A Study of What Makes the Current Election Season to Be the Most Unique

Published: 2021-09-22 06:40:09
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I’d like to start off with a quick apology to the liberals of AP 12 before we go any further. This paper will not be a scathing rebuke of Donald Trump and his supporters. I do not plan on writing 6 pages simply calling Trump and his voters racist, bigoted, xenophobic nutcases. Instead, I’d like to delve into what exactly happened to make this election season one of the most peculiar we’ve ever seen.
Sure, I’m a registered Republican. Yes, I voted against Trump in the April GOP primary. No, I don’t think he’s qualified nor do I think he has a proven conservative record. However, I do not hate his supporters. I don’t think that they’re idiots simply because we disagree about who to support for president. I’m genuinely curious to find out what has turned such a tide, on both the left and the right, to make this year’s unconventional choices for president the popular ones.“It’s official. Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president!” is a headline you might expect to see on the cover of a political satire magazine. The mere thought of Donald Trump toying with a bid for the presidency would be hilarious to anyone if we rewind a year and a half. However, not only is Mr. Trump running for president, he’s running a successful campaign and has already won the Republican nomination. That being said, if you look at a summary of Trump’s agenda and policy goals, you’ll see a huge gap between Trump and the majority of the Republican Party. Party heavyweights have come out in droves against Trump and his brash rhetoric. Yet this isn’t hurting Mr. Trump’s prospects at all. If anything, it’s helping him. Endorsements, or lack thereof, tend to predict outcomes. To quote the great analyst Nate Silver’s website, “In presidential primaries, endorsements have been among the best predictors of which candidates will succeed and which will fail. So we’re keeping track” (Bycoffe). Okay, I can buy that theory. If you look at historical trends, as shown on Silver’s website, that makes a lot of sense. Every primary process could’ve been predicted by who threw their name behind whom. Then you get to 2016 and the trend is completely shattered. If we were to trust this model, Florida Senator Marco Rubio would be the GOP’s nominee. Rubio ended up getting 139 points (Silver’s website tracks endorsements based on the endorser’s weight as a politician). The only person remotely close to Rubio is Senator Ted Cruz of Texas at 114 points. As for the Democrats, Hillary Clinton has roughly forty times the number of points (511) that Senator Bernie Sanders has (13). There’s something that both parties’ models have in common: they’re off. For the GOP Trump has a mere 46 points. That puts him behind even John “One-in-40” Kasich (what a loser!), as Trump affectionately calls the Ohio governor. On the Democratic side of the aisle, it is true that Hillary Clinton is in the lead. However, she’s in the lead with slim margins that are quickly narrowing (“RealClearPolitics – 2016 Democratic Nomination”). She isn’t doing THAT much better than Sanders, contrary to what the endorsement model shows. The fact that a generally reliable model for predictions is so inaccurate this year points out many of the cracks in our political system and begins to shed light on what is really happening.
In 2009, a tidal wave enveloped American politics. The Taxed Enough Already movement (or T.E.A. Party) began in protest to many of President Obama’s proposed economic and health care programs. Throughout the 2010 election cycle, Republicans who had been serving for years found themselves losing primary elections they were all but certain to win. Tea Party-backed candidates made huge gains (thanks to hefty financial backing) in both 2010, shifting the Republican Party to the right (Ray). It was in 2010 that the word “establishment” became a political liability. If you’re a moderate Republican who would even consider working with a Democrat and you support the structure of the party, you, my friend, are “establishment” and are as good as dead in Republican politics. This largely metastasized from several heated primary fights between Tea Party candidates and GOP incumbents. A perfect example is the 2010 Republican primary in Alaska. Lisa Murkowski, senator since 2002, sought reelection. Murkowski is rather popular up in Alaska, as her father was a former governor and senator himself. Murkowski was (and still is) one of the most moderate of the Senate Republicans, so in a year like 2010 she was bound to face a challenger. Cue Joe Miller: the gruff, conservative attack dog that the Tea Party was waiting to send after the incumbent senator. Backed by Alaska’s very own Sarah Palin, Miller went on to defeat Murkowski in the primary election. Although Miller won the primary, Senator Murkowski mounted a historic write-in campaign and ended up winning another term in the Senate (“Alaska Senate Profile”). This election may have been a crucial battle between the establishment and the Tea Party, but it was only the beginning in an even bigger civil war.
Back in 2010, I doubt many would’ve predicted that Donald Trump would one day be the face of the Republican Party. While it might not have been evident then, it’s quite clear looking back. Trump’s new brand of conservatism is far different than the Reagan conservatism that many have grown sick of, or the compassionate conservatism of George W. Bush that left a terrible aftertaste in many mouths. In fact, Trump isn’t even ideologically conservative at all. That’s what many find so appealing. He tends to stray from the beaten political path in a time when everything is polarized and ideologically driven. However, what strikes me is who his backers are (“Donald Trump’s Major Endorsements”). Sarah Palin was one of the main backers of Tea Party candidates in 2010, 2012 and 2014 for ideological reasons. Now, she can be seen stumping for Trump on the campaign trail talking to the “rockin’ rollers and holy rollers” (Makarechi). It shows how much our political system has shifted over the last few years.
