What a bummer.

Well, THAT sucked. Myself and a zillion other pundits got the US election wrong. In fact, pretty much everyone with a Ph.D. in Political Science got it wrong as well as most veteran political journalists. The reasons are many but the moral of the story is that so-called experts armed with reams of data still cannot accurately predict the mood of an electorate that may lie to pollsters or remain undecided until election day. “Experts” like empirical data and believe in reasoned voting choices when studying well established liberal democracies, so are ill-equipped to comprehend seemingly irrational voting behaviour based on raw emotion, visceral reaction and religious belief in the false promises of demagogues. The anecdotal evidence was there from Trump’s rallies and the bluebonnet fields of Trump/Pence signs on suburban lawns. But those of us with advanced degrees and years of studying politics ignored it in favour of quasi-scientific methodologies that provided a numbers crunch to our opinions. We saw what we wanted to see rather than what was.

There is no point in trying to do a post-mortem on what happened. Plenty of others are doing so. I did find it interesting that Trump received less votes than Romney and McCain in the 2012 and 2008 elections, respectively, and that 6 million less people voted this year than in 2012 and 10 million less than in 2008. In fact, nearly 47 percent of the electorate did not vote, giving Clinton (as the majority vote getter) and Trump around 25.7-25.5 percent of the popular vote overall. The bottom line is that the absent voters, presumably those who would have voted Democratic but could not bring themselves to vote for Clinton, decided the outcome by staying home.

As for those who decry the Electoral College because this is the second time in 16 years that a Democrat wins the general vote but loses the presidential election in the Electoral College: tough luck. Hillary played the Electoral College game, focusing on so-called battleground states and apparently neglecting those states considered solid Democrat such as Michigan and Wisconsin. Since the base of that presumed solidity was the rust belt white working class that Trump targeted preferentially, that was clearly a mistake (both Michigan and Wisconsin went to Trump).

Much has been made about the class angle to the election but I also think that we should not forget Trump’s idealogical appeal–the xenophobic scapegoating, the racism, the bigotry, the misogyny posing as anti-PC righteousness. Perhaps not all of his supporters are closet Klansman, but it is clear that to many in the white working and middle classes that aspect of Trump’s ideological appeal resonated strongly. The intersection of class and exclusionary ideological appeal was found in grievance and fear, and that grievance and fear transcended employment concerns. Make of it what you will.

The vaunted female and Latino vote against Trump never materialised. In fact, the defensive voting surge that I repeatedly predicted would happen never did. Instead, it seems that people just stayed at home thinking that, given the polls, others would do the job for them. Even so, had those under the age of 35 been the only voters, Hillary would have won walking away. So the future holds some promise when it comes to progressive change, but for the meantime things could get worse and, if acts of hatred and protests are anything to go by, that has already started.

For those who think that Bernie Sanders would have done better against Trump, I say think again. That is because primary campaigns are run in parallel while looking at each other. Had Bernie emerged as the Democratic nominee Trump would not have won the Republican nomination. The GOP would have made a negative issue of Sander’s “outsider” status and marginalised the outsider on its side. Money would have poured into backing a more establishment figure who could take Sanders to task for his “socialism” and his vague and unrealistic policy prescriptions. Sanders would find it hard to counter the false accusations about his supposed communist leanings because the Democratic establishment would not have backed him as strongly as it did Clinton. He may also have failed to transfer the energy of his primary supporters into sustainable support from swing voters on the campaign trail as many undecided and independent voters would react fearfully to the dark accusations of what his ideological orientation would bring for the US.

Whatever the case, this is all idle speculation. We got the matchup that we got and for most of us Hillary was a safe bet even if we had to hold our noses when voting for her (and again, I flatly reject the notion that she somehow is “worse” or more corrupt than any other contemporary politician. If people believe that they need to look at who funds the Bush Foundation and the campaign coffers of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell).

My hopes now hinge on two things: 1) that once in office Trump will find his freedom of action circumscribed by the practical, legal, institutional and political realities surrounding him. This will force him to abandon or renege on many of his more outrageous campaign promises, which in turn will disappoint many of those who have vested their hopes in him but will mitigate against some of the more onerous consequences of what he could have done; and 2) that his lack of political experience and commitment to Republican principles and policies (remember that he only switched from Democrat to Republican in 2010) will lead to a serious clash with the GOP congressional leadership. That could hurt the GOP in the 2018 elections where all of the House and a third of the Senate will be up for (re) election as well as his re-election bid two years later.

