Like many other Europeans I woke up today to the shocking news of Donald Trump winning the presidential election. As I browsed through every news resource I could come across on my phone hoping that someone had gotten the results wrong, the media coverage was eerily similarity to what followed the Brexit referendum in the media back in June. What just happened? Why didn’t we see this coming? How did we let this happen?
As the dust has settled, the answer to the first question is obvious. The people have chosen. They want Donald Trump for president.
Why did we not see this coming and how did the predictions get it so wrong? Just like the ones a year ago that all-but ruled out the possibility of Donald Trump winning the Republican Party’s presidential nomination as well as the polls leading up to the Brexit referendum, everyone was wrong. Again.
Smartphones and digital media have, together, not only removed newspapers as a reliable funding source for polling, but also altered respondent behavior to the point where they’ve stopped taking part in call-in polls. Just like other industries hit by digital disruption, the traditional methods of polling has become obsolete and unreliable.
But the real answer to both the how and why is that just like with Brexit, we took it for granted that reason would prevail based on our own biased view of the world. We simply are unable to look at the world through the eyes of a Trump-voter and underestimated the silent majority.
The truth is that average American feels left behind, and has lost their belief in the establishment. The once proud American middle class has diminished as wages has stagnated and the cost of living has gone up. A s a result, rural white voters in states that democrats were counting on turned out to deliver for Trump. Trump won a devastating victory in the rust belt, home of the once powerful American industrial sector.
Not only is it startling that so many people came out for Trump; it’s that so few people turned out against him. Trump, has changed the standards of the basic decency and civility America requires of its leaders. All the things Americans have known were character essentials of candidates, well, weren’t. You don’t need endorsements of your peers. Coyly avoid disavowing the praise of white supremacists? That’s cool. Question a federal judge because his parents were Mexican immigrants? Fine. Sneeringly say that paying no income tax, despite being a billionaire, “makes me smart”? That’s fine, too. Call America’s electoral system “rigged”? Sure. Hurl ridicule and insults at the parents of a soldier killed in Iraq? Go ahead. Describe grabbing women “by the pussy”? It took America a second to reflect, but then, yep—that’s totally okay too.
In fact, throughout the campaign, it has seemed that it was this ugliness itself that made Trump so appealing. The more he swore, the nastier the things he insinuated, the more distant he seemed from the politicians that Trump’s voters feel alienated from.
The New York times has put together a great overview of the exit polls, showing that Trump is mainly supported by whites with no college degree in rural areas. Many these thought that they were worse off than before, and were angry with the federal government. Immigration and terrorism were some of the main concerns, and global trade were considered negative in terms of jobs. What was surprising was that Trump had support across all income levels.
Just like Brexit, a vote for Trump was just as much a protest vote against the establishment. Politics is perceived as an elitist idelogical experiment for many voters. After Brexit and Trump in the same year, I hope we have learned that politicians need to take the voters seriously and focus on real problems for real people. If not, people go out and do stupid shit. Like voting for Trump.