Did Clinton’s Pro-War Record Cost Her the Election?
A new study ties Hillary Clinton’s election defeat to a backlash from voters directly impacted by wars she supported, with Trump gaining key votes in communities where military casualties were highest
AARON MATE: It’s The Real News, I’m Aaron Mate.
On the campaign trail last year Donald Trump appealed to voters by pointing to Hillary Clinton’s hawkish record on foreign policy.
Donald Trump: On foreign policy Hillary is trigger happy. She is, she’s trigger happy. She’s got a bad temperament. You look what she’s done, and look at this, I just wrote this down. Iraq, Libya. She voted Iraq, let’s go into Iraq. I voted against it except I was a civilian, so nobody cared. From the beginning I said it’s going to destabilize the Middle East and Iran will take over Iraq. You know for years they’ve been trying to get Iraq and Iraq has been trying to get Iran. Her decisions on Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya have cost trillions of dollars, thousands of lives, and have totally unleashed ISIS.
AARON MATE: Now a new study suggests that strategy helped Trump win. According to researchers, Clinton may have lost the key battleground states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, because of a backlash from voters directly impacted by wars Clinton supported. The study finds quote, “A significant and meaningful relationship between a community’s rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump.” The author’s write, quote, “Perhaps the small slice of America that is fighting and dying for the nation’s security is tired of its political leaders ignoring this disproportionate burden.”
I’m joined now by one of the study’s co-authors, Dr. Francis Shen is an associate professor of law at the University of Minnesota, where he directs the Shen Neurolaw Lab. His study is called Battlefield Casualties and Ballot Box Defeat: Did the Bush-Obama Wars Cost Clinton the White House.
Professor Shen welcome.
FRANCIS SHEN: Thanks so much for having me.
AARON MATE: Thank you for joining us. So this study is striking. When we talk about the reasons for Clinton’s loss, much attention has been paid on the economic realities of the rust belt states that she failed to win. You’re pointing though to something different, which is military casualties, and the backlash that ensued from that to a candidate deemed as pro-war, like Clinton. Can you talk about what you found?
FRANCIS SHEN: Sure. Historically it had always been thought and it’s been shown in a number of ways that there’s a break on military adventurism, mainly when soldiers die, the public react. That’s been true historically in the United States and in many other countries. But we noticed, my co-author Douglas Kriner and I, that, that narrative wasn’t really part of the analysis of Trump’s 2016 victory, and we wanted to see if it was true. We’ve been studying this issue for about a decade, and what we did is, we went back and looked to see if counties that have experienced higher war casualty rates, were more likely to vote for Trump than they were for Romney in 2012, if he had flipped some of those voters. And indeed, our statistical analysis suggests that he has, and I think it’s consistent with a lot of the rhetoric that he used, including the clip that you played.
AARON MATE: You also compare that to states that did not see a very high rate of military sacrifice. What did you find there?
FRANCIS SHEN: We found that states where there … and counties where there was a lower casualty rate, were less likely to be in the Trump column. So what we did, you mention one of our findings, we said, well what if? What if we traded some of those numbers, if some of those battleground states where the margins were pretty thin had, had a different experience with the war, that is, they had sacrificed less, perhaps they were less angry, especially some of those more rural and less well-off counties, and our fiscal model suggests that, that may very well have pushed Clinton over the top, or perhaps put better, would have reduced some of the support for Trump in a way that would have given Clinton the path to victory.
Can we be sure that, that’s the case? Well, no of course not, but we think it’s an important part of the story and that it’s been overlooked.
AARON MATE: You write, “Increasingly a divide is emerging between communities whose young people are dying to defend the country, and those communities whose young people are not.” Can you explain though, why that divide found its expression in a candidate like Donald Trump, even though he was on the Republican ticket, and Republicans certainly have been behind many of these wars that have killed the young people that you guys are talking about?
FRANCIS SHEN: That’s right, and it’s, I think, an interesting story, and we’ve been doing other studies like this, and I’ll just give you an example, because it will answer your question. We did a study about the 2006 election, and this was the anti-Bush, anti-Iraq war effort, and there, that was part of the media narrative, it was part of the official reasons it seemed that there was the backlash against Bush, and there the Republican Party and its candidates were tied to war. And we found that parts of the country that had experienced greater casualty rates were more likely to vote against incumbent politicians who had supported the war.
