One month ago, polls had appointed Donald Trump as having a 15-25% chance of winning the presidential election. It is November 9, 2016 and Donald Trump is officially president-elect of the United States of America. What could have changed so much in a short time span of one month?
There is much speculation to account for why Donald Trump won. Racism, sexism, and xenophobia are important factors in this election, but they do not account for this unexpected result in its entirety. Donald Trump’s campaign was much more complex and nuanced than this short article could possibly explain. Some say that his strong personality played with people’s psychology. The rule of familiarity says we are more likely to choose from what we know: thus choosing Donald Trump as president would make some sense. Once again, this does not explain the problem in its entirety. While hate speech and psychology can explain some factors, but they fail to explain how the polls and news channels could be so dramatically wrong.
Donald Trump’s rhetoric is very unique. Among all of his strong opinions, his slogan is worth of notice: “make America great again.” Note that the idea of making “America great again” already implies that American has not been great. This should have been something hard to conclude, given that President Obama has been considered by some as one of the best presidents in American history. This would be true unless Donald Trump had a viable vehicle for convincing the American people that their lives were not as great as they have once presumed. This is where social media played a big role in this election. Donald Trump’s campaign played with people’s fear and desires. The campaign largely explored low living standards and blamed it on terrorists, undocumented immigrants, and the corruption of secular puritan values. The more and more people heard of how their lives were getting worse, the more this became a reality for them. Donald Trump’s greatest accomplishment was his ability to convince the American people that their fears were real and that they could be blamed on minorities and foreign countries. Yet, this does not explain how the polls could be so off and scholars so clueless.
On another note, not all of the credit can go to Donald Trump. Democracy accounts for a part of the unexpected results of November 8, 2016. Democracy is one of the core and foundational values of the United States of America. It has secular value and power. Yet, scholars have argued that it has its flaws as a system of government. Robert Dahl, one of the most famous contemporary political theorists, writes that an ideal democracy would have to have “alternative sources of information” (Dahl, 2000). And here we get to a larger problem that can possibly explain both the Trump-ist phenomenon and the misguided polls.
In the 2016 presidential elections, the idea of “alternative sources of information” was hampered. Polls showed Hillary Clinton winning by a landslide, which might have conditioned her voters to think that the election was over before it had even started. Donald Trump was conceived as such an unlikely candidate that the very idea of democracy was not taken seriously. Months ago, this result was unthinkable. The only source information the American people had access to were polls; even though they were accurate at the time they were made, they had a decisive impact on the result of the presidential election.
The polls were wrong. They were not only wrong because of the results of the election. They were wrong because they were one of the active causes for Donald Trump’s winning. Information management has become one of the most powerful weapons in politics, both in America and internationally – the 2016 elections are empirical proof of the power media and news sources hold.
Even a secular democracy as that of the United States needs change. As the election finishes and Donald Trump validates his status as president, the American people must think about what it means to be a democratic state in an age of information and technology. In four years, “alternative sources of information” should reimagined to be among “freedom of speech” and “elected representatives” to constitute the core of the American democratic state. Trump and Trump-ism will last for four years, maybe eight. Effective democracy should last longer.