How did Trump become President-Elect?

I find it very difficult to start this article. There is so much to say, but at the same time there are no words to describe it. Donald Trump has been elected the next President of the United States.

How did this happen?

It is well documented that there are a significant number of Americans who are anti-establishment, anti-elite, and anti-immigration. They were the voters who have showed up at Trump rallies since day one; excited about building a Mexican border wall, stopping Muslims from entering the United States and bringing back blue collar jobs from China. Did they actually think Trump would do these crazy things? Maybe not, but they liked his off-script rhetoric and the change he represented. Most of us in Canada did not believe there would be enough of these voters to actually bring Trump to the Whitehouse. Were we wrong? Did we underestimate the number of voters who felt these anti-establishment views and desired change at all costs? Or did something else happen? Here are my findings on a few theories:

Theory #1: Trump galvanized a usually apathetic group of Republican voters

Voter turnout in most American elections is low – it has hovered between 50-60% over the last 100 years. The 2016 voter turnout is expected to land around 57%. Compare that to 2008, where voter turnout was 62% – the highest turnout since the 1960s (Business Insider). Or compare it to the 2015 Canadian election, where voter turnout was over 68% (Global News). What this means is that if Trump did bring out a large amount of ‘new’ Republican voters, there would also have to be a decrease in democratic voters to explain how he won the election.


Looking at the data, it seems that the individuals who turned up to vote were a deciding factor in this election. When you slice the data by demographic, the segments of education and marital status seem to have changed their voting habits the most (Globe and Mail). As shown in two instances below, less married women voted democrat (represented by the blue lines) and more voted republican (represented by the red lines).  At the same time, there was a hefty uptick in non-College degree Republican votes. Considering that 70% of Americans do not have a Bachelors and/or Graduate degree (Census), this is a large segment of the population that has potential to swing the vote. It appears that yes, we did underestimate the number of voters who were willing to vote for Trump, and at the same time under-estimated the number of voters not willing to vote for Clinton or either candidate.







This Globe and Mail article has the full demographic breakdown graphed out.

Theory #2: Hillary Clinton lost because she is a women

Although I don’t think this is the defining reason why Clinton lost, I do believe it is a contributing factor. One of the big reasons why Democrats and independents did not turn out to vote in the same numbers that they did for Obama (6 million less in 2016 than in 2012), is because Clinton was not a well-liked candidate (Reuters). Maybe it was the email scandals, maybe it was that she ranks low on trust-worthiness (though so did Trump), maybe it was her role as a career politician, or maybe it was because she is a woman.

I wish gender equality had come far enough in American society that we didn’t have to consider this. But the President-Elect has made a startling number of sexist remarks, been caught bragging about sexually assaulting women, and has had at least 24 women accuse him of sexual harassment/misconduct (The Guardian). We cannot dismiss the role sexism played in this election, and America must address it if America is truly to become a gender equal society. (On this point, I highly recommend reading this Globe and Mail article by Marie Henin on what Clinton has done for women in politics.)

One positive, and possibly contrary, stat to the sexism argument is that Clinton did win the popular vote. For more on this, we look to theory #3.

Theory #3: The electoral system is broken

Once all votes are counted, Hillary Clinton is expected to have over 2 million more votes than Donald Trump, which means she won the “popular vote” (National Post). Although it matters little in the outcome, it does make me feel better (for what its worth). But it also does have people complaining about the ‘broken electoral system’ in America.

America’s election system comes down to the 538 Electoral College votes. Each state has a certain number of electoral college votes, and the candidate who wins the most votes from the general public in that State, wins all the electoral college votes for that State. It does not matter how slim the margin – whether 0.1% or 10% more votes. This is why you hear about swing states deciding the election – these are states where the Democrat and Republican vote is very closely divided, and only won by slim margins. For more on this process, see this rather biased explainer from Vox.

“That sounds insane” you might say. Election reform is always controversial and there is no perfect system. In Canada, the Trudeau government is evaluating whether to change our ‘first past the post’ system to another system. Their review includes proportional representation, which in the US would have seen Clinton win. Every election system has pros and cons, but as Andrew Coyne points out in this National Post article, a long-believed benefit of first past the post – “that it prevents extremists and yahoos from coming to power” – has now been debunked. Usually proportional representation benefits the populist vote more than first past the post, as has been seen in countries like the Netherlands (Fortune).

In Summary

Trump won the election and he will be the next President of the United States. How did it happen? Mathematically, this win is explained by the Electoral college system. But to explain the votes behind the math, there is not one answer, but many contributing factors. Trump’s representation of change is likely the biggest reason why he won. In spite of, or because of, his complete disregard for the political rulebook, he secured enough of the votes that counted. However, turnout of uneducated voters, dislike of Clinton, sexism and many other factors also played a role in the outcome.

Authored by Candice White, Co-Founder and Editor


Image Source: Flickr

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