The Unsurprising 2016

Why no one should be surprised by the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election.

It has been over a year since the world was massively stunned by watching the US presidential elections unravel through 2016. People around the world, whether private individuals or national leaders were all asking questions about what was going on in the US. It would all seemed far-fetched to imagine many things that happened, happening 8, 12, or 16 years ago.

Looking at the chain of events in hindsight, and extending our view a few elections earlier than 2016 may give us an indicator about what was going on, and why we should not be surprised.

I myself was genuinely confident that Hillary would easily end up being elected as President. But now, there seem to be a lesson I should look at.

I have been looking at the records of previous US elections dating back to 1980 and trying to figure out what sauce does a candidate need to succeed, and what should and should not be surprising when watching future elections.

Source: NY Times

When looking at the 1980 elections, 37 years ago, when Ronald Reagan went against a sitting President Carter, Reagan has won the overall vote by a wide margin of 10%. In 1984, Reagan won by almost 9% when Mondale ran against him, another wide margin. Reagan was constitutionally restricted from running in 1988, so his veep ran and won by slightly smaller, yet wide margin of 8%.

At 46 years old, a relatively young Bill Clinton ran in 1992 for president, and gapped the presidency by storm from a 68 years old man who has been in the white house as both VP and president for 12 years. Clinton has also won the 1996 election by a comfortable 8%.

The election of 2000 was as stressful as it can get, with both candidates grasping 48% of the total vote, and almost tying in the popular vote. George Bush has won in that year despite not having as huge an experience in running a country compared to Al Gore. In 2004, Bush has maintained his control on the White House by wining by a narrow margin of 3%.

Another young forty-something years old Senator from Illinois has stormed into DC in 2008 and made history by being the first African American President. Barack Obama has won a staggering 70 million votes, almost 10 million more votes than his rival and won again in 2012.

Looking again at 2016, there seem to be some things that need to be pondered about the candidates.

What do all successful runners have in common? And, Why was the 2016 election so brutal and divided?

Let us begin with the former.

Since 1980, there has been 10 US presidential elections, which have resulted in six men ascending to the presidency of the United States. Four of those men have won in a realigning election. Of those four, two men have won against a sitting president. The four realigning elections are namely, 1980, 1992, 2008, and 2016. Those four men had less political experience when compared to their rivals, and non in the military.

When I looked back at all of those elections, there seemed to be a kind of correlation between the number of questions a candidate has raised during the election, and his possibility to succeed.

When we start by looking back at 1980, Ronald Reagan has ran against a president challenged by a cluster of inflation, energy, confidence, and international relations crises. Carter was knee-deep in trouble, and Reagan has used that successfully to his advantage. But I do not believe that was the only thing that helped Reagan Succeed.

Reagan has unseated a president by entering the general election in a storm. He was challenged by the Democrats as an old actor, and a right-wing radical.

Reagan has repeatedly made memorable remarks about his rival that were not usually made by other contenders, i.e. when he slammed Carter in a debate with “There you go again”, or when he said “Recession is when your neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.”

In 1992, Bill Clinton took the risk and ran against an incumbent George HW Bush. This was a different case from 1980 as Bush initially had high approval ratings, and a log full of foreign policy successes. It might have seemed unlikely at the beginning of this election for anyone to unseat Bush, especially a younger and less experienced Clinton.

However, Clinton has clinched the presidency by another storm. Vast controversies were raised against Bill Clinton as the right has brutally touched on many aspects of his life and character. He was demonstrated as a less experienced philanderer who did marijuana and dodged draft to the Vietnam war. Unlike any other recent election, two rivals, Bush and an independent Perot, brought up those controversies.

On his part, Clinton has successfully used Bush’s own word against him when criticized him for breaking his famous campaigning promise “Read my lips, no new taxes.”

The same story can be told about the 2008 election, in which a young senator from Illinois, Barack Obama has won vastly against John McCain.

Obama has entered the scene forcefully, he was a young man who was very capable of communicating with people, and knew very much what was wrong at the time. He ran on a platform that was scrambling to find answers for a monstrous financial crisis, and a dull situation in the middle east.

Obama has made use of media far better than his opponent did, and has dashed into the political arena as a new leader of “change.” He has promised to make reform in Washington and Wall Street, and he has promised to create a new health care system, both of which were absent under a Republican George W Bush. Obama’s actions has fostered an environment that allowed him to win the most votes ever by a presidential candidate.

Deriving from the above, the case can be set for the 2016 elections.

The elections saw tense Democratic Party primaries between Secretary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders. Both of which were running on two unique platforms. Hillary was seen by many as a role-model to break the glass ceiling, and was foreseen by many as the first female president of the United States. Republicans have raised many questions on her record as a Secretary of State, and brought her to a prolonged questioning in Congress.

Bernie Sanders has ran and explicitly labelled himself as a “Democratic Socialist.” He has used the word socialist to label himself. A term used to label a contender to the US presidency, a term that would have been considered a political-suicide to label yourself with ten or fifteen years earlier.

Mrs. Clinton has won her party’s ticket and became the Democratic nominee for President of the United States, the first female to become a major party’s nominee for the same.

So what happened about the Republicans?

There were over a dozen of candidates who ran to become the Republican nominee for president. But only one guy has taken grasp of the whole scene. A seventy years old Donald Trump ran a very vocal campaign and was labelled by many as racist, corrupt, islamophobe, isolationist, and misogynist. Like him or hate him, Trump was a celebrity well before the 2016 election, and he must have learned few things on how to grab media attention (and apparently grabbing other things.)

We still do not know if he meant all those things he said or not, but it is very clear now that saying those things have placed a tremendous focus on him. He has gained billions worth of air-time just for making his remarks, and he was followed by many for such powerful statements.

Trump has also made an extensive use of social media to communicate, making stock markets jump around following a single tweet in some instances.

There can be no question that Trump has raised the most questions during his bid for the presidency during 2016, and there can be little doubt that those questions have brought him to the very center of the spotlight.

Let us now ponder the latter question raised earlier, which is why was the 2016 election so brutal and divided?

It may seem counterintuitive, but the very social media tools we use to connect with each other, can also separate us from each other (politically).

The use of social media and smartphones became so popular during the time Obama was in office, and so, their effect may have became clear on the elections only after his presidency came to an end, and a new president was to be elected. Besides Trump’s use of twitter, social media played a central role during those elections. They became so popular that President Obama has declared his support for Hillary through an online video, rather that through a televised address.

Another central role that Facebook particularly played during the elections, was that it was heavily used to read, write, and share news, that it became the center of debates during 2016 concerning their claimed biases towards more liberal topics in their trending stories, and their role in propagating false news.

There can be little room for doubt that in this age, the availability of social media facilitated by an increased internet accessibility, would allow a story to reach the far ends of earth, and maybe increase voters’ turnout from younger age groups.

The bonus question of this piece is this. Excluding 2016, there were three realigning elections since 1980, all of which have resulted in a two-term strong president. Will the realigning election of 2016 result in the same?

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