It’s hard to understate how important the difference the enthusiasm gap made in this election. Bernie Sanders showed how to stir passion in voters. Hillary Clinton? Not so much. (Trahant photo from Billings rally.)
Published November 14, 2016
Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports
This election Indian Country was like America. Perhaps only more so.
Most American Indian and Alaska Natives voted for Hillary Clinton. But that support was mild. There were not enough votes to make a diffference in red states like Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota. Just enough votes to stay the course in blue states like New Mexico, Washington or Oregon. And, most important, not nearly enough votes in the swing states.
Hillary Clinton earned the most votes, 60, 839,922, to Donald J. Trump’s 60,265,858. But that, of course, is not the way we elect the national leader and Trump’s 290 electoral votes were more than enough to win. What’s more: The margins within those states were such that Native American voters could not have made the difference. There would have had to be a wider coalition of voters, something Barack Obama did so well, and Secretary Clinton did not.
A few examples.
If you look at a color coded 2012 election map Indian Country pops out. There are bright blue pools of voters in deeply red states. Shannon County (now Oglala Lakota County) voted 93.4 percent for Obama. That’s Pine Ridge. Obama won 3/4s of the vote in Rolette County, North Dakota, which includes the Turtle Mountian Band of Chippewas.
Or next door in Montana, voters from the Fort Peck Reservaton came out and led the county with 56.5 percent voting for Obama. But blue faded in the red states this election. Trump picked up 200 more votes than Mitt Romney in 2012, but the real number is that nearly 600 fewer voters went for Hillary Clinton compared to Barack Obama.
Same story in Oglala Lakota Country. Clinton won, and by a large margin, but with 500 fewer votes than Obama.
In Rolette County nearly 1,300 fewer votes for Clinton.
The red states did not change because of that but it’s a good indication about how tepid the support for Clinton was, even in Indian Country.
This story played out in blue states, too. More than 2,000 voters disappeared in McKinley County on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico.
And, in swing states, such as Arizona, that slight difference, a few hundred people who did not vote here and there, added up into real numbers. In Apache County, where the majority of the voters are Navajo, 17,147 picked Obama four years ago. This election only 12,196 voted for Clinton.
Indian Country will make a difference in future elections. The demographic makeup of the country is changing fast and we are a part of that. What’s most stunning about this election is how little demographics mattered. I wrote in December: “Sure, it’s even possible, that one of the Republican candidates will whip up magic and united a coalition of voters. But that would take words designed to reach consensus with the new majority of voters.” And that would have been true: If enough of us had been motivated to vote.
I think it’s clear that Clinton took Indian Country for granted. There was no attempt to learn and execute what worked from the Bernie Sanders campaign. In June, I suggested the Clinton campaign appoint and promote public Native surrogates because “there ought to be a face from Indian Country.” This could have helped build enthusiasm.
And ignoring Standing Rock was a sure way to turn off Native voters. There was probably a “let’s get past the election” conversation, although eventually Tim Kane did weigh in, but nothing changed the narrative that Clinton represented more corporate power, not less. Supporting Standing Rock would have been the right call morally. But I can see how the politics was more complicated because union voices (and donors) wanted the pipeline to proceed.
Yet that might be the essence of Hillary Clinton and why she lost. Her campaign was a package of powerful interests trying to market itself as the voice of ordinary people. Indian Country’s answer was, yeah, whatever. Meh.
Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter: @TrahantReports