Be that as it may, these are dark times for people such as myself. The Right may gloat and think that they now rule supreme (and we have had a couple of such folk appear here on KP), but I have a feeling that Trump’s victory is a crest of a wave or the last stand of the American Right. Neither demographics or policy orientation appear to favour the GOP and alt-Right over the long-term, so perhaps this is their last moment to shine.

I sure hope so.

Meanwhile, I thnnk I will have a cup of tea and a lie down.

14 thoughts on “What a bummer.

  1. Well at least you have already moved to a metaphorical Canada.

    Note that many millions of inconsequential votes have still not been counted yet and turnout will rise. Also, exit polls are so astoundingly bad as to be worse than useless. You will have to wait for better data.

    Racism and conservatism were large supporting factors for Trump, but it was economic factors that made the difference in the rust belt states that meant he could win.

    I think it’s important to point out that the Democrats have absolutely nothing any more: the Presidency, the Senate, the House, the vast majority of Governorships and state legislatures and soon the Supreme Court (which is now likely to be Republican controlled for the next 30 years). I don’t think the Democrats will recover in 2 years time, no matter how bad Trump is. In fact perhaps the only thing they can possibly win in the future is the Presidency as that election is very difficult to rig.

    If the Dems don’t undergo a fundamental change I don’t see them making a comeback for a long time.

    Meanwhile, if I was Xi Jinping, I’d be preparing to invade Taiwan in 2017. Millions of people around the world are going to suffer because Trump is President, but the investment bankers are about to reap a gigantic bonanza. *sigh*

  2. One simple piece of reality that seems to have escaped people’s ongoing attention: the announcement by FBI chief, Coney to re-vist the Clinton email server scandal one week out from election day. That, imo, was the turning point. Up until then I suspect the polls were right and Clinton was going to win albeit with a slim majority.

    That was an action calculated to change the entire landscape at the last minute and it succeeded

    In my view this is the big story of the US election. Who were the shadowy figures who put him up to it, because no way do I believe he put it out there at such an auspicious time without some very powerful people behind him.

  3. Anne:

    I beg to disagree. She should have been in too commanding a position for his late intervention to have mattered. She and the DNC should have fought harder against the false narrative about her supposed “crookedness” and focused on countering the Trump appeal to blue collar whites. Instead, they always were on the defensive against spurious accusations from a a flailing campaign such as Trump’s. He went through 3 campaign managers and assorted scandals and still kept pace and beat her. That has little to do with Coney and a lot to do with the mood of the country.

    Having said that, Coney should resign or be fired before Jan 20. He could have keep the new “investigation ” under wraps until it was completed but he decided to put his finger into the broth early rather than later. That is disqualifying on several grounds.

    The Coney thing reminds me of what a DNC operative told me after Gore lost to Bush in the Electoral College: if you lose your home state and the election comes down to a recount of dangling chads in a state that has your rival’s brother as governor, then you deserve to lose. Mutatis mutandis, such is the case here.

  4. @ Pablo

    Do you really believe Coney announced the new inquiry of his own volition with no ‘support’ standing in his shadow? I don’t. He had to know what the outcome would be yet he was prepared to go ahead.

    Having said that, I agree Clinton should have been much further ahead than she apparently was… and I also find it unfathomable that progressive leaning parties seem so weak when it comes to standing up and fighting back against the false narratives levelled at them.

    We have seen it happen here in NZ time and again and, as a progressive, I find it extremely frustrating.

  5. Among non-college-educated whites, 67% voted for Trump – 72% of men and 62% of women.
    More 18- to 29-year-old whites voted for Trump (48%) than Clinton (43%).

    Do either of those statistics penetrate your progressive view of reality?

    That kiwiblog post is a real eye opener on how normal people view the Potemkin views of the university progressive safe space cry babies.

    The liberal elite have just shown how out of tune they are with the people in both America and Britain.

  6. People saying this or that minor thing like Comey, Wikileaks/Russia, voter suppression or the electoral college swung the election are missing the point. Hillary should have won by 10 points. The polls were very wrong from at least the conventions, but probably earlier (they were off by 20 points when Bernie won Michigan). Racism was probably an important factor in Florida, but not in the crucial rust belt.

