The End of a Truly Unpredictable Election
This presidential campaign was defined by its consistent unpredictability. Analysts will interpret the results for years to come.
In short, Donald Trump won because he successfully consolidated GOP support and provided a compelling message to non-college educated, white, male, rural voters, who tipped the balance in several key states. This included pivotal swing states, particularly North Carolina and Florida, and Midwestern states, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, which typically vote Democratic in presidential elections.
Trump had a narrow path to victory, but executed his strategy more successfully than analysts, pundits, and even both parties and campaigns ever envisioned. He deserves credit for repeatedly defying expectations, running his campaign on his own terms, and winning the Electoral College vote.
Remarkably, more people actually voted for Hillary Clinton. This is only the fifth time in U.S. history that the winner of the popular vote lost the electoral vote. Most recently, Al Gore won more votes than George W. Bush in 2000, but lost the Electoral College vote. In fact, two out of the last three times a Republican was elected president, the candidate received fewer votes than his opponent.
This can happen because 48 out of 50 states grant all their electoral votes to the winner of the state rather than allocate them proportionally. As a result, someone like Trump can get fewer total votes, but win several closely contested states and win the election. These are the rules, however flawed. The results should be respected until the system is changed, which is difficult to do.
At the same time, the protests that have resulted across major cities and college campuses should not be dismissed. These protesters, consisting of many educated, diverse young adults, are disenchanted with a political process where the person with the most votes lost and disgusted with a president-elect who was blatantly sexist and racist during the campaign. This is unacceptable to the vast majority of this generation, the least sexist and racist in American history, irrespective of party affiliation.
All Americans bear responsibility for the embarrassingly negative and unproductive nature of political discourse throughout this campaign. First-time voters, who constitute a large portion of my college students, deserved better.
Society needs to impress upon them that democracy is important, yet fragile. Differences of opinions and conflict are natural, but how you respond to challenging situations defines your character.
From top to bottom, our hyper-partisan campaign politics has modeled that defeating a political opponent is like destroying an enemy. Millennials are rightly turned off by this, and tragically, public service.
In the end, Donald Trump was elected as the most unfavorable candidate in U.S. history who large majorities of voters thought was dishonest, untrustworthy, and unfit to be president. Though Hillary Clinton fared better with voters in all these categories, Trump won because change was the most desired quality in a candidate. He was overwhelmingly viewed as the better option to bring this about.
Republicans are now more powerful throughout American government than any other time in modern history. With no political experience, Trump brings much uncertainty with him to the White House. The big questions moving forward are which of Trump's campaign promises he will pursue upon taking office and the extent to which these priorities unify or divide his party, the country, and the world.
This column by Luke Perry, Chair and Associate Professor of Government at Utica College, originally appeared in the Observer Dispatch on Nov 13, 2016. It was the 10th and final in a series of weekly columns leading up to Election Day.