Yes, this is an Economics blog. But even an econ enthusiast like myself can recognize when to put economics in the backseat for a moment in the face of something much more important. And what can I say, the surprising election seems to be a bit more important. To seemingly all (though in reality only most) pollsters and experts this election was headed in one direction – a clear cut victory for Hillary Clinton. As late as Tuesday morning Nate Silver of Five Thirty Eight gave Clinton a 71.4% chance to win the election. He also gave Clinton an 83.5% chance to win Wisconsin, which was vitally won by Trump. Early exit polls proclaimed Clinton was less unfavorable than Trump. Early polls in Florida on Tuesday morning proclaimed Clinton had all but sealed the victory in the state when as it turned out, Florida went to Trump relatively early in the evening. Trump also won Pennsylvania against experts’ predictions. In fact, Trump practically swept the Midwest winning every Heartland state but Illinois. After victory was sealed, an NPR news headline read “Defying the odds, Donald Trump secured the 270 …to win the presidency.” “Defying the odds” huh? It seems as though no one gave Trump a legitimate shot.
In our Pacific Northwest bubble it was really easy to get wrapped up in the notion that Trump had no chance of winning simply because “how could anyone possibly vote for him.” But even those of us not wrapped up in this thinking, those of us who followed national polling, statistical predictions, and had presences on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, felt confident that Hillary Clinton would become the 45th president of the United States. After all, that’s what we kept hearing. That’s what just about every predictive method seemed to indicate. And exit polls and experts weren’t the only indicators.
Remember when Trump struggled to find a running mate because seemingly no one wanted to associate themselves with him? Or when in August Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, resigned during a crucial time in the campaign after Trump’s promotion of two very conservative aides Steve Bannon and Kellyane Conway to campaign CEO and campaign manager respectively. Perhaps most damning was Ted Cruz’s unprecedented refusal to endorse Trump at the RNC itself. Throughout the summer many painted the Trump campaign picture as one of disarray and confusion, yet it seems like none of that mattered. Even Las Vegas thought Trump had but a fighter’s chance – the odds were 3.5:1 that Trump would win – so what exactly happened?
I don’t claim to offer an answer nor do I claim to know all the reasons why people voted for Trump (though knowing people who did I have an idea as to what some of those things are). This post is not a “How Trump Paved his Path to the White House” kind of post. But Richard Nixon of all people may have some insight.
Nixon popularized the word “silent majority” when in a speech to the nation on November 3rd 1969 he asked the “silent majority” to support him in ending the Vietnam War. Nixon’s basic idea was that people in favor of continuing the war were much more vocal and aggressive than people against the war and that it was time for the silent majority to make itself heard. Whether or not you agree with Nixon that a majority of Americans were in favor of ending the Vietnam War, the parallel to this election is pretty striking. Despite almost every bit of evidence out there pointing towards a Clinton victory, the actual votes told a different story. The silent majority spoke and it emphatically supported Trump. You could ask yourself where these voters were before the election. The answer probably is everywhere around you. Many voters who were either scared, ashamed, or simply did not want to face the public scrutiny of being Trump supporters chose to keep to themselves. For fear of social or professional repercussion they did not publicly support him.
But the polling booth doesn’t (normally) lie and when in private the silent majority came to life and supported the 45th President of the United States. Sure, voters disaffected by Clinton that remained home contributed to Trump’s victory. However, the widespread amazement in the face of these results points to a more dramatic explanation and it makes sense to me that that explanation is the awakening of America’s silent majority.
On related notes, worldwide markets have fallen dramatically amidst the uncertainty an impending Trump presidency presents which could shorten the time it takes for the recession many economists are predicting is coming to actually come. Many peope will wake up with losses of up to 10% to their 401ks. I also think it’s interesting that once again economic issues dominated as motivating factors in the election. According to the Pew Research Center the most important issue was the economy. Being the liberal artsy folk that we are it’s important to remember that what matters most to the majority of people is not the environment or social issues but whether or not they can provide for their families. Say what you want, but Obama’s presidency has been marked with growth rates of 1-2% and a large increase in working age people no longer looking for jobs.