President-elect Donald Trump speaks to a large crowd at the Minneapolis St. Paul Airport, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi) (
by Tony Petrangelo
Nov 30, 2016, 9:00 AM

How Donald Trump almost won Minnesota

Donald Trump came as close to winning Minnesota as any Republican since Ronald Reagan, is a sentence I never expected I would write, but here we are.

Donald Trump lost Minnesota by 1.5%, the closest margin in a Presidential race in the state since Walter Mondale beat Reagan by less than a quarter of a percent in 1984. But this isn’t because Donald Trump was riding the crest of an electoral tsunami, as his 45% of the vote in Minnesota has been bested numerous times since 1984. George H.W. Bush in 1988, and his son in both 2000 and 2004 did better than 45% in Minnesota. Mitt Romney even matched Trumps vote share while losing the state by almost 8 points.

The reason Minnesota was so close, and why Donald Trump is our President-elect, is because of the dramatic under-performance of Hillary Clinton. Her 46.5% of the vote was the lowest share of the vote a Democratic candidate for President has received in Minnesota since her husband, Bill Clinton, received 43.5% in 1992. The caveat to 1992 is that third party candidate Ross Perot won 24% of the vote in Minnesota. This year the entire third party vote was just short of 9%.

Below is a graph and table to illustrate this point:

From 2008 to 2016 the total number of votes cast in the Presidential election in Minnesota has basically stayed the same, with a very slight increase. The total number of votes cast for the Republican candidate has also basically stayed the same, with a very slight increase. The total number of votes for the Democratic candidate however fell precipitously this year compared to past years while the number of votes for third party candidates increased this year.

But looking at the overall numbers for the state somewhat obscures the reality of what happened in different parts of the state. Here is the same graph and table, only for what I am calling the “big counties,” (Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Olmsted, Ramsey, St.Louis and Washington) those with over 80,000 votes cast in 2016.

In these “big counties” the drop-off in the Democratic vote is about a third of the drop-off in the Republican vote. But look at what happened in all the other counties, the “small counties.”

In the “small counties” the number of votes for the Republican increased dramatically, while a similarly dramatic decrease occurred in the votes cast for the Democrat.

The big county-small county distinction may not be the most nuanced way to look at this issue, but it gets to the essential point of what happened, Hillary Clinton did as well as Obama in the cities, but considerably under-performed outside of the population centers. This situation wasn’t unique to Minnesota, the same pattern played out over the entire Midwest with Democrats either hitting or coming close to hitting their vote totals from 2012 in the big Democratic counties, but getting clobbered everywhere else.

There are a multitude of explanations being bandied about to explain these results, but it could just be as simple as Hillary Clinton was not a good Presidential candidate, certainly not as good a candidate as Barack Obama, and probably worse than Al Gore and even John Kerry.

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