According to the New York Times website, at 6 p.m. on Nov. 8, Hillary Clinton had a 81 percent chance of presidential victory. The next day, Donald Trump had 279 electoral votes. Political pundits, late night talk show hosts and news anchors alike were shocked by the turn, but examining an electoral map broken down by district reveals huge divides in urban and rural voting and reveals that the media and liberal voters made two crucial mistakes in predicting how Americans would cast their ballots.
The first mistake was assuming that the liberally-slanted media is representative of the entire United States — if Saturday Night Live, celebrities on Twitter and newspaper editorial boards were your only reference, Trump was a talking caricature and stood no chance of winning.
The second mistake was confirmation bias, due to how liberals (like myself) live in a big-city, mostly college-educated bubble surrounded by like-minded people.
It seems unfathomable to those who lean left that the country we live in elected someone who makes degrading comments about women, immigrants and minorities, but to people living in smaller towns and rural areas crippled by the recession with one in twenty unemployed, Donald Trump was the underdog. For them, Trump was not afraid to “tell it like it is” and champion his “deplorables” while Clinton was a “crooked” career politician who deleted emails and rigged her own nomination.
At the core of the urban/rural divide is a difference in priorities. For example, many college-age millennial liberals place higher importance on equality and social justice than they do fiscal policy. For factory autoworkers in Michigan or miners in Appalachia, whose jobs may be threatened due to international trade agreements and environmental efforts, equal rights for marginalized groups do not take precedence over putting food on the table. Regardless of which priority is right or wrong, there are very real, very raw fears in parts of the United States that will not abate no matter how many times we drag Trump through the press for the next heinous he said.
Reading conservative posts and speaking with conservative friends can help delve deeper into other reasons states went red. To disillusioned voters who already distrusted the establishment, Trump was an outsider like them while Clinton was more of the same. To nativist voters whose fear Trump stirred into xenophobia and bigotry, Clinton and her progressive views were unthinkable. To college-educated voters who disliked Trump some but Clinton and fiscal liberalism more, their vote was for the Republican Party. Generalizing all Trump voters as uneducated racists who cannot be reasoned with ignores legitimate concerns people have that future candidates can address (states such as Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin were blue in 2012 but red in 2016) and oversimplifies complex issues ranging from economic uncertainty to moral divides to the disconnect between blue collar and white collar demographics. This does not excuse Trump’s lack of experience and appalling behavior, but understanding how he was able to reach so many is crucial to shaping 2020 and beyond.
So, where does that leave Democrats and liberal voters who were blindsided by the election? For liberal voters, ranging from disappointed to scared to furious, this calls for a change in strategy. Donald Trump, despite his racist, sexist, ableist and Islamophobic rhetoric, was the political outsider who hit that deeper, often resentful difference in priorities that an established candidate with a lengthy political career could not reach. Anger and fear generate greater voter turnout than basic civic duty, and we “coastal elites” cannot afford to revert to our bubble of liberal media, Facebook friends and confirmation bias that made a seemingly impossible election result a reality next January.
You do not have to agree with someone to understand them, but demonizing the people who disagree — and turning them into caricatures so as to not take them seriously — will exacerbate the problem before it will solve it. Now is not the time to alienate, but to strategize and look to the future ahead. We can write as many SNL skits, think pieces, and social media posts as we want, but come Election Day, every vote counts equally.