We have heard much talk this cycle about the mood of our national electorate. People are angry. They are sick and tired of establishment politicians, and are gravitating toward outsiders, revolutionaries, people who are going to “turn this country around.” They are flocking to the polls in huge numbers to make their anger heard.
The media has saturated us with profiles of the voters who are turning out for these anti-establishment candidates. There is the Sanders voter, a white, social-media-savvy millennial sick of corporate oligarchies and paying student loans. There is the alienated, white, working-class Trump voter, threatened by immigration and trade treaties and Muslims, someone far less interested in small government and the capital gains tax than the Republican donor class would like him to be. And there is the stridently conservative, small-government Cruz voter, a dedicated God-fearing culture warrior.
The voter we almost never hear about, however, is the Clinton voter. Which is surprising, since Hillary Clinton has won more votes in the primaries than any other candidate so far. She has amassed over 2.5 million more votes than Sanders; over 1.1 million more votes than Trump. Clearly Clinton voters exist, yet there has been very little analysis as to who they are or why they are showing up to vote for her. Sure, there has been talk of Clinton’s dominance among African-American voters, and, to a lesser extent, Hispanic voters. Her voters seem to skew older and more affluent. But these are demographics. (And even demographics have a hard time explaining her commanding win in Ohio, or her wins in Massachusetts and Missouri.) There is almost no discussion of what is motivating these voters. If anything, the media seems to think they are holding their noses as they vote for Hillary. As a recent New York Times article suggested, Clinton is winning “votes, not hearts.”
We never hear that Hillary Clinton has “momentum”—what she has is a “sizable delegate lead.” No one this cycle has described Clinton supporters as “fired up”—it’s simply not possible that people are fired up for Hillary. No, what we gather about Clinton from the press is that she can’t connect. She has very high unfavorable ratings. People think she is dishonest and untrustworthy. She is not a gifted politician. She is a phony. Hated by so many. The list goes on.
Considering that narrative, one would expect Clinton to be faring far worse in the primaries. Instead, she currently holds a popular vote and delegate lead over Sanders that far surpasses Obama’s lead over her at this point in the race in 2008.
This is no accident. An examination of Clinton voters and their motivations might reveal that the narrative that most media outlets have been feeding us this election cycle is dubious at best. Because if the biggest vote-getter of either party is Hillary—by a large margin—then that suggests the electorate is not necessarily as angry as pundits claim. It further suggests that perhaps some people are tired of hearing about how angry they are, and are quietly asserting their opinions at the ballot box. If Democrats are so angry, Clinton would not be in the position she is today. Is it really so farfetched to claim that quite a few Democrats aren’t voting for Sanders precisely because he seems angry? Which isn’t to suggest that people aren’t angry—certainly many Republican primary voters seem to be. Rather, it is to suggest that voters who aren’t angry are still showing up at the polls, despite being ignored in news stories.
Of course, angry voters make for sexier clickbait. So it’s not too surprising that we’re not seeing front-page headlines that scream, “Satisfied Obama Supporters Show Up in Droves.” Furthermore, Trump and Sanders have seen enormous crowds at their rallies, and exuberant support on social media platforms.
So perhaps Clinton voters don’t show up at rallies so much. Perhaps they are a bit less passionate on Facebook, share fewer articles, give less money to their candidate (she does have a super PAC, after all). But what they are doing is perhaps the only thing that actually matters in an election. They are showing up to vote. In numbers that no other candidate can boast.
It’s certainly curious to presume, as many do, that Clinton’s supporters are somehow less enthusiastic than Sanders’s are. How is enthusiasm measured, if not by actual vote count? And they are doing so despite the media narrative surrounding their candidate, despite hearing very little about themselves in the media, despite her “damn” emails, despite Benghazi, despite her low Gallup favorables, and despite how everyone else is “Feeling the Bern.” If anything, Clinton might need to thank the press for consistently underestimating her. Perhaps this is why her supporters are coming out for her in such strength: to assert their existence in the face of a narrative that both overlooks them and disparages their candidate.
This, then, is the one thing the Clinton voter has in common with the Trump voter: a refusal to buy into the prevailing wisdom about their candidate. We always hear about how Trump supporters have remained loyal to him no matter what Trump says or does; their support is rock solid. We never hear that about Clinton, even though she has survived more scandals and accusations than the rest of the presidential field combined. It may very well be that Hillary voters are the most stubborn of all. Because they’ve heard it all for decades—and they are still showing up.