Pennsylvania voted for Donald Trump in last week's election

Peter Miller (Flickr Creative Commons)


Matt Pickles

After a dramatic result in last week's US election, Dr Tom Packer of the Rothermere American Institute looks back at what the result means, and what we should look out for in the next few months:

A sensational election night capped a sensational election. As the dust settles, what are some of the key points to be borne in mind?

Firstly and perhaps above all else: this is an election that speaks to the power of opposition to high levels of immigration and related concerns of culture, race and nationality. Remember Donald Trump had a host of liabilities in both the primary and general election — not least the fact that consistently more voters disapproved of Trump and thought he was not qualified to be President.

One issue he monopolised in both the primary and the general election, however, was immigration and related considerations. He was the first presidential nominee since before World War II to run on a platform of restricting legal immigration. And he outperformed among voters who were concerned with these themes, along with related considerations such as fears of terrorism and opposition to free trade.

In the primary, voters concerned about immigration and related cultural concerns were the