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How to Explain Donald Trump’s Election Victory in 2016? Essay

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A significant portion of Donald Trump’s victory can be accorded to his popularity in rural areas, especially in the Rust Belt. The Rust Belt is a region in the US that was known for its thriving iron and steel industries, which has now been ravaged by economic decline due to deindustralisation, population loss and urban decay (Abadi and Gal, 2018). The loss of locally owned industry not only greatly diminished the people’s economic prospects for the future but greatly eroded the social fabric of the communities, that connected the people to politics, leaving them greatly disillusioned and alienated (Pacewicz, 2016). This made them highly susceptible to Trump’s populist message. Most notably were Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. These states were said to be part of the democractic Blue Wall and also part of the swing states coalition that commanded the election. These states were democractic strongholds since the 1980s and to the surprise of pundits decidingly flipped to Trump in the 2016 elections which ultimately cost Hilary the election.

Rust Belters tipped towards Trump as they resonated most with his anti globalist message. His rallying cry to take back American jobs and to restore back the old America cut to the heart of most rural voters in the Rust Belt who felt that they were left behind and forgotten by the establishment. Voters in these regions were extremely frustrated at their diminished economic prospects and also had resentment for the political elites of Washington who in ways, directly contributed to their downfall due to their support for open economy and globalisation which led to manufacturing jobs going overseas and the lack of job opportunities at home. This anger was multiplied by voters discontentment with the elites inability to follow through with promises, years of government shutdowns and impasse, culminating in widespread support for Trump who was seen as an ‘outsider’, someone that says things like it is and one who is able to bring change to the White House.

However, attributing Trump’s victory solely to economic anxiety of the population does not do justice to ascertain Trump’s competitiveness in the elections. Trump’s white chauvinism, racism and anti immigrant sentiments also helped secure his position among a portion of his voters. Such overt racial remarks such as that “Mexicans rapists or drug dealers” would usually cost candidates the election, however for Trump it can be said to have boasted his popularity among his base. This is due to the racial resentment of whites, especially the non-college educated ones.

Increasing diversity in America as well as the notion that America is becoming a ‘majority-minority’ country has increasingly threatened white hegemony in America (Edsall, 2018). White voters fear of a threat to their group status in society comes from the notion that minorities are doing better than they are and thus are a direct threat to their own economic and future prospects. They believe that minorities will usurp control of society and political process from them (Riley and Peterson, 2019). This notion is further highlighted in light of eight years of Obama presidency, where during that time, news and politics had become increasingly racialized. Such grievances were thus played up by Trump and his appeal to ‘Make America Great Again’, synonymous with bringing back old America and his hierarchical status of a dominant white class (Riley and Peterson, 2019). Furthermore, during the campaign the dehumanization and fear mongering of minorities and immigrants also served to increase the fear of white voters and also embolden those who already have racial tendencies. Comment by razanaa rafii:

Two important changes occurred throughout the campaign, one was economic change and the other was cultural change. Pundits often make the mistake of attributing one as more important than the other, or by separating the two. However, it is important to note that both are important in trying to make sense of the elections result. Both economic anxiety and racial resentment are in interplay and to some extent they both reinforce each other. Often anxiety triggers stereotypes, anger and threatening stimuli, and in a political environment like Trump’s, there is no doubt that such anxieties become racialized (Riley and Peterson, 2019).

Ironically. part of Trump’s victory can be attributed to Hilary Clinton. I argue that Trump was able to win the election because Hilary was his opponent as opposed to someone else such as Bernie Sanders.

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With record low disapproval ratings, comparable to Trump, it can be said that Hilary was one of the least liked candidates in the elections. This unpopularity was further exacerbated by Clinton’s lack of charisma and ability to mobilize her base. She failed to mobilize the ‘Obama coalition” which were mostly made up of millenials and minorities. In 2016, almost two million black votes cast for Obama in 2012 did not turn out for Clinton (Ben-Shahar, 2016) and overall Clinton got nearly 5 million fewer votes than Obama (Montanaro, 2016). This may be due to Clinton’s image as the ultimate face of the establishment whilst Trump and her predecessor Obama were seen more as political reformers. Additionally, the public’s dissatisfaction with the choice of candidates can also be seen in the surge of “protest votes’ for third party candidates like Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, which ultimately contributed to Clinton’s downfall. The number of people choosing not to vote for the Republican or Democratic nominee went up by 4.5 million votes in 2016, nearly tripling from 2012 (Montanaro, 2016). This shows that despite voters being turned off by Trump, they also could not bring themselves to vote for Clinton.

The general distaste for Clinton can be chalked up to her image as a corrupt out of touch elite. This distrust is based on her shady history of closed door speeches to Wall Street, Whitewater and Benghazi to name a few and was further cemented by the email scandal that rocked her campaign. Despite Trump having more scandals than Hilary, the damage done to her was far more potent. This may be due to to the incessant nature of it that prevented people from properly scrutinizing each scandal and also to Trump’s ability to spin the tales in his favour and to play it off.

In the 2016 elections, despite winning the popular vote by 2.9 million votes, Hilary still lost the elections. This was due to Trump’s electoral college win, where he managed to secure 306 out of the 538 votes and Hilary was awarded 232 votes. (CNN Politics, 2016) Trump’s win was not the first time a candidate had won the election whilst losing the popular vote. Hence, the genesis and workings of the electoral college systems helped tip the election to Trump’s favour.

The electoral system works in an inherently unproportional way. It allocates states as many electors as it has members in the Congress. While representatives are allocated to states based on population, each state gets 2 senators regardless of population (Beinart, 2016). As such, this leads to smaller states being overrepresented in the electoral college as compared to larger states that are underrepresented. () Coincidentally, such states with the greatest power in the college also tend to be more white and conservative, while states with the least power tend to be more diverse and liberal leaning (Thornton, 2016). Therefore, due to population distribution, white voters are worth more under the electoral college system as compared to other groups (Thronton, 2016).

This amplification of the worth of white voters is further augmented due to the battleground bias in the electoral system. Battleground states are a select few states that effectively decides who wins the elections. Playing into Trump’s hand, most of the traditional battleground states are also much whiter and less educated than the rest of the country () allowing him to capture a large percentage of the electoral votes. Furthermore, the “winner takes all” mechanism in the system further strengthens battleground states (Cohn, 2016). A winner-take-all system doesn’t reward any additional votes beyond what’s necessary to win a state or a region. You get all of Michigan’s electoral votes, whether you win it by one or one million votes. Therefore, despite Hilary’s wide gains in states like California, these states were where votes mattered the least and hence, Trump’s one-point margin, allowed him to claim three-fourths of their Electoral College votes, winning 75 of 79 votes at stake (Cohn, 2016). Therefore, the electoral college system, though it does not account for the reasons that people voted for Trump, its systematic wokings had enabled Trump’s win in the election.

In conclusion, Trump’s 2016 campaign can be said to be one of the most divisive campaigns in US history. It was based on the foundation of bringing back the golden age of America and to restore it to its past glory. He appealed to the ‘heart’ of Americans and in a country where patriotism should never be underestimated,this proved the winning ticket into the White House. Since he has been in office, Trump has initiated decisions that will have lasting consequences on the internal stability of the country as well as its role and position in the international world order. As candidates gear up for 2020, it acts as referendum on Trump’s presidency, and what path the American people would like to chart for the country.


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