    A note on Trump: there have been racist and sexist presidents before, there have been idiot presidents before (Bush II) and narcissists (Nixon) and there have been ultra-capitalist presidents before and isolationists, but there has never been such a gullible president as Trump. He believes anything, all sorts conspiracy theories, and has a tendency to agree with the last person he spoke to – the man is so unfit for office it is astounding.

    Right, I think the aftershocks have finally died down, time to attempt sleep now. Hopefully no-one died.

  7. My mate on Facebook was feeding me anecdotal views of his research. If you actually followed Trump through his interviews and press, you’d realise that he was going to win. I thank my mate for that feed, because I probably would have concluded that Hillary was going to win as well. The evidence was there – just no one was looking for lack of interest, or selective amnesia.

  8. There were quite a few models out there that tried to predict who would win based data other than polling and I think nearly all of them predicted Trump to win, but the model’s creators usually disavowed the predictions because of the exceptional nature of Trump.

  9. Yes, empiricism has its limits. There is no substitute for discerning conceptual engagement. Of course you need a sense for the ‘proportions’ of people, who can be typecast in different ways. But there was anecdotal evidence that point to numbers. But empiricists like ‘quality assurances’. Practical people like me tend to spurn those ‘dogmatic standards’ for analytical standards.
    I didn’t take a close look at the issue, but I did read his analysis, and it was good. I probably don’t have the perception to do what he did.

  10. There has always been a group in the electorate that feel disengaged from yhe political process. They see nothing in it for them.

    US voter turn out has rarely been very high, certainly not not post Eisenhower or Kennedy.

    Post Thatcher Britain saw a fall off in voter participation.

    The same thing occurred here post rogernomics labour.
    A large pool of disillusioned/disengaged voters is avery tempting target for power seekers.

    Trump saw the chance and went for it. In Marxian terms he saw the underclass and went for it. Whether he can deliver is of course debatable.

    The Klein, occupy movement, Sanders, Corbyn, Brexit were all bales of straw uplifted by the wind that the Dems did not see as relevant.

    Shareholder returns and management bonuses do not define a decent fair democratic society, voters do.

    I am not a Trump fan (shudder) but he read the situation well and played to it.

    Trump intrigues me, if the system is rigged how come he won?

    Which party gerrymanders state voting in its favour?

    Who does the rigging? Guess who won?

    Why does Trump openly admire Putin?

  11. Peter, the system isn’t ‘rigged’ so much as ‘designed’ to disempower. It was designed for stability in mind, and that meant for the founders balancing various competing interests, namely:
    a. State (with a lot of power before) vs federal powers
    b. Arguably mainstream parties – given its first past post, but I’m not sure they started with parties, or realised that was an inevitable expectation. i.e. The constitution might not even mention them.
    c. Senate vs Lower House vs president vs court
    d. Statutory vs common law traditions
    Its not so much rigged as ‘lacking integrity’. When a system is incoherent, it is effectively as arbitrary as any autocrats ‘decree’, and therein lies a problem of ‘constituent’ and ‘representative’ indifference.

  12. FBI ambush aside,Trumps last speech in Grand Rapids Michigan kept referring back to “jobs” and “getting back your jobs” and some such.

    The crowd cheered each time but were more subdued for the rest, the only other time they got fired up was the chant of “USA, USA, USA” and “drain the swamp”.

    Clinton’s final speech, by comparison was broader, more poised, she spoke well and the cheering was much more frenetic and animated, a lot more like a rock concert with fans cheering their idol.

    But it was the same old speech and the ideological animation of the Clinton Crowd compared with the angry yet hopeful cheers of those who were believing the “jobs” line was marked.

    The next morning Trump had won and he won by selling a message (albeit packed in some rather ugly wrapping paper) which was more appealing and thanks to the particular gymnastics of the US electoral system.

    The downsides are potentially mighty but on the upside this might just be enough to make the US wonder what the hell has been going on all this time.

  13. the problem is that progressives haven’t been angry enough to turn out for years. I’ve done gotv and always found it frustrating when voters told me how much they adore Obama but they never vote in midterms.

  14. Actually the electoral college was a rigging of the system. It was specifically designed so that slave states would have comparable voting power to non-slave states (they ended up having a bit more power). Slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person for distributing states’ electors (and House seats), but they couldn’t vote of course. This meant Southern states usually won with massive minorities in the popular vote.

    It’s a relic with no purpose now and should be scrapped, but there is no intent to rig behind it any more.

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