On Thursday, March 2, CU Boulder's American Politics Research Lab (APRL) hosted a panel entitled “The 2016 Elections: What Just Happened?” One and all were invited to the Old Main Chapel on campus, which filled up with more than 130 students, faculty, and community members at the start of the event.
The hour-long presentation showcased research and analysis from four professors, each of them “specialists on voting, campaigns, and the electorate in different ways,” APRL Director Scott Adler said. Sitting on the panel were Jennifer Wolak, from CU Boulder; Seth Masket, from the University of Denver; Jennifer Lawless, from American University; and Anand Sokhey, from CU Boulder.
Each panelist answered the question from a political science perspective; even so, the professors had very different theories on why Trump was victorious over Clinton on Election Day.
Wolak asserted that “voters were ready to move in a more conservative direction” in response to recent policies put in place by the Obama administration. She described voter behavior as “thermostatic”—in other words, if voters perceive that the government has become too liberal or conservative, they will push back in the other direction.
Masket attributed the Republican win to the economy, showing data to suggest that the American public tends to vote against the incumbent party if the economy is doing poorly. He further stated that “it is very hard historically for a party to hold on to the White House for three consecutive terms.”
Lawless posed a follow-up question to the main query of the event: “is feminism dead?” Her research suggested the American public does not have a negative attitude towards feminist policies. However, she concluded that because “we did elect Trump,” American voters are “apparently more willing to accept sexism than we thought we were.”
Finally, because President Trump received 81 percent of the white evangelical vote, Sokhey focused on white evangelical voters. Sokhey remarked that he found the election results surprising, as white evangelicals “are supposed to be religious people” and yet voted for a man who has “made his fortune” through a series of secular investments. This led Sokhey to conclude that white evangelicals did not vote because of “traditional issues,” “the shared religious identity,” “gay rights or abortion,” but rather to preserve what he called “white American Christian culture.”
Though the panel provided detailed and thought-provoking explanations, their analyses were not without limitations. The questions the panelists did not ask—and the effects this had on their findings—are worthy of consideration when discussing this on-campus event.
For example, the panelists reached their conclusions without addressing the contentious nature of what The Guardian called the “Clinton legacy in the White House” or the various scandals associated with Clinton—two of the six main reasons that, according to The Guardian, Americans cast their votes for Trump.
Even more controversial was Sokhey’s perspective on the white evangelical voter and, more specifically, the clergymen of white evangelical churches. After only 12 percent of white evangelicals reported that their clergy had made a statement about Trump, Sokhey asked why clergymen “weren’t speaking out” against Trump from the pulpit.
He proceeded to conclude that “it would have mattered” to the results of the election if more church leaders made political statements—effectively assuming that all clergymen would have given “negative messages” about Trump and neglecting to ask which candidate they supported.
Unasked questions like these factored into each expert’s opinion, leaving Boulder residents with much to discuss about the 2016 election. For those who cannot understand how the businessman appealed to the American people—and how to prevent their next opponent from winning in the future—asking the right questions is key to reaching the right answers.
Click here to view photos from the event.