How did we get here? Three factors enabling Trump’s election

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of or the Association of Foreign Affairs Lund.

I can imagine many waking up on November 9 feeling the same way I did, and the same way as they did after the Brexit referendum. Thinking: how did we get here?

Donald Trump beating all odds (literally) and winning the presidency of the United States has baffled many, myself included. Most polls just before the election predicted Hillary Clinton winning, and the unexpected Trump victory  has started a trend of various people trying to explain how it could happen. Some say it is because of the anger of a working class feeling neglected in an ever more globalized world, others say it is because of Hillary Clintons aura of being too ’’elitist’’ and her low popularity. Clinton herself attributed her loss to the FBI revival of an investigation on her just a few weeks before the election. The man to blame, according to Clinton, was FBI director James Comey, who sent a letter to Congress regarding the matter, even though he had earlier this year decided not to file criminal charges against the former Secretary of State.

In this article I will outline three aspects enabling the much contested and controversial candidate Donald Trump to become the President-Elect of the US, regardless of (or, as some might say; because of) his many racist and sexist statements and various blunders.

1. Media. Linked directly to the commercialization of media we find new news sources where the amount of ’’clicks’’ or sold copies are the main goals. In this new media scene, on the one hand, information is easy to access and opinions can be spread for free on websites and blogs accessible for everyone.  On the other hand, we see how honest journalism and critical reviewing has had to stand back for commercial interests. In a time of political show business, where politicians strive to participate on tv-shows like Oprah or Ellen to avoid tricky questions while enhancing the public’s view of them, it is easy to see how a candidate like the former reality show profile Donald Trump benefits.

In an era of the media looking for flashy headlines, rather than looking into the candidates actual policy suggestions, of course the controversial Donald Trump with his provoking statements and blunders becomes the main focus of cameras and journalists. It has been said that Donald Trump from the very start received more media coverage than was appropriate for his polling numbers and he has by far received the most free media coverage out of the candidates.

As we see a more divided news scene with an increasing amount of unserious reporting, facts become less important as personality becomes more important. In this climate, showman Donald Trump benefits. This phenomenon is perhaps best expressed by CBS president and CEO Leslie Moonves who said, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS. … The money’s rolling in and this is fun.”

President Obama on Letterman. (Picture: Pete Souza; Flickr)

2. The electoral system. Most people probably know that American elections are not decided by the popular vote.  In a a system originally meant to empower Southern slave states, voters in the US instead vote for a number of members  of an electoral college, who then in their turn decide who the next American president will be. Most states pick their electors on a ’’winner-takes-all’’-basis, where the candidate receiving the most votes in the state wins all of that state’s electors. This makes it possible for one presidential candidate to receive the least amount of votes and still win. It happened in the 2000 election, when Al Gore won more votes in total than George W. Bush, but still lost the election because of the electoral system. The exact same thing happened this election, as Donald Trump came out the winner even though Hillary Clinton received the most votes. One might wonder if this truly is the most democratic way.

3. The difficulty of voting. Being brought up in Sweden, it is hard to realize how incredibly easy voting is for me, compared to in the US. First of all, in Sweden every citizen aged 18 or older is automatically registered to vote, which means that on election day we simply go vote. In the US, however, every person has to register themselves for voting, the difficulty of which varies among states. 31 states accept online registrations, while the rest require citizens to visit an agency or mail in their application. Also, registering to vote you may be more pressed for time than you realize, given the fact that sometimes the registration can close as much as six months prior to the election. If you move, change party affiliation or change your name, you will have to redo the procedure. In the 2012 US election 24 million registrations contained errors or were invalid, equalling one out of every eight registrations. In this election Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, actually failed to register to vote, leading to her not being able to vote for her father.

Voting Line in Brooklyn. (Picture: April Sikorski; Wikimedia Commons)

In further distinction from Sweden, elections in the US take place on a Tuesday instead of a Sunday. Since many have to work on Tuesdays, they will have to take time off work to go vote. But to make things even more exciting, there is no federal law guaranteeing Americans time off work for voting, meaning they might not be able to vote at all, depending on the mood of their boss.
So what about postal voting? Well, in 13 states postal voting is not accepted, and in 20 states you will have to give a reason why you cannot vote on election day.

Even more broadly, voting rights are not entirely universal in the US. Many have been stripped of their right to vote because of serving a prison sentence. In some states you lose the ability to vote only during the time you are in prison, while in other states, such as Florida, you may lose it permanently. In swing state Florida, this has led to one out of every four African American men losing their right to vote, which might have contributed to Donald Trump’s victory in the important state, as African Americans to a much greater extent favored Clinton. From a democratic point of view, it is interesting to see who is able to vote, and who is not.

Low voter turnout is bad for democracy whenever it occurs, and in the 2012 US presidential election voter turnout was only 53.6%, whereas it was 85.8% in the 2014 Swedish parliamentary election. One might wonder how low voter turnout can become before the system is no longer democratic.

These are my three factors enabling Donald Trump to become the President-elect in 2016. What are yours?

Hannes Berggren

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