Election 2016

‘I was absolutely stunned’: Political scientists grapple with surprising election results 

Moriah Ratner | Asst. Photo Editor

Many political scientists were shocked of Republican Donald Trump being elected as president of the United States.

The results of Tuesday’s presidential election came as a shock to many political scientists, who say they now need to reconsider how they think about elections and the United States electorate.

Entering Election Day, polls and prediction models forecasted Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as the clear favorite to defeat Republican nominee Donald Trump. But behind victories in battleground states including Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, Trump surpassed the 270 Electoral College votes needed for election.

Republicans also kept control of the Senate and House of Representatives, though experts said it’s possible that gridlock among lawmakers will continue in the coming years.

In interviews Wednesday, political scientists stressed that there seems to be a clear divide between the American people — one they said was evident before Tuesday but that they refused to acknowledge the breadth of.

Kevin McMahon, a political science professor at Trinity College, said he had expected “the larger and more diverse” population of the general electorate to give Clinton a clear advantage. He pointed to polls that showed her winning several of the swing states that ended up turning in Trump’s favor, something he said could be a lesson for political scientists moving forward.


“People have to have a higher degree of doubt about the quality of these polls,” he said.

Robert McClure, a professor emeritus of political science in Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, said he “was absolutely stunned” by the outcome of the presidential election.

McClure said he didn’t know any political scientists who predicted a Trump victory. Tuesday’s results, he said, should indicate to political scientists that they don’t fully understand the pulse of the electorate.

“We all refused to see how deeply and fundamentally divided the American people are,” he said. “We are not one nation. For most of our 225 years, we have not been one nation.”

In the weeks leading up to the election, it’s likely that the majority of undecided voters peeled off toward Trump, said Wesley Leckrone, an associate professor of political science at Widener University. In retrospect, Leckrone said, that’s something “maybe we should have been paying more attention to.”

Leckrone said he sees the election as an indicator that the U.S. is at a pivotal moment in its politics, in which the issues that divide the country’s citizens are changing, something he said could fundamentally impact the two major parties.

He said he’s particularly interested to see what happens to both establishment Republicans and moderate Democrats, considering that the insurgent candidacies of Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) each mobilized significant portions of the electorate.

“The question is what’s going to be left,” Leckrone said. “Who’s going to be the party of the working class and who’s going to be the party of the educated class? And I don’t really know how that’s going to work itself out, but I think that’s what we’re going to be looking at going forward — that realignment. Something is really happening here.”

In the coming years, experts said it’s difficult to project what a Trump presidency will be like, given that he’s never worked in government or held political office and that he’s often made contradictory statements on different policy issues.

And even with Republicans controlling both the Senate and the House of Representatives, experts said the gridlock that has been present in Congress in recent years could continue. Democrats might even try to block Trump’s nomination to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court, McClure said, adding that the president-elect “is going to need 60 votes and he doesn’t have them.”

Leckrone said he believes there’s animosity that has slowly built as Senate Republicans have refused to hold a hearing or vote for Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and President Barack Obama’s nomination to fill the Supreme Court seat.

That animosity, Leckrone said, is likely to rear its head when Trump makes his nomination.

“That could potentially be a bloodbath going forward,” he said.

Top Stories