DG Roundtable: How did Donald Trump Win?

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

This is the first in a series of ‘roundtable’ discussions this year by the Daily Gazette Editorial Board. We use the messaging application ‘Slack’, inspired by Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight blog. During each roundtable, we aim to hold discussions over issues that we think the campus cares about. This week, we discuss the results of the recent presidential election. For the next roundtable, we welcome members of the Swarthmore community to join in the discussion. If you are interested, please email editors@daily.swarthmore.edu.

Pholland (Patrick Holland, Opinions Editor): Hi everyone! In the last few days I think we all feel like the political landscape has undergone a massive change. Donald Trump, as you probably know by now, is president-elect Donald Trump. To figure out exactly what this means, The Daily Gazette is once again hosting a roundtable discussion. With us today are Navid Kiassat ’20, Brandon Torres ’18, Abby Diebold ‘20, Anna Garner ‘19, and Professor Carol Nackenoff. I’m Patrick Holland ’17.

Pholland: The first question I think we need to ask about this election is how in the world it actually happened. When Donald Trump first announced his candidacy, CNN released a now infamous article pegging his chances of winning the GOP nomination at 1%. Even a day before the election a few media outlets and poll watchers, still had his chances of beating Hillary at 1%. I think in most conventional years they might have been right, but here we are, Trump is going to be the president.

Pholland: To get the ball rolling, probably the most talked about factor explaining Trump’s rise is his apparent strength with white working class voters. He performed significantly better in places like Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Pennsylvania than Mitt Romney did in 2012.

Brandontorres (Brandon Torres, Co-Editor-in-Chief): So, I think the policies that attracted the white working class votes are that of immigration and “radical” Islam. I think that when these voters saw that Trump would be hard on immigrants and terrorists, issues that they believe to be very important, they were on board.

Nkiassat (Navid Kiassat, Columnist): I don’t think it can be chalked up to just immigration or terrorism. The story of the white-working class is a particularly heartbreaking one. They are a demographic forgotten by both major parties. While I do not think that Trump was the proper avenue to voice their concerns, they have very legitimate grievances against both major parties.

Adiebold (Abby Diebold): I agree with that. He gave a group of voters who recognize that they’re hurting and have, in many ways, felt abandoned by Washington something to rally around and made them feel heard in ways other Republican candidates and Clinton didn’t.

Brandontorres: Just to clarify, I don’t mean that these are the only issues that won their vote, only that they’re part of it. At the very least, it’s what’s been brought up in the few conversations I’ve had with people who voted for him.

Pholland: It’s probably not the only issue, but a study by Pew back in June did say that 70 percent of voters thought that immigration was a very important part of their vote. That’s up from 41 percent in 2012.

Adiebold: They’re also very intertwined factors. He created a successful “othering” of a lot of people in ways that seemed to speak to that group of white-working class voters for both economic and non-economic reasons.

Pholland:  I agree also agree with Abby, it’s important that we see immigration and an anti-foreigner attitude as an issue connected to economic factors. In the rust belt there truly is a fear of foreign competition driving out manufacturing jobs.

Agarner (Anna Garner, Co-Arts & Features Editor): I think for many white working class voters their vote goes beyond xenophobia. While I disagree with what Trump stands for and most of his policies (if we can even figure out what those are), it is important to look at why this message resonated with this bloc. I agree with Abby.  I think it was a failure and arrogance on the part of the Democratic party to not figure out how to talk to white working class voters.

Cnacken1 (Carol Nackenoff, Richter Professor of Political Science): The Democrats stopped talking about the working class years ago–unionized workers were one of those “special interests” they got accused of favoring in 1980s. So they talked about middle classes.

Brandontorres: But in voting for someone who has expressed very racist and xenophobic thoughts, there has to be something about this that does attract this voting bloc. Like, there are probably many then that DO in fact agree with these policies. I don’t believe that they voted thinking, “Well, I can ignore his policies on this,” but “Yeah, I also think that illegal immigration is bringing the wrong sorts of people into America.”

Nkiassat: I think part of their resentment comes from what they see as occupying the attention of elites in this country. For example, some of the issues that have come up on elite college campuses like Halloween Costumes or the transgender bathroom issue that was prominent a few months ago nationally. I am NOT saying these issues aren’t important. But it’s easy to see why someone whose community is being torn apart by poverty, joblessness, and healthcare inaccessibility would get pissed off when they see political/cultural elites primarily occupied with these issues. They are probably like “Hey, why are you worried about what someone wears on Halloween when my kid is dying of disease and my community is suffering.”

