The 2016 Presidential Election: Unusual Candidates, Usual Responses, and What It Means for 2018
The campaign season for 2018 midterm elections have begun. Across the country, current and aspiring politicians are vying for positions at the national and state level, including Connecticut.
But the 2016 election is still on everyone’s minds.
The Secretary of the State’s office is preparing better cybersecurity for the election, according to The CT Post on April 16. Deputy Secretary of the State Scott Bates was quoted saying, “Today it’s the Russians, but tomorrow it could be others.” In many places, it has been proven that Russia had an impact, directly or indirectly, on the 2016 election cycle and its aftermath. For example, the fear of fake news led to YouTube putting a disclaimer on Russia Today’s videos, saying that they are “funded in whole or in part by the Russian government.”
From the Russian issues, to a host of other controversies, the hype around the 2016 election was real. A recent paper by Markus Prior and Lori Bougher of Princeton University, makes mention of an overall increase in campaign interest for 2016, using information from the American National Elections Studies. However, what they argued is that the hype didn’t translate into a greater turnout; the numbers for 2016 were comparable to that of other recent presidential elections.
Specifically, the paper cited data from the United States Election Project, saying that 60.2 percent of eligible voters went to the polls 2016. This is more than 2012, with 58.6 percent, but less than 2008, with 62.2 percent turnout.
As for Connecticut, the numbers are similar to the national figures. Using numbers from the Election Project for presidential votes, in 2016, 65.4 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2016 election. For 2012, 61.3 percent turned out. In 2008, 66.6 percent of eligible voters participated.
Quinnipiac’s Chair of Philosophy and Political Science Scott McLean said that there were many ways that the 2016 election was an average election. For example, independents usually prevent the party in power from having three consecutive terms, which in 2016 would have been the Democratic party.
“Most polls make the mistake that the undecideds in the last days of the election will just break evenly. No, they always break away from the party in power,” he said.
But the perception that voters were energized to vote was because there were so many new dynamics. McLean said the 2016 election sparked interest because Trump and Hillary Clinton were two unconventional candidates. For Clinton, he noted that she was the first female candidate in the general election and had experience being the first lady when her husband Bill was in office. As for Trump, McLean said that people were drawn to him because he was an outsider who was able to get the nomination despite early resistance in the Republican party.
The news media also played a big role in the hype around the 2016 election, publicizing investigations into the candidates, and the potential of Russian meddling.
“You never know what was going to happen from one day to the next. It was drawing a lot of interest. It was also generating extremely high levels of disgust and anger, so that people were tuning in and coming away from it not really more educated about the issues, but more angry about the candidates,” McLean said.
Marjorie Bonadies, an at-large Republican councilwoman in Hamden, agrees. She calls the 2016 election cycle “the best soap opera “ in the country’s history. She blames the news media in part for stirring the pot and disenfranchising some voters.
“It was a daily barrage of who said what, who was under investigation, Hillary Clinton’s emails; you couldn’t write it any better,” Bonadies said.
Politico compiled some of that “daily barrage” in an article from Nov. 11, 2016. It showed a spectrum of stories during the course of the election. Some of the headlines included, “Trump recorded having extremely lewd conversation about women in 2005,” which ran in the Washington Post, and “Foreign Government Gifts to Clinton Foundation on the Rise,” published by The Wall Street Journal.
Jeffrey Foy, an assistant professor of psychology at Quinnipiac University, blames the public in part for the hysteria around the last presidential election. He said that the public finds the news boring, so they’re attracted to salacious stories. In turn, the news media are capitalizing on it.
“The real reason they’re doing this is that they need clicks, they need money. And so, they’re going to do whatever we pay for them to do. If I’m a person who’s conservative, there’s certain news stories that’ll get me to click readily, rather than ones that are maybe pro liberal,” he said,
Brad Macdowall, who is a Democratic councilman for Hamden’s 9th District, said that politicians can also be blamed for dropping the ball. He said the Democratic party “fell asleep” during the 2016 election.
“Republicans tend to, in general, have higher voting than Democrats,” he said. “They just turn out more. Which is why, when a lower turnout happens, Democrats lose. Turnout fluctuation happens with Democrats, not with Republicans.”
Foy was surprised by the Trump victory 2016, but he said that was the result of personally sticking to liberal-leaning social circles, thus being less exposed to conservative views. He said that, in the process of shaping a narrative for the election result, the right wants to emphasize a sense of exceptionalism, where the left is reflecting on their mistakes.
“There’s this thing in psychology that when something happens that is unexpected, particularly if it’s negative for a lot of people, they wanna understand why, “ Foy said. “So, if you lose something, you wanna say ‘why did we lose it’, as opposed to when you something, you’re less likely to say ‘why did we win’. You kinda just revel in the winning.”
In gearing up for the 2018 midterm Macdowall has reflected on the mistakes, as he is also a Democratic consultant. For Connecticut, Macdowall is focusing on seats in the state senate, which are currently tied 18-18 between the Democrats and the Republicans. He said that this was unheard of for Connecticut to not have a Democratic majority in recent history. Macdowall wants the Democrats to find their message again.
“Just think of where we came from in 2008, the party of ‘Yes We Can’, to 2016, where we became the party of shoving Hillary Clinton down everyone’s throats,” he said.
However, Macdowall is optimistic about the Democrats’ chances in 2018, considering that there will be opportunities for new faces, like in Connecticut’s 5th District. Kenneth Dautrich, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Connecticut, also said that the Democrats have good odds.
“Democrats will be more energized [because] of Trump. But this is not uncommon. When a new president takes office the opposition party voters tend to be more motivated 2 years later,” he said in an email. “ So in a blue state like CT dems will really be at an advantage.”
Back in 2016, Bonadies ran for a state representative seat, but lost. She said that there is still some Republican momentum in Connecticut, as the final result in her race was closer than expected.
Even though Bonadies said the Republicans have merit in the Connecticut midterms due to their positions on taxes and government debt, she said they’re still “swimming in the deep blue Democrat state of Connecticut,”.
“This coming election year would be ripe for a Republican, but the machinery in place for the Democratic party is pretty powerful,” Bonadies said.