The outcome of the US presidential election remains unclear the morning after the Nov. 3 election, but the results so far have cleared up one misconception: Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 wasn’t a quirky outlier. Regardless of who wins the White House in the hours (or days) ahead, it’s obvious in the numbers posted so far that nearly half of voters who cast ballots prefer Trump.
Until yesterday it’s been plausible to argue that Trump’s first win reflected an experimental effort by a large segment of the population to change the political narrative and focus in Washington and elect a candidate who would disrupt norms. On that basis, some have said that Trump’s 2016 win was an eccentric and speculative aberration that, once exposed to the light of a real-world track record, would wither and fade. But the numbers tallied as of this morning (Nov. 4) clearly show that half of the electorate, give or take, is willing to re-elect Trump – with full knowledge of his four-year record and what that implies for America in the years ahead.
Close to 66 million American have chosen Trump over Joe Biden so far. That’s less than the 68 million-plus that went for the Democrat, and so Trump appears to have lost the popular vote, again. That’s irrelevant, of course, since the presidents are selected on a state-by-state basis via the Electoral College. But whether Trump ultimately prevails or not, it’s striking and revealing that close to half of voters decided to give the president another four years.
Perhaps the biggest shock is that despite weak leadership (to put it charitably) on coronavirus management in the White House, the track record didn’t matter to half of voters. What accounts for the widespread willingness to look past Trump’s failures and give him another four years? Economic issues appear to be a leading factor — a factor that most gives Trump an edge in most polling.
According to GZero Media, the economy was the top voter issue in 2016 and remains so in 2020.
Cultural issues continue to play a crucial role too. To over simplify, many voters seem to support Trump as a statement for rejecting a range of so-called politically correct issues. Trump, in other words, has effectively weaponized the culture wars to his political advantage and to a degree unseen in past elections.
It’s a mistake to view Trump’s political success as an isolated event. As professors William Howell and Terry Moe write in this year’s Presidents, Populism, and the Crisis of Democracy, Trump is “a symptom of powerful socioeconomic forces unleashed by modernity – forces that have disrupted lives and politics throughout the developed West and generated an upsurge in support for right-wing populist leaders….”
The authors add that “no matter which party holds the presidency, these are not normal times.”
That was debatable in 2016, and perhaps even as late as Nov. 2, but there are no illusions today.