AU’s Political Experts Reflect on 2016 Election

Originally published by The Eagle in November 2016. 

Clinton Failed Where Obama Triumphed, a Wakeup Call for Pollsters

Interview with Candice Nelson, Professor in Department of Government

Candice Nelson was one of many experts who used demographics from polling data to predict that Hillary Clinton would win a narrow victory on election night thanks to women, young people and people of color. It’s not that the polls were altogether wrong, Nelson said on Wednesday, analysts simply relied too heavily on how Barack Obama fared among these voters.

“I think one of the things we expected was that because of the changing demographics of the country — becoming more Latino, slightly more African American, millennials exceeding baby boomers in terms of numbers — we thought those changing demographics, which favored any Democrat, would help her win,” Nelson said. “And I think we were right about that.”

And yet, she and others missed a huge portion of Trump supporters, she said.

“What we did not pay enough attention to was Trump support among non-college educated whites, particularly non-college educated white men,” Nelson said.

Preliminary exit poll data shows Clinton won the majority of women, while Trump held a narrow lead over non-college educated people as a whole and a significant portion of non-college educated whites, according to the Washington Post.

“We saw that he was doing really well with that group, but we didn’t understand the impact that would have in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire. Pennsylvania, Wisconsin,” Nelson said. “I think we discounted how important that demographic was.”

A Win for Trump Means an Opportunity for New Conversations

Interview with Barbara Romzek, Dean of School of Public Affairs

On AU’s predominantly liberal campus, some students may be especially prone to living in a bubble-like “echochamber” of opinions, Barbara Romzek, dean of the School of Public Affairs said on Wednesday. If there’s one lesson that young people should take from this election, she said, it’s that nothing is as certain as it may seem.

“You can’t take it for granted. You can’t assume just because you think this person is going to win, they’re going to win,” Romzek said. “And you can’t assume just because you work hard, that’s going to be enough. You have to work hard and you have to work with others and you have to be attentive to what the voices are that you’re not hearing.”

Speaking in her office just after watching Hillary Clinton’s concession speech early Wednesday afternoon, Romzek commended on Clinton’s “graceful” concession speech, in which the former Secretary of State offered what Romzek interpreted as an “uplifting” message of resilience.

“For those who aren’t thrilled with the outcome, there’s a lesson here,” Romzek said. “Disappointment doesn’t mean you stop trying. It means maybe you do a little introspection on, ‘What could I have done differently or done more of?’”

Of course, not everyone on campus is disappointed with the results of the election, Romzek noted, so it is vital to engage in conversations that bring us together rather than draw us further apart.

“We’ve got to find ways to draw people out who don’t agree with us and engage in conversations with them,” she said.

Trump Drove Silent Majority to the Polls With Promise of Change

Interview with Elizabeth Sherman, Assistant Professor in Department of Government

Donald Trump built a winning presidential campaign platform on giving a voice to what he called the “silent majority” who are fed up with political correctness and champions of fiscal conservatism, according to a January NPR article. Poll analysts may have given too little credit to this group, which came out in surprising numbers for their candidate, Elizabeth Sherman, an assistant professor in AU’s Department of Government, said.

Though exit poll results are still preliminary, Sherman said she knows Trump appealed to communities of former rustbelt workers that had been “devastated” by the demise of the industry since the Clinton administration.

“I think that what happened with Trump is that so many people who have never voted for the past 15, 20 years, they were fed up, angry — they don’t like the fact that the government has left them behind,” she said. “They’ve had a lot of problems, their incomes are going down, they’re worried about retirement, they can’t afford to send their kids to college and they decided, ‘You know what, I’m voting.’”

A surge of voters in rural areas in particular helped propel Trump to victory, she said. His campaign inspired those who felt they had been left behind by the political establishment and brought to them a message of hope and change much like Barack Obama did in his campaign in 2008, she added.

But too many people feel they were let down by Obama’s fiscal and foreign policies, and felt Clinton would just be more of the same, Sherman said.

“I think she really was a trailblazer. But the fact of the matter is, this was not her year,” she said. “This is a year where you have American voters ready for change.”

From Shadows to Spotlight: What to Expect From Melania Trump

Interview with Anita McBride, Department of Government Executive in Residence

In all of the attention Donald Trump’s campaign garnered, his wife, Melania, actively avoided the spotlight. Now that Trump has captured the White House, Melania has the chance to make her own mark on history as first lady in this unprecedented term.

In fact, her status as first lady will be historic in itself as she will be the second ever foreign-born person in that role, following Louisa Adams in the 1820s who was born in Britain, according to Anita McBride, executive in residence of AU’s Department of Government and an expert in first ladies.

But in explaining what we may see from Melania in the coming years, McBride drew a more modern political comparison.

“She will come into the White House as a political novice, much like Mrs. Obama was, who didn’t love campaigning, didn’t love politics either, although her husband had been an elected representative,” McBride said.

McBride added that she expects Melania to focus on raising her son, Barron, 10, above all else.

“She has made it clear that her priority is her young son, which is very similar to what Mrs. Obama said in 2008 and 2009, too, that she was mom-in-chief first,” she said.

At a speech in Philadelphia last week, Melania revealed that she hopes to work on making social media less prone to bullying for children.

McBride said she expects Melania to work on this platform at some point in her time as first lady, but added that it is hard to predict when she may roll out an official initiative. She also noted Melania’s work with the Red Cross and said she would not be surprised to see her advocate for that organization’s domestic and international work during her time in office as well.

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