Nkiassat: We have failed to recognize their problems, and they are often written off as dumb and racist bigots.

Nkiassat: For example, classes were canceled in many colleges after the election. Now, I realize that many people have very legitimate reasons to be fearful after this election. I myself am a person of color and come from a Muslim family. But, a lot of rural people are thinking “Regardless of what happens in my life, I have to still go out and work to make sure my kids don’t go hungry. And here you have kids at elite colleges, who can’t go to class because of the election?”

Pholland: I think this really cuts to an important issue. How stable is the alliance between the progressive left and the blue collar unionized left? They seem so culturally distinct yet they’ve been partners for at least my lifetime.

Cnacken1: White working class voters and rural voters feel dumped on by party elites of BOTH parties. And they are tired of all the attention to cultural/lifestyle issues.

Agarner: They seem to have formed an alliance out of convenience (the ’60s and ’70s) and now it seems that the unstable conglomeration of the progressive left seems to be breaking away.  Many of the blue collar workers want their coal and steel jobs back while the progressive left is crying for legislation on climate change.  This election seems to be the splintering of this alliance.

Cnacken1: The problem is that you can’t dump coal, gas and oil without finding good alternative jobs for these displaced workers. But that doesn’t fully explain Michigan and Wisconsin.

Adiebold: The two parties’ recent clear alignment on immigration policy also hurts that coalition. If immigration is seen as a threat to jobs, then these voters are going to align with the party that opposes it and that’s not the Democrats.

Cnacken1: There aren’t good, stable, well-paying jobs being produced for people with a high school education. And employers find a more docile and easily divided workforce (historically) in recent immigrants.

Pholland: I don’t think we can chalk this up entirely to immigration policy or environmental policy. Trump’s attacks on the Clintons for NAFTA and TPP also were likely an important part of his appeal to voters from the Midwest.

Cnacken1: Evidence seems to suggest Bernie support among black working class hurt by trade, but not white.

Agarner: White working class voters have always been able to point to someone “lower.” Black working class voters have not had the same convenient scapegoat – hence Bernie.  Whereas white working class voters want someone to blame (thus Trump).  They don’t want to hear they need to retrain or go back to school.

Nkiassat: Except Bernie had notoriously low support from blacks.

Pholland: Not in Michigan though, if I’m remembering correctly he had his best showing among voters in that primary. That speaks volumes for how he’s seen with black working class voters.

Cnacken1: To Navid, but see the Autor piece and commentary assigned on this [in Intro US Politics].

Nkiassat: @agarner I mean doesn’t much of the non-working class left also find people to blame? For white-working class it may be immigrants. For others it is bankers. Almost everyone blames someone. That being said, the white-working class does often rely on racial rhetoric.

Adiebold: I think Trump leveraged that – he did a better job of giving these voters “someone to blame” for the conditions in their communities, and that includes policies like TPP and NAFTA but is also tied in with immigration and climate policy.

Brandontorres: Would Donald Trump have had the same attraction to this voting bloc had he not used this racial rhetoric though?

Nkiassat: No he wouldn’t have.

Cnacken1: I agree.

Brandontorres: I think that part of his large popularity is exactly that and it can’t be a factor that we ignore.

Nkiassat: I think we can condemn the rhetoric, but I don’t think the white-working class should be written off. We should extend help to them.

Brandontorres: I think it’s a factor that makes it very hard for many to sympathize with this voting bloc.

Nkiassat: If we treat them like enemies, it only makes the problem worse. At the end of the day, no individual is fully responsible for the rhetoric that they are receptive to. Had we grown up in those communities, we would be the same way.

Cnacken1: And if he does make that Breitbart guy chief of staff, it signals he is serious about the racist appeals. But this may make it very hard to work with congress–he hates the RINOs.

Nkiassat: That being said, you have to condemn the rhetoric strongly and without backing off.

Pholland: I think it’s also worth talking about turnout in this context though. It’s not like somehow Trump was bringing tons of new voters into the fold because he received roughly the same turnout as Romney in 2012.  On the other hand, Clinton’s was much lower than Obama’s in 2012. If she had matched his totals she would have won. Did she lose the election rather than trump winning it?

Cnacken1: She may have indeed.

Agarner: Polls show that people voted for Trump because they didn’t want Hillary whereas people voted for Hillary because they wanted her to win. I think that disparity points to just that.

Nkiassat: I feel like Biden would have won.

