America who are you?
Underneath the red blue and white
America who are you?
I wonder who you are tonight
(Switchfoot, Looking for America)
Whatever parallels there are with Brexit, one similarity with last night is clear: we went to bed with one perception of the country and awoke to another. But what do we actually know at this stage?
First, the US ethnic vote did not behave as most had assumed: one early calculation suggests that among black voters Hillary Clinton was five percentage points down on Obama in 2012 and six points down among Hispanic/Latino voters. Especially in light of all the campaign rhetoric, that is a sensational result.
Second, the betting markets, forecasters and pundits were almost universally wrong. Betfair headlined its website yesterday with ‘Five reasons why I’m still all in on Hillary Clinton’ – all of which were wrong.
Fivethirtyeight’s ‘chance of winning’ forecasts were pointing to a Clinton victory throughout the whole of 2016 except for one day in July when it forecast a 51% chance of a Trump victory, otherwise it was pointing to Hillary all the way.
And the BBC’s ‘poll of polls’ showed Clinton permanently ahead of Trump from late July onwards (any ‘poll of polls’ should be taken with a pinch of salt at any time, but that’s for another day…).
Post-mortems aside, the societal faultlines which characterised the UK’s Brexit vote are all too apparent across the Atlantic. Lord Ashcroft in June presented British Referendum voters, and last week US Presidential electors, with a battery of ‘isms’ and asked whether they thought them a force for good or ill. This is where those Brexit parallels really show.
% who said “Force for good”:
Democrats and Remainers share a positive outlook on all of these, whereas Leavers and Republicans are far more negative. The exceptions are globalisation and immigration where Brits are more positive generally than Americans, but even here a big gap exists between Republicans and Democrats.
At the risk of irritating just about everybody, a Trump presidency will almost certainly not be as right wing as people on the left fear, and a Clinton presidency would not have been as left wing as people on the right feared. But the US election has revealed a yawning social chasm between liberal elites (younger, more highly educated, wealthier) and a disgruntled voter base of people who feel that they are ignored by the political class and who believe that life has not improved for them over recent decades; they are being left behind.
This social divide exists on both sides of the Atlantic. Whether or not Theresa May or Donald Trump are the answers remains to be seen. What is clear is that a large slice of the electorate in both Britain and the US are angry, eager for change and willing to take a risk by voting for the unknown. In looking for America, we need to ask the same of Britain too.