Elections are about perceptions. What a candidate “really” is, how that candidate “really” thinks or would act in some future hypothetical situation, is unknown and, to the average voter, unknowable.
Citizens vote, therefore, based on what they believe or perceive about a candidate. The surprise was that the U.S. voters believed different things about Hillary and about Trump than what the news media were telling them to believe.
While most newspapers and cable TV networks were telling the voters that Trump was a racist, and that Hillary was tolerant, it seems that the voters believed quite the opposite.
Trump actually got a smaller percentage of the “white” (European-American) vote than the Republican candidate four years earlier (Mitt Romney) had gotten. Apparently, Trump was favored by African-American and Latino voters.
Trump got nearly double the percentage of Black voters that the GOP had gotten four years earlier. As historian David French writes:
Would you believe that Trump improved the GOP’s position with black and Hispanic voters? Obama won 93 percent of the black vote. Hillary won 88 percent. Obama won 71 percent of the Latino vote. Hillary won 65 percent. Critically, millions of minority voters apparently stayed home.
Comparing the 2012 election to the 2016 election, Trump, as the Republican candidate, gained African-American voters and Hispanic voters.
Millions of Black and Latino voters decided that Hillary was not reliable. They didn’t trust her; they didn’t want her in the White House. Although Hillary’s allies wanted to label Trump as “racist,” it turns out that, in the minds of many voters, Blacks and Latinos did not trust Hillary.
The Clinton campaign patronizingly assumed that Hillary would automatically receive the vast majority of the African-American and Hispanic vote. That assumption was a form of racism.