In a harsh review of the American voter, writer Galanty Miller takes on my central question: why the hell is this guy so popular? Miller writes, with certainty, that Trump is doing so well solely because he is a celebrity. “If his poll numbers drop, it’s like we’re cancelling the Donald Trump Show. And we don’t want that. We love his show too much” (Miller). I’ll admit I was entertained by the prospect of a Trump presidency when he first announced in the summer of 2015. Really! Pete Davidson of Saturday Night Live summed up my feelings in an episode of Weekend Update. “When Trump announced he was running, I thought it was funny. But that was four months ago. And now he’s winning” (“Pete Davidson’s Trumpdate”). Well Pete, it’s nearly been a year now. While I will not dispute that entertainment is surely a factor, I think it only accounts for a sliver of his support. I think it goes much further than this. To better understand what’s going on and what else could possibly factor into Trump’s support, I took a look at a word cloud made up of Trump’s rhetoric. He talks a lot about foreign countries. China, world, trade and Mexico are some of his top words used in debates (“Wordle”). When you separate the words, they’re rather insignificant. However, placed together is where you can start to see a connection which brings us to demographics.
Many of The Donald’s supporters claim he’s so “tremendous” because of how he’s bringing new voters into politics. It is absolutely true that many of Trump’s voters are first time voters, or are voting for the first time in a while. Let’s look at the demographics behind Trump’s support. His voters are generally not college educated. They largely feel as if their voice doesn’t matter. Over 85% of those who feel no sense of political efficacy (pretty much what I got out of AP Government) would pick Trump over the other candidates. Trump’s highest numbers come from the corridor stretching from the Gulf Coast, through the Appalachian Mountains and the Rust Belt, and up into the Northeast (Thompson). These areas have two distinct characteristics. One has seen loads of racial tension over the last half of a century. In the same time frame, the other region has seen a devastating, long-term economic decline. I’ll let you figure out which is which. If we rewind 30 years, a lot of the people who are now being grouped as Trump voters would’ve been grouped very differently. We’d probably call them blue-collar, Democratic-voting factory workers rather than Trump supporters.
Beginning in the mid-1990s, a clear trend had developed. No, I’m not talking about Bill Clinton’s sexual infidelity, but rather a steep decline of the manufacturing industry in the United States (Pierce & Schott). Trade policy significantly shifted, allowing countries to compete for U.S. factories and jobs by eliminating some tariffs. The North American Free Trade Agreement, implemented by Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton during the early 1990s, had a massive impact on our economy. Some would cite the fact that U.S. trade in goods and services with Canada and Mexico increased from $337 billion in 1993 to $1.2 trillion in 2011. On the other hand, others would bring up that over 700,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost to Mexico during the same period (Politi). Those that feel undermined, both economically and politically, mention the second. These same people serve as crucial voting blocs for both Republican Nominee Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders.
“Trump and Sanders couldn’t be more ideologically apart” is what we’re told. But that isn’t really true. When it comes to the political game, both are about as anti-establishment as it gets. Trump hurled that insult at his challengers and it secured him lots of votes. Sanders is fighting tooth and nail against Democratic Party and its chairwoman Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (who openly supported frontrunner Hillary Clinton in 2008) to get his voice heard. Economically, Trump and Sanders share some common ground too. Both are starkly anti-Wall Street and are quite skeptical of recent trade deals. Trade is the crucial key. The places where blue-collar Democrats are strong are where Hillary should be doing well. However, they couldn’t be abandoning her quick enough. Hillary Clinton, of Arkansas (or New York or Illinois or…), should be sweeping this demographic, as this bloc tends to lean towards the moderate Democrat. This year, they’ve been supporting Sanders in the primaries more than you’d typically expect, and are looking at Trump for the general election. A key reason for their support shift is trade. After Hillary and her husband championed NAFTA, it’s difficult for many manufacturing workers (who lost their jobs after factories packed up shop and headed to Mexico) to support the same people and Democratic establishment that (they believe) gave them the economic situation they now live in. Dave Williams, a 52-year-old cement worker claims that “her experience has gotten the country to where it’s gone,” when talking about former Secretary of State Clinton (Decker).
For all of us 18-year-olds who are voting for the first time, 2016 has been a huge awakening to the political process. I’m not particularly happy about my choices for the general election, as I have yet to find a candidate I can honestly get behind. I know I’ll be going into the voting booth while holding my nose. That being said, I do get to vote in a historical election. Sure, that’s what the politicians, pundits, and reporters say about every election. But this one marks a time when the many who think their voice doesn’t matter are getting their voices heard. Regardless of the consequences (which may be terrifying), it’s important to bring people into the political process. Besides, if every election is so crucial, what difference can one more make?

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