In what is seen as a major upset and an unexpected result, real estate businessman and former reality television host Donald Trump of the Republican Party managed to defeat pollster favourite, former senator Hillary Clinton of the Democratic Party to become the 45th President of the United States.
The margins of defeat were close in the “swing States”. It looked like Hillary Clinton will win the popular vote, bolstered by high support in States like California. But this was futile as she lost the electoral college to Donald Trump. At the time of writing this piece, Mr. Trump had secured 279 electoral college votes in contrast to Ms. Clinton’s 218, with results still expected from Michigan, Arizona and New Hampshire (in all three States Mr. Trump is leading).
Mr. Trump’s electoral college triumph was aided by his surprising victories in previously Democratic strongholds in swing States such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan and his defeat of Ms. Clinton in other swing States such as Ohio, North Carolina and Florida.
Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania have a large number of rural and working class voters who were swayed by Mr. Trump’s protectionist and anti-immigrant message. The first two of these three States were also where Ms. Clinton had lost the primaries to Senator Bernie Sanders.
But most polls held in these three States showed her leading Mr. Trump consistently, bringing into question whether polls have managed to track the strong antipathy to whom many rural and working class voters considered as a leading member of the ruling establishment.
Ms. Clinton’s strong support among Hispanics, many of whom voted early in key swing States such as Florida and Nevada were negated by the high turnout of white voters in the former State and the absence of a substantial Hispanic population in other key States.
Beyond just the presidential election loss, it was a day of setbacks for the Democratic Party. The party managed to secure a majority membership of at least 51 senators, and retained its strong presence in the House of Representatives. This would enable the Republican President to nominate a conservative judge to the Supreme Court tilting its balance. Gubernatorial elections to various States also established a Republican majority.
This Republican dominance and the rise of the “populist” Right is a blow to liberalism in the U.S. but it remains to be seen whether the rise of Mr. Trump is a threat to the operation of free and open markets in the country. The entire campaign, including the primaries in the run-up to the presidential elections, featured significant discontent against the ruling establishment in Washington D.C. and Mr. Trump managed to channel this effectively despite severe flaws in his candidacy and his lack of experience in public office.
Mr. Trump’s campaign pitch was thin on policy – except for strong positions on immigration that bordered upon xenophobia and hatred against the Hispanic and Muslim communities in the country besides promises on protectionism. His support base also included the socially conservative evangelicals who saw beyond his own contradictory positions on religion and morality, but were opposed to Ms. Clinton’s social liberal positions on abortion for example.
All said, Ms. Clinton could not repeat the social coalition that favoured Mr. Obama in 2012 (let alone the stronger support base in 2008). With white working class voters in the rust belt, the evangelical communities in the mid-west and southern regions voting for Mr. Trump and the reportedly reduced turnout of African Americans, it made it both difficult for Ms. Clinton to supplant Mr. Trump in the swing States, and also resulted in Mr. Trump breaching her firewall of solid “blue” Democratic States.