It’s really interesting I think, that Trump sort of took the mantle place of the politician who is going to speak out against the wars, and the title of the paper is, we hope provocative, but we think accurate, and we call it, The Bush-Obama Wars, because although Obama campaigned in part on an, end the stupid wars, in fact he continued to campaign in Afghanistan, we had additional casualties and I don’t think that many in these communities think that they had been given much relief, that the sacrifices that they had been making had really been recognized by either party, and I think they are out to punish any politician who doesn’t recognize the sacrifice they’re making. And I think frankly it was a missed opportunity for Democrats and it will be interesting to see if in 2018, that’s part of the narrative. It hasn’t been yet, but they’re recruiting a lot of veterans and we’ll see if that changes.
AARON MATE: Yeah, you know for 2020, you write that, “Trump’s fate may very well rest on his administration’s approach to the human costs of war.”
FRANCIS SHEN: I think that’s right. It has gone or been overlooked, because there are a lot of other things to pay attention to, but Trump has given the Secretary of Defense authorization to increase troop levels in Afghanistan. There is, obviously we don’t know what’s going to happen, but there is the potential for troops and an increased number headed towards Korea, we don’t know what’s going to happen in Syria. There are a number of ways in which the number of American troops overseas may increase and would seem likely potentially, if that happens, that the number of deaths and the number of wounded soldiers would increase as well.
Based on this data, based on a decade of studying this issue, based on countries of history where publics just do not like losing their own to overseas military adventures, I think that could be potentially a big backlash in 2020.
AARON MATE: Dr. Shen, you mention this being a lost opportunity for Democrats, and I’m wondering if you can comment on the contrast here. I mean, in the national media, when we talk about the 2016 election, by far the biggest topic is Russia, and alleged Russian meddling through fake news and email leaks as being the cause of Clinton’s defeat. Clinton herself has basically said as much. If we talk about Trump voters as I said earlier, there’s some talk about economic woes and how they express their anger over that by voting for Trump and rejecting Clinton. But, you’re pointing to something that we almost never talk about, and I’m wondering if that’s partly a reflection of the fact that there’s a big difference between national media coverage, which is mostly controlled in the coastal areas, like New York, and local coverage in which I imagine in local communities, people are reading about things like their neighbor’s been killed in foreign wars.
FRANCIS SHEN: It’s a great point and you’re dead on. There’s actually some research to suggest, by some colleagues, that you do see increased coverage of these issues, as you’d expect, in local newspapers. I think that it speaks to this economic and education and really, geographic divide, and who is serving, first of all? And then, who is dying? It’s not the case there aren’t any educated individual, people from high educated counties and places in the military, that’s not true, there are. But on average, they’re less likely to come from there, and on average, those who are dying are coming from lower end of the spectrum.
Well guess where those who are riding for both the conservative and the liberal high-end media are coming from? Guess where most university professors are living and spending their time? It is not in those communities. So it’s much less likely that they’ve had direct exposure that a friend, a relative, a colleague, a co-worker has come back in a casket from Iraq or Afghanistan. That is a very powerful thing, and the absence of that, especially in those circles, I think has contributed to a lack of appreciation for what’s happening.
In response to Trump’s victory we had marches for science, we had the women’s march, march for other types of equality, there were very few … I don’t know that there were any that I’m aware of, national movement, the national marches for Bring the Troops Home, or End These Wars Now, and I think the wars, which continue you on, have been much of an afterthought for much of America.
AARON MATE: Finally, I’m wondering if you can comment on the state of the so called resistance to Trump right now, which has, as I said, such a focus on Russia. Comparing that to the concerns that you elucidate through this study.
FRANCIS SHEN: I think it may be a bit of a red herring, Russia, in the sense that this is a core issue, and if you inlook historically, take Vietnam as the most prominent example, the protest movement, the resistance there, was fueled in part by media images of, at the time that were primarily men, so our boys coming home wounded, and dying, and I think that, that narrative is very powerful. I think that narrative … especially in the imagery, has potential to move voters, and I think it speaks to a part of America that continues to be overlooked, even as they ironically raised their votes in the 2016 election, it sort of is not being a part of the post election response.
Again, I’m seeing a little bit of movement there in terms of some of the veteran recruitment on the Democratic side, and these were also the voters that libertarians like Rand Paul and his father Ron, were very interested in bringing into the Republican fold. But we’ve come a long way since Rand Paul was on the cover of, I think it was Time magazine, that dialog seems to have been buried a bit. But if these wars continue, and this I think is the important point, and if there’s escalation as there may well be, I think this stuff becomes even more salient.
AARON MATE: Dr. Francis Shen, associate professor of law at the University of Minnesota, where he directs the Shen Neurolaw Lab, his study, which he co-authored is called, Battlefield Casualties and Ballot Box Defeat: Did the Bush-Obama Wars Cost Clinton the White House.
Professor Shen, thanks very much.
FRANCIS SHEN: Thank you.
AARON MATE: And thank you for joining us on the Real News.