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I Was Wrong

ARTICLE BY JACOB AUSUBEL

15 months ago, I wrote a satirical piece for the Penn Spectrum entitled “The Donald Trump Inaugural.” I envisioned a Trump presidency with Sarah Palin as Vice President and John Boehner as the Speaker of the House. In his inauguration speech, the newly-elected president advocated for a wall on the Mexican border, and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, among other things.

At the time, my article seemed far-fetched, even preposterous. After all, Trump was a highly unconventional candidate whose political demise seemed inevitable. Trump called Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists. He derided Senator John McCain’s war credentials, even though the veteran spent “five excruciating years in captivity.” Trump mocked a reporter with arthrogryposis, a congenital condition that “[limits] joint movement or [locks] limbs in place.” The candidate even called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Trump’s list of controversial statements goes on and on. Had any other presidential candidates made even a couple of these claims, his or her poll numbers would have plummeted.

Throughout most of Election Day, I expected Hillary Clinton to win. Although 55 percent of Americans held an unfavorable opinion of the Democratic nominee, surely she would prevail against such an unconventional opponent. At first, the election results were very promising. Clinton had narrow leads in both Florida and Ohio, key swing states. However, less than 10 percent of results were in in both states. I should have known better. Within minutes, Trump overtook her leads in both states. In addition, Trump won the popular vote in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and even Wisconsin. All three states were part of the fabled Blue Wall, the set of 18 states and the District of Columbia which voted for the Democrats in every presidential election from 1992 through 2012.

Ultimately, Trump didn’t just win the election. He upended almost all of my expectations. He won at least 290 electoral votes (votes are still being counted in two states), far more than most pundits anticipated. He mobilized an unconventional coalition consisting of working-class white people, and won in a way that few saw coming.

There are a number of reasons why the Republicans may have won the election. Racism. Sexism. Xenophobia. Economic populism. Anger against the establishment. A backlash against the progress of the past eight years. A surprisingly weak Democratic nominee. A constantly underestimated Republican nominee.

Regardless, we should have anticipated a Donald Trump victory. We should have given him higher than a 1%, 2%, 15%, or even 29% chance of winning. There were plenty of warning signs. Throughout the fall, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump often polled neck to neck. In fact, RealClearPolitics only had her up by 3.3 percent in its polling average. We should have listened to people, such as ex-president Bill Clinton and Michael Moore, who recognized the anger and suffering of the white working-class. We should have listened to Philip Bump and other columnists who suggested that polls could be missing hidden Trump supporters.

In particular, millennials were shocked by the outcome of the election. My generation voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton to the point that if only 18-29 year olds had voted, she would have won 478 electoral votes. In particular, students at the University of Pennsylvania voted for Clinton over Trump by a 9:1 margin. We shouldn’t have been surprised. Millennials have disproportionately liberal views that are not representative of those of the American electorate. About four in ten millennials are mostly or consistently liberal in their beliefs. Only 15% are mostly or consistently conservative. By contrast, 38% of the American population as a whole identifies as conservative, while only 24% identifies as liberal.

People in our friend networks tended to support Clinton, and so we assumed that a Democratic victory was inevitable. How could the Republicans possibly win if we hardly ever saw any Trump supporters? Never mind that while millennials overwhelmingly supported Clinton, voters who were 40 or older supported Trump by over a five-point margin. Most notably, 50-64 year olds, who make up 30 percent of the electorate, supported Trump by a 53-44 margin. In short, we stuck inside of an urban, liberal echo chamber, and were blind to the possibility of a Trump victory until it was too late.

I was wrong about the 2016 election. Wrong about so many things. I can only hope that the American people knew what they were doing when they elected Donald Trump president.

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