During 2016’s wild, wooly and weird presidential campaign, Donald Trump championed some issues organized labor cared about: preventing manufacturers from shipping jobs overseas, pledging $1 trillion in infrastructure spending, threatening stiff tariffs against importing countries, and vowing to overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Some observers point to such promises as the reason some union households supported the real-estate billionaire and reality-TV host. But it’s looking less like Trump substantially did better than Republicans have usually done, than Hillary Clinton did poorly.

For example, in Illinois, Trump’s 2.1 million overall votes here wasn’t even as good a performance as George W. Bush’s 2.3 million in 2004 (during setbacks in the unpopular Iraq War). A more revealing comparison may be that Clinton’s 2.9 million Illinois votes last year were significantly less than Obama’s 3.3 million in 2008, a 12-percent drop.

Still, the conventional wisdom is that Trump did well with the union bloc, or with the working class, which made the difference. It’s an oft-repeated diagnosis.

“What if these prognoses have it wrong?” ask Jake Rosenfeld and Patrick Denice, sociologists at Washington University in St. Louis, who’ve analyzed 2016 exit-poll results from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University.

“Could it be that instead of Trump’s unique appeal to union household voters, the election results really suggest sagging enthusiasm among union households for the Democratic candidate?” they ask.

Last year, voters in union households supported the Democratic over the Republican candidate by only 8 points, exit polls indicate. In 2012, by contrast, the Democratic advantage among members of union households was 18 points.

“But there is another way of investigating the issue,” the St. Louis researchers say. “What if the shrunken Democratic vote advantage among union households in 2016 didn’t so much stem from Trump’s inroads among union household members, but from union households turning to outsider candidates over the Democratic Party choice? The 2016 election featured not one but two candidates unaffiliated with the Democratic or Republican Party: Jill Stein and Gary Johnson — the Green Party and Libertarian Party candidates.”

In that premise, the widely-cited 8-point difference in the union household vote may not reflect Trump’s singular success in winning over voters in union households, they say, but instead result from a lack of enthusiasm among union household voters for Clinton, as shown by the rise in the union household vote for those independent candidates. In Illinois, which has more than 900,000 union members, a lack of passion for Clinton could have affected choices or turnout, and results.

Nationally, Trump outdid Mitt Romney’s performance among union household voters — but by just 3 points. More significantly, between 2012 and 2016 the share of the union household vote going to the Democrat in the race shrank from 58 percent to 51 percent, with the share of union household members saying that they voted for neither the Democrat nor the Republican in the race tripling, from 2 percent to 6 percent.

“In fact, Trump performed pretty similarly to past Republican candidates among union households,” say Rosenfeld and Denice.

“The evidence thus far cautions against making too much of Trump’s success at wooing union households,” the researchers say. “What these results do suggest is the need for Democrats going forward to craft a message and groom candidates that might reverse waning enthusiasm among this core constituency. Every four years, approximately two out of every five union-household voters choose the Republican in the race, [so] 2016 was typical. What was atypical was the drop-off in union household support for the Democrat.”

Elsewhere, Clark University industrial-relations professor Gary Chaison asked unionists who voted for Trump, “Aside from somehow creating jobs for some members, what do you get in return? You can forget about having any labor law reform to make it easier to unionize, and you can kiss goodbye a $15 federal minimum wage.”

Contact Bill at Bill.Knight@hotmail.com