Duane Bonifer  |   Published November 08, 2016

Game-changing election

In wake of Trump’s victory, political scientist says it’s time for parties to reassess their strategies
A feeling of being ignored by both major U.S. political parties helped fuel Republican Donald Trump’s victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton in Tuesday’s presidential election, according to a Monmouth College political science lecturer.

“People feel left out, people feel left behind,” said Monmouth lecturer Robin Johnson. “It’s a big repudiation to the establishment of both parties, and I think they need to start listening a little more to people and what’s going on – such as globalization and other issues, that are impacting people’s daily lives.”

By leveraging feelings of isolation and disenfranchisement, especially among white working-class voters without college degrees, Johnson said Trump won several Midwestern states that Democrats expected Clinton to win.

“His path to the White House was through the Midwest,” Johnson said. “He generated a massive turnout of people, especially the white working-class vote, which is why he won states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and possibly even Michigan.”

Johnson, a former campaign adviser who also hosts a radio political talk show, said that Tuesday’s presidential election results also underscored the deep divisions in the American electorate.

“We’re a country that is divided—by region, by geography, by rural vs. urban, by education,” he said. “We’re divided by race, by ethnicity—there’s just a lot of divisions. Our country is divided, and more than ever we need to come together, and that will be one of the big, big challenges facing President Trump.”

Although millions of dollars were invested in the final weeks of both presidential candidates’ campaigns to sway voters, Johnson said that early post-election data suggest that many voters had made up their minds about the election as long as six months ago.

“The bottom line is that many people’s votes were baked in on this election a long time ago,” he said. “You were either for Trump or Clinton, or more likely against the other, and that probably didn’t change a lot as the campaign took place.”

In addition to Trump’s advantage of running for president as a political novice and outsider, Johnson said that Clinton was weighed down as being seen not only as an establishment candidate but part of an establishment that had been in office for the last eight years.

“It’s hard for a party to win a third term—that hasn’t happened but once in the post-World War II era (in 1992),” he said. “So I think people were ready for something different. … Republicans came home to Trump, in spite of all of the threats and stories that the Republicans were not going to back him. They voted for their candidate. And most Democrats voted for Hillary Clinton. It’s just that Trump stimulated a huge turnout in rural areas where people haven’t been voting as much. These people are upset. There’s an anger at the base economically and perhaps culturally. And they came out and voted and had their voices heard in this election.”

Johnson said that it “remains to be seen” whether Trump’s victory is a “one-timer” or marks the beginning of a shift in the American political landscape. But he said there will be a lot of soul-searching among political pollsters and campaign consultants, who vastly underestimated Trump’s support.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of introspection and look at traditional campaign tools and whether they really work – such as the 30-second ads and the polls,” he said. “The way Trump went a different path with rallies and using social media, and obviously making provocative statements and hanging on the idea that any visibility is good visibility. So I think there’s going to be a lot of introspective in the political science industry and the political consulting industry as far as what works in elections.”

Although political professionals might be wringing their hands over how they misread the tea leaves, Johnson’s students will learn a lot from this presidential campaign.

Students in his political science class will examine the results in key counties in battleground states “so they could be just like the pundits were (Monday) night.”

And students in Johnson’s citizenship class have been focused this fall on the impact of globalization on the Midwest.

“So it’s a perfect topic from a timing perspective, especially when you look at what happened in these Midwestern states and how they flipped this year,” he said.

Johnson will host a post-election event at Monmouth College when critically acclaimed writer J.D. Vance, author of the New York Times-bestseller Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, will speak at 7 p.m. Nov. 15 in Wells Theater. The talk is free and open to the public.
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