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Professors discuss implications of Trump election

| Thursday, November 17, 2016

Since the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States last week, the Notre Dame campus and the country at large have reacted strongly, with widespread protests. In order to make sense of the 2016 election, ND Votes hosted a panel titled, “What Just Happened?” with associate professor of political science Christina Wolbrecht, Latino Institute director Luis Ricardo Fraga and political science chair David Campbell. 

The panelists opened the conversation by discussing what they saw as the biggest surprises of the 2016 election. Fraga said the ability of certain ideologies to coexist surprised him most.

“Strong feelings of economic displacement, a sense of dispossession, a desire for change and anti-establishment positions … easily coexist, and perhaps even support, some of the most anti-immigrant and anti-Latino views we’ve ever experienced in the history of our country,” Fraga said.

Campbell said the the biggest surprise was that Donald Trump was able to win despite his organizational and resource deficiency. For Campbell, the result highlighted the anti-establishment nature of the election.

“Disenchantment, discontent [and] anger … was enough to overcome the resource advantage of the Clinton campaign, which I think is really the bottom-line message of what came out of the election — that the Republicans capitalized on a year with a very strong anti-establishment mood, and the Democrats didn’t,” Campbell said.

Wolbrecht also highlighted the unlikely rise of Donald Trump as the most surprising component of this year’s campaign.

“I used Donald Trump as a joke all the time because I knew how primaries worked,” Wolbrecht said. “We don’t nominate, in the post-war period, someone who has never held political office. We do not nominate for the President of the major party someone who is opposed by most of the major elites in his own party.”

Each panelist then discussed how his or her specific areas of study could be interpreted in terms of the 2016 election. For Campbell, whose main area of research centers on religion and politics in the U.S., the evangelical vote was particularly surprising.

“If there was ever a candidate who you might have thought would turn off churchgoing evangelical voters, it would be Donald Trump,” Campbell said. “[But] in spite of all we know regarding Donald Trump’s personal life, evangelical voters gave him 81 percent of the vote. That is a higher percentage than George W. Bush, himself an evangelical, in 2004.”

Campbell said this result revealed certain aspects of how evangelical voters make their decisions on how to vote.

“It tells us that for churchgoing evangelicals, the pull of party is very strong … and they care deeply about the Supreme Court and, therefore, abortion policy,” Campbell said.

Wolbrecht said she was surprised at how normal the election’s voting patterns were, especially in terms of white women, who generally voted for Donald Trump.

“The fact is that, like other voters, white women voted their partisanship,” she said. “White women have voted for the Democratic candidate twice since 1952 — in 1964, and in 1996.”

Fraga said Donald Trump’s victory was a sort of referendum on the changing face of the American nation.

“The future of the country is not going to look like what the country looks like now,” Fraga said. “That’s what makes this election so fascinating. The more important point is how we understand our futures and the statement we made about what we believe the future of our country should be.”

Campbell concluded the panel discussion by encouraging students to stay politically active, especially those who were dismayed by the result of the election.

“It is tempting to walk away from this experience and say politics is not for me, and that is exactly the wrong conclusion to draw,” Campbell said. “The beauty of democracy is that when your side loses, you get another chance.”

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About Lucas Masin-Moyer

Lucas Masin-Moyer is a senior at Notre Dame majoring in Political Science and American Studies. He serves as Assistant Managing Editor, lived in Morrissey Manor and hails from Telford, Pennsylvania.

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