Trump, Clinton, and the Future of the United States of America

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On 29 September, I delivered a public lecture to over 300 staff and students at the University of Nottingham, where I am a Professor of Political Science and Pro Vice Chancellor of the Faculty of Social Sciences.

I had delivered an earlier version of this lecture at our Ningbo campus in China on 1 June 2016.

My intent with this lecture is to move beyond name calling and popular discourse on the race for the Presidency thus far, and to focus on the data and evidence that sit behind the roller coaster that we appear to be on during this contested time in American and global politics.

My lecture was structured into several sections, including (1) an overview of the electoral landscape, (2) the early primaries, (3) Super Tuesday, (4) the narrowing race, (5) the party conventions, (6) the Great Debate, (7) the shifting demographic, (8) the current position of each candidate, and (9) challenges for the future.

Since the 1950s and the Eisenhower elections, the American presidential electoral map has seen a large number of years and states ‘red’ for the Republican support that they have expressed. The 1964 Johnson election saw a large swathe of blue states, but not until the 1990s with the election of Bill Clinton, did the country see strong patches of Democratic support, mostly concentrated in the East and West Coast, as well as around the Midwest and Great Lakes area. Through the Bush years, the red returned, and with eight years of Obama, we see the same pattern as with Clinton: East and West Coast blue, south and middle of the US is red.

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I stressed in the lecture that these patterns are also based on the population size and an urban rural split. East and West Coast states are very populous and tend to vote Democrat, while county level data shows that cities vote Democrat and rural areas vote Republican. I also stressed the difference between the popular vote (in 2012 Obama won with 51% of the popular vote) and the Electoral College vote (Obama got 332 votes to Romney’s 206; a 61.7% to 38.3% difference). The difference between the popular vote and the Electoral College vote is crucial to understand the current race: Trump and Clinton have been neck and neck in the popular vote polls over the summer, but the Electoral College vote predictions still favour Clinton. The key to the outcome are key ‘swing’ states such as Ohio (Trump), Pennsylvania (Clinton), Michigan (Clinton), Colorado (Clinton), Wisconsin (Clinton), Virginia (Clinton), Minnesota (Clinton), Nevada (Trump), Iowa (Trump), New Hampshire (Clinton), Arizona (Trump), Georgia (Trump), North Carolina (Trump), and Florida (Trump).

The primaries began with a slate of candidates for both parties, but arguably more for the Republicans than the Democrats, where Trump found himself most challenged by Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich and where Clinton had only really to contend with Bernie Sanders. The early primaries had a strong showing for Trump and throughout the process he gained momentum to win the nomination, despite increasingly deep reservations from members across the party. Clinton’s lead was not a given, as she fought hard through the process. She did benefit from the so-called ‘superdelegates’ and secured the nomination once Sanders conceded rather late in the race. As part of the race during the primaries, it became clear to me as early as Super Tuesday on 2 March that the final contest for the presidency would be between Trump and Clinton, and that the presidency was Clinton’s to lose.

With the primary race over, the two candidates focussed their attention on the party conventions. The Republicans stumbled at first over protest groups not yet ready to endorse Trump and a candidate acceptance speech that painted a gloomy and dire picture of the state of America. This picture was brought into stark contrast by the Democratic convention, which was decidedly more positive and inclusive, but which was not entirely free of controversy, since it was revealed through an email hack that the Democratic National Committee was seeking to engineer the primary process toward Clinton. Trump made a populist appeal to the people – ‘I am your voice’ – and pledged that only he could make America great again. Clinton sought to show how America can work together and that her partnership with America would deliver greater benefits for a middle class that has lost out.

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Clinton enjoyed a post-convention bounce in the polls that was more sustainable than Trump’s slight rise in the polls, but the summer campaign saw her lead slip, and then almost collapse after her health issues were revealed at a 9/11 memorial ceremony in New York. By the time of the first debate on Monday of this week, her lead had all but evaporated and fell within the statistical margin of error. The debate itself was much anticipated and was reported to have had 84 million viewers. Trump came out strong and held his own for the first 20 minutes on issues concerning jobs and the effects of international trade, but stumbled through the second and third portions of the debate on matters concerning race relations, his tax returns, and securing America. Clinton delivered a measured and well-studied performance that saw her hit back with a number of barbed and incisive comments, and the general verdict was that she emerged the winner.

I have maintained throughout the campaign that Trump needs to reach out beyond his core supporters in order to win the presidency. He has been very effective as an outside candidate to work within the Republican Party to convert his populist message into the nomination. He has failed, however, to soften his tone or to garner support from groups outside his base. He repeated the same theme and message at the debate without capturing new support. Clinton is a centre-left candidate who enjoys a larger share of the changing demographic in the United States, with much more support among African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans and equal support among white Americans (but those that are educated and female).

The underlying changes in the demographic patterns in the US have presented a real challenge to the Republicans, who have not developed a strategy to respond in 2008, 2012, and now it looks like 2016. The white population is decreasing in size in America, the non-white population is showing increase in voter turnout, as well voting for Democrats, while America is become more socially liberal, less religious and less Christian. And it is these changes that are currently benefitting the Clinton campaign.

Three days out from the first debate, Clinton’s probability of winning has risen from 57.9% to 63.7% according to Nate Silver on his site Five Thirty Eight. For his part, Trump is facing continued pressure to release his tax returns, explain how his economic plan will actually work, and to answer questions on his financial dealings in Cuba during the period of the US embargo.

The next weeks will see two more head to head debates, more campaigning, and more polls. To win, Clinton needs to mobilise her base, and encourage high turnout from ethnic minority communities, as well as young, educated, women. For his part, Trump needs to mobilise his base and if he continues to stick to that base, then mobilise the ‘silent’ Trump supporters to register and vote.

The race is still very much in the balance, but is now tipping back toward a Clinton victory.

Please CLICK HERE for a PDF of the slides for this lecture: trump-clinton-and-the-future-of-the-usa

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