The “Student Blog Post” series invites students from my PLS 321: Electoral Process course to author their own blogs about recent election events.
The 2016 United States Presidential Election fell on November 8, 2016. That day should not be defined as a normal election. After an unusual and unorthodox campaign, many polls and pundits saw a strong likelihood that Hillary Clinton would end the day becoming the first woman to be elected President of the United States. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight gave a final projection of Clinton having a 71.4% chance of winning the presidency, compared to 28.6% for Donald Trump. Yet, election night ended with a big upset that defied a large majority of the polls, with Donald Trump being elected President of the United States, despite a popular vote win for Hillary Clinton, causing frustration and anger among many Americans. While many would view the Electoral College as an unfair voting system, they should understand that the Electoral College does serve a good purpose.
The Electoral College does in some ways make the United States more of a democracy than without it. The Founding Fathers wanted to have such a system to protect the minority from the majority. With an Electoral College, it allows different segments of the American population to have a voice in presidential elections. It gives the small rural population a voice in the electoral process, as urban centers have been very powerful culturally and economically. Without the Electoral College, the interests of rural voters likely would have been ignored, as candidates would then only have the incentive to focus on metropolitan voters, whom would have had complete political power. Thus, the Electoral College forces candidates for the presidency to campaign and extend their appeal beyond the powerful urban base. For example, the 2000 election demonstrated that only appealing to the electorate in secular and concentrated cities would have been enough for Al Gore to win the national popular vote. In that election, Gore won 71% of the vote in major cities compared to 26% for George W. Bush, while Bush won 59% of the rural vote compared to 37% for Gore.
As presidential candidates need to appeal to multiple segments of the American voting population, it gave Donald Trump the opportunity to focus his campaign on appealing to the anger and frustrations of working class voters in the Rust Belt, assuming he could hold on to traditionally red states, which he did. With Trump having a key message about bringing back manufacturing jobs that left the United States as the result of trade deals such as NAFTA, which was signed under Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton ended up losing in the key swing state of Ohio, along with traditional blue states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. These three states, which were in the so-called “blue wall” that was critical for Clinton to win, last voted Republican in the 1980s prior to the 2016 election. Clinton had controversies, such as being viewed as untrustworthy and as a global elitist deeply tied to Wall Street. Other problems that loomed over Clinton throughout her campaign included her use of a private email server as Secretary of State and her handling of the Benghazi attack. Despite the release of a tape of Trump making lewd and explicit comments about women and the sexual assault accusations that followed only weeks before the general election, his supporters didn’t seem to care, as Trump has gotten away with nearly every controversy he faced throughout his presidential campaign. Around the same time, Clinton had new problems of her own to deal with, as WikiLeaks released the emails of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta in which revealed discussions within the Clinton campaign about taking foreign money contributions, and revealed Clinton’s speeches to Wall Street in which she expressed her dream of “open trade and open borders.” In addition, FBI director James Comey reopened the investigation into Clinton’s email server. With Clinton’s problems, she also failed to energize large portions of voters who supported Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primaries. Sanders campaigned in the primaries against the status quo, against the establishment, and against free trade, which Trump also did. While the Democratic primaries against Sanders led Clinton to adopt some policy proposals pushed by Sanders such as college affordability, Clinton focused more of the general election campaign on Trump being unfit for the presidency, thus failing to energize Sanders supporters. With Clinton lacking a strong reason to be enthusiastic for her campaign, combined with Trump’s strong appeals and passionate supporters, Trump supporters had a stronger incentive to go out and vote on election day, as voting is costly in terms of time and lost wages, in addition to the importance of weighing the benefits of wanting a certain party or candidate to win.
Allen Cheung is a 4th year History Major with a Political Science minor at Cal Poly Pomona. He enjoys surfing the Internet, hanging out with friends, playing video games, and watching TV. He is undecided on his future, but is hoping to become famous one day.