Thursday, August 10, 2017

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Student Coverage: Lunch Symposium: The 2016 Presidential Election and the Changing Electorate and Electoral Participation

Tori Rockwell, MPA Candidate, Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy & Governance, University of Washington

As we approach the end of an election season that has proven increasingly unpredictable and (seemingly) inexplicable, today’s lunch symposium offered perspectives on the current political climate within the context of electoral landscape dynamics in the United States. Each of the three symposium speakers approached the trends in electoral participation from different analytic angles but all three had one argument in common: that the 2016 Presidential Election is a manifestation of an ideological “cleavage” formed as a result of immense economic anxiety among working class White Americans with little to no higher education.

Henry Brady of the University of California, Berkeley, began his analysis by pointing out striking similarities between two outwardly polar opposite political camps – supporters of Bernie Sanders and supporters of Donald Trump. The data he presented provided strong evidence to suggest that while the two sets of supporters differed widely on views toward immigration, nationalism, and other social issues, they were almost completely identical in their deep pessimism about the country’s economic situation. Ultimately, he argued that appraising support for Trump as a purely nationalistic or anti-immigration agenda misses a huge part of the equation for his voters themselves – an increasing sense of economic marginalization.

Kay Homowitz, of the Manhattan Institute, built a case around a similar thesis: that the election is an expression of a serious divide between White Americans along lines of class, education, and culture. Using county electoral maps from typically middle class, moderately educated regions across the United States, she argued that the Trump voter “may not be as poor as we think.” However, survey data she presented offered considerable evidence of a geographic rift between Trump and Clinton voters as well as a movement of the college educated white voting bloc from the Republican to Democratic side overtime.

Supporting his argument with findings from the Public Religion Research Institute and Brookings Institutions’ recent report, The Divide Over America’s Future: 1950 or 2050? William Galston of the Brookings Institution posited that this election season marks the “4th Wave” of renewal of political thought across global and geographic contexts. This wave is characterized by a populist rise in opposition to increasing social and economic globalization. Among the most striking presented findings from the PRRI/Brookings report were that nearly 40% of working class white voters believed their votes would not be counted properly, and that over half of working class white voters agreed that the President should be willing to break some rules in order to get things done.

 

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