What Didn't Happen?



EARLIER THIS YEAR, our two organizations—the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley and Tides—partnered to sponsor a new research fellowship that would explore the shifting social and political landscape in the United States following the 2016 presidential election. 

This partnership reflects the mission of Tides to accelerate the pace of social change by working with innovative partners to solve society’s toughest problems, and the commitment of the Haas Institute to respond with timely research and scholarship that can address issues of immediate and long-term social concern, especially those related to systemic exclusion and inclusion. We share a mutual vision and commitment to building a world of shared prosperity and inclusion, and we believe a key way to do that is through civic participation—an engaged and informed democracy ultimately leads to equality and human rights, a sustainable environment, quality education, and healthy individuals and communities.

This research report is the first in a series of public tools we will be disseminating as the outcome of our collaboration, the primary goal of which is to help us, our partners, and our movements understand the facts of the 2016 election, and what to do with them going forward, by offering data and analysis that helps all of us draw the correct lessons and build effective strategies in an age of misinformation, misconception, and misunderstanding. 

Reflecting one year later, we share critical insights that help us understand voting dynamics across differences of race/ethnicity, income, education, gender, age, and place—and across many intersections thereof. Some key takeaways from this report include:

  • Trump won in the Electoral College by carrying a coalition of white voters. His major gains relative to the previous Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, were among rural and small-town whites, and whites without a college degree, irrespective of income level, gender, or other characteristics.
  • Depressed turnout rates, likely bolstered by new voter suppression laws, were notable in communities of color across some of the states that swung the election. 
  • High rates of third-party voting in the Rust Belt and among all voters under age 40 are noteworthy, as is the unusual incidence of voters casting ballots without selecting any presidential candidate. 

These insights and many more are essential to guiding us toward a more nuanced and in-depth analysis of what happened in 2016. With this understanding we aim to create new visions and strategies of political engagement, ensuring our values are reflected in our elected officials and our democratic processes. 

We have already seen a heightened sense of civic engagement across the country, with new organizations emerging since the Women’s March and the launch of the organization Indivisible. Initially cast as “resistance" groups, these organizations are working not only to resist but to construct alternative visions of our country’s future. Established organizations such as the ACLU and Color of Change have galvanized their bases, resulting in innovative advocacy and activism in the fast-changing policy landscape.

With this report, we start with the “what"—the foundational facts—of the 2016 election. Subsequent publications will focus on the “so what” and the “now what.” How do we understand the roles of racial and economic anxiety? How do we support communities contending with state laws that make it harder to vote? What other structures of our democratic system, such as the 2020 Census and redistricting, can we make better equipped to serve all of our society? 

Both Tides and the Haas Institute are fortunate to work with a large and established network of changemakers, scholars, funders, advocates, and policymakers, and we are committed to leveraging all the tools we have available to drive real and lasting change. We look forward to continuing this critical conversation in order to advance strategies and narratives that build an equitable democracy and a society where all belong.