those 2016 exit polls is viewable here.