Agarner: He would have resonated more with the rust belt.

Brandontorres: Why was Hillary so hated though? Did the media try to “objectively” pose the two candidates as equally electable?

Cnacken1: I just don’t think politics as usual/more of the same was a winner this year.

Agarner: Hillary had too much baggage.

Brandontorres: Yeah but if you compare the baggage between both candidates, one is much worse than the other. Well, not objectively, I guess…

Nkiassat: No you are right Brandon. I think Trump’s status as an outsider helped him seem less corrupt than Hillary.

Brandontorres: Isn’t he going to go on a trial for rape soon? How is that person painted as someone electable?

Adiebold: We heard about his trials a lot less than we heard about hers.

Nkiassat: There are people who legitimately believe that Clinton has people assassinated.

Pholland: I think to ignore years and years of scandals surrounding the Clintons would be a mistake. People are just plain tired of them running the country and the drama they bring with them. We didn’t live through the White Water and Lewinsky scandals on top of everything else, but I think old voters really haven’t forgotten.

Cnacken1: Obama was amazingly squeaky clean!

Adiebold: For people that saw them as equally corrupt on their own, she had the added baggage of “politics as usual” and the status of political elite. And there are a lot of people frustrated with politics as usual on both sides of the aisle. Many Trump supporters said their support for him wasn’t based on any of his individual policies or his own politics but simply because he was something different.

Pholland: In addition to that, I think there was an expectation game that people were playing in their minds. They knew Trump was a brash reality TV star so they didn’t take him seriously. Expectations for Hillary were so much higher because she was an establishment politician who built her brand around competency.

Nkiassat: Now they are blaming Comey for the loss.

Cnacken1: There certainly has emerged a new era of Know Nothingism.

Agarner: Trump’s way of operating (“We’re just going to bomb ’em”) was what a lot of people wanted as idiotic as that is.

Adiebold: For a lot of people, he also probably got the “candidate you want to have a beer with vote” and we saw in 2000 how important that can be.

Pholland: (even though Bush doesn’t actually drink funnily enough)

Brandontorres: Also, I think that Hillary Clinton as a woman faced so much more criticism because of that. It was so easy for people, even in the primaries, to say that she sounded too “rehearsed,” or that they didn’t like the sound of her voice.

Adiebold: I wonder how salient that type of criticism would have been against an establishment candidate.

Nkiassat: I mean she had the debate questions in advance, so rehearsed makes sense.

Brandontorres: When you compared the two in their debates, it was clear that she was so much more qualified and able to calmly hold her ground. And the argument that Clinton is a pathological liar just don’t hold up to the blatant lying that Trump did in these debates.

Pholland: And the first debate really did boost her in the polls. Voters saw what you saw, I guess they just chose to ignore it a month later when they were in the voting booth.

Cnacken1: The Comey stuff did her damage in the last month.

Adiebold: How much of the polling error do you think was people who actually intended to vote for Clinton and were responding to the scandals and debates but then when the time came just couldn’t bring themselves to vote Democrat?

Pholland: Part of it could have been a shift from 3rd party voters at the last minute. Gary Johnson under performed his polling numbers so a few of his voters might have migrated to Trump.

Agarner: I think there were secret Trump votes especially after the Access Hollywood tape. People didn’t want to admit that that was who they were voting for.

Pholland: Yes, that’s called the Shy Tory effect. It’s the explanation quite a lot of analysts have given for large Conservative wins in Britain that the polls don’t quite predict. Definitely a real possibility here. I’d love to see if there was a difference between Trump’s polling numbers in live caller phone interviews vs. online polls or taped interviews.

Brandontorres: It’s really interesting to see how people would vote for someone that they wouldn’t publicly support.

Cnacken1: I think there were issues with polling that go beyond that. They have to weight polls making certain assumptions, but cell phone use & the number of voters who won’t talk to pollsters are both going up.

Pholland: That’s a fair point, and one I’ve heard echoed by quite a few involved in the polling business, like the people at FiveThirtyEight and The Upshot.

Pholland: Unfortunately, though, this conversation needs to end here. This article is already going to be way too long. If there’s a next edition, we’ll have to discuss where the two major parties go from here. Could we see a Trump vs. Kanye showdown in 2020? Nobody knows!

Featured image courtesy of CNN.com.

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The Daily Gazette was organized during Fall semester 1996 by Sam Schulhofer-Wohl ’98. The goal: to provide timely coverage of campus news and Garnet sports while maintaining complete independence from the administration and student government.

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