The title says it all.
I sure didn’t. I’ve watched presidential elections closely, ever since I was a small boy. I’ve been fascinated by our elections in America. Of course, I’ve also observed that they are becoming more and more polarizing, both in the rhetoric leading through primaries and up to Election Day and also in the results. Look at some stats from all of the elections I’ve observed and studied in my life:
Obama: 65,915,795 (51.06%)
Romney: 60,933,504 (47.20%)
Obama: 69,498,516 (52.9%)
McCain: 59,948,323 (45.7%)
Bush: 62,040,610 (50.73%)
Kerry: 59,028,444 (48.27%)
Bush: 50,446,002 (47.87%)
Gore: 50,999,897 (48.38%)
Clinton: 47,402,357 (49.24%)
Dole: 39,198,755 (40.71%)
Perot: 8,085,402 (8.4%)
Clinton: 44,909,889 (43.01%)
Bush: 39,104,545 (37.45%)
Perot: 19,742,267 (18.91%)
You say, but look at the last two elections. Let’s do that. There’s no denying that the election and reelection of Barack Obama owes itself some credit to the historic nature of being the first African-American candidate to be elected President of the United States. There was a momentum and voter turnout there that blew past Romney and McCain. Still, those popular vote numbers show in 2012 that President Obama had suffered from either disapproval in his job performance first-term or from lack of voter turnout (or both), as his total slipped by several million and the Republican total grew by almost a million in comparison to four years prior. Even with all the goodwill behind his historic win, I still think a review of the cultural context of that time reflects a nation still very split on who was best fit to run our country. Even third-party options did not present a large count in Obama’s elections (or in those of Bush, prior); due to this, I did not include them in my tallies above.
Those figures aside, the two Bush campaigns were very close against the respective Democratic nominees. While in 2004, President Bush won re-election both through the electoral and popular vote against Senator John Kerry with just over 3 million votes, everyone knows of all that came after the 2000 election and the Florida recounts. Vice President Al Gore actually won the popular vote by a slim margin, despite losing the electoral count, and what followed was a series of trials, all the way to the Supreme Court, to finally declare President Bush the winner. Many thought we wouldn’t see such a rare occurrence again so soon, but as Tuesday’s vote proved, expect the unexpected.
President Clinton’s elections in 1992 and 1996 both featured a large force, not readily seen in most other elections: Ross Perot, the Independent (and later, Reform) candidate. First coming onto the presidential scene in 1992 after decades as a successful business man, his push for “electronic town halls” and balancing the budget held a populist momentum. He is the only third-party candidate I’ve witnessed who graced the debate stage with the Republican & Democratic nominees, and his presence was felt, with many polls declaring him the winner then of the debates. Obviously, he did not win, but he proved in our modern times that a third-party candidate has the power to influence the outcome in a big, big way. Capturing almost 19% of the popular vote is no small feat, something that hadn’t been done for many decades prior to that. While his presence was felt in a much stronger sense in 1992, his presence in the race altogether in 1996 arguably kept Senator Bob Dole from beating President Clinton amidst various scandals (even as voter turnout was lower than that prior election). If anything, Perot proved that populism has a place in the voting direction of the people; when people are impassioned enough, they can (and will) discard the two-party mold to be heard.
While I have found conflicting data (due to still being so close to it all), one source declared these to be the (unofficial) totals for this election as it stands at writing this:
Trump: 59,736,153 (47.33%)
Clinton: 60,002,472 (47.54%)
Johnson: 4,083,362 (3.24%)
Other: 2,381,798 (1.89%)
Now, I have seen other electoral counts that put Trump even past 300 as I write this, but the fact is this, regardless: Donald J. Trump, the prominent (and controversial) business mogul and media personality who led the Republican party through a blistering primary season and didn’t let up on the rhetoric, even against America’s first female presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is now elected the 45th President of the United States. Looking at how this all transpired and seemingly surprised everyone, we can’t ignore some factors. Let’s call them “lessons learned” from the past several elections:
- Never Doubt The Power of Populism: While Senator Bernie Sanders did not secure the Democratic nomination, had he done so and Trump also secured the nomination as well for Republicans, we would have had two candidates leading parties that they don’t fit the mold of. It’s important to note that Senator Sanders was prior to running a registered Independent. He was elected Senator as an Independent candidate. His “grassroots” movement and youth-vote excitement was what is typically reserved for those “never-win” third-party candidates. Trump didn’t even receive endorsements from most of the Republican party elites. Yet, he won. He ran a campaign the non-typical way: he started with rallies. Who knows what for, at first, but that’s how it started. He ran on his own money, and he focused on issues that were of concern to many no-one saw as important to the outcome, let’s be honest. While Sanders and then by Clinton as the expected echo, all Democrats talked about was the 99% and the 1%. Apparently, the middle class, blue-collar workers were fed up with the lack of jobs. You know, those things that help people live and survive. Maybe many were fed up with the rapid advancements of liberal “progressive” agendas or maybe the push for globalization more-so than domestic focus…it doesn’t matter what issue it was or wasn’t. The point is Trump tapped into the populace, and they turned out in numbers unforeseen.
- Polls Are Flawed…Can We Just Admit That?: Where is polling, that “reliable” indicator, done primarily? Usually, they are done in urban areas. If you look at the county map of who carried what in this election, you will see even more red than the state map that I featured above. What is distributed for the most part is a nation of red counties (mostly outlying and rural) with heavy metro areas showing up for Hillary Clinton. Make no mistake in interpreting results: this election came down to “Rural v. Urban”. I hate the words being thrown around right now: “Educated v. Uneducated”. Some of the most intelligent people I know voted for Trump (wholeheartedly or even with a measure of reluctance). Still, polls are administered in urban areas, where Clinton just happened to perform well. Any correlation to her strength in polls? Absolutely. Did it leave us all open for surprise? Absolutely. We are living in the information age, where we *could* have more accurate indicators of what to expect, yet polling is largely stuck in old methods. If polling is to ever be trusted in the future, the methods need to catch up to us today.
- Never Underestimate The Power of Exposure: Trump started this with a name and personality known to the world. If you turned on NBC, you’d see him on The Apprentice. If you went to Macy’s, you’d see his clothing. If you cut into a steak, it might even be a Trump Steak. The man is a brand, and it’s one he’s cultivated for a long time before our eyes. Bankruptcy filings aside, when I think Trump, I think money, but the fact that I think at all gave him a boost others never had. Trump could have said anything (and it felt like he did many times), and it would have gotten attention. The media was going to cover him no matter how far he went, and he went far because he spoke to people who felt voiceless. After an economy that crashed and lots of new mandates on top of them, they had had enough of being told what they had to do by those in Washington. The people have sent the message that someone needs to change things, and Trump said what needed to be said. Whether he’ll follow through on any of it, we’ll have to see, just as we always have had to see. Still, familiarity with him was already there, and he ran with it. Many candidates spend much in the way of time and money familiarizing themselves to the American people. Trump was able to skip that step, and love him or hate him, he was able to talk about what many really felt as important.
- The Unknown Is Apparently Preferable To The Overly-Familiar: President Barack Obama was relatively unknown nationally as a first-time Senator from Illinois prior to election, and President Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were both governors with executive experience in the states of Arkansas and Texas, respectively. Both governors were held in high regard in their states, but they had to “introduce” themselves to the national audience, to a degree (even Bush as the son of a former President). Still, each had government accomplishments, and at the end of the day, no one could say that they hadn’t been elected before. Trump has no governmental experience…at all. That isn’t meant as an insult to him; it’s a fact that he’s never held an elected government position. Depending on who you tell that too, it’s either a huge problem or an incredible strength. Hillary Clinton was our First Lady for eight years. She was a Senator in New York with much national exposure, as well as later serving as our Secretary of State. She has been in the national eye for decades in one capacity or another. She brought many qualifications to the job, but she also brought a lot of other baggage in the way of e-mail controversies, her handling of the events in Benghazi, a history of fluidity on issue stances, and early career recordings of her representation of a known child-rapist. The fact that she had many qualifications did not matter as much as the perceived history of lies and wishy-washy stances. She was perceived as corrupt and “buyable”, against someone who ran on his own money, owing nothing to no-one (at least, as it appears). Is a Trump presidency risky? Absolutely; I say that acknowledging his decades in business but also his lack of time in any elected office. Still, what we can gather is that an outsider is attractive under the right circumstances. Perot, another businessman with ideas, appealed to those who felt the system at the time was fundamentally broken, yet he did so against a two-party system. Trump played a similar tune, yet as the Republican nominee. His personal stance on issues, upon examination of his views over time, looks to have been fluid like Clinton, but apparently, people would rather take a chance on a “new guy” than more of the same. It’s not an unheard of proposition is all I’m saying.
- Post 9/11, Never Doubt Religious Concerns: Trump is already known for his comments about Muslims and his view to not allow potentially dangerous refugees into our country. That started a firestorm in itself, and his statements gave just enough evidence for people to label him a fascist (right or wrong). Still, while I believe this county to have many “professing” Christians at least in word but never in deed, the vote of the “Christian Right” is something that holds sway, increasingly since 2000 in my observation. I know in my pocket of the world, the concept of backing Trump was a tough pill to swallow for many believers, but swallow it, they did. When forced to pick between “the lesser of two evils” (a phrase I heard all too often these past several months), it would appear that many went for Trump. While the last several years have brought controversies of how religion and politics can coexist, there’s no doubt to me that the “Christian” vote factored in with this win, just as it did with Bush. Believers or not, many are concerned about relations with the Middle East, and in that regard, Trump talked off-the-cuff where Hillary seemed to offer calmer, more politically-correct responses. People know the Middle East is a powderkeg, but the results seem to indicate many trust the promises of a strong domestic front here at home.
- Good Slogans Go Far: Obama promised “Hope” and “Change”, and from a marketing perspective, his campaigns were a triumph. Trump landed his slogan early, and he drilled it deep in hearts and minds: “Make America Great Again”. He said it repeatedly, and he even convinced many to buy and wear those ugly hats. How will he make America great again? Will it actually happen at all? We’ll see; still, the message landed, and it worked.
To conclude, I had my personal favorites in the primaries, and that was with both parties. They didn’t make it, but Trump and Clinton were our choices (no, the third-parties were not viable options this go-round). America chose Trump by the systems in place. We, now, await what his presidency will look like. We should have saw it coming, either side, but now, let’s not be surprised. From now on, expect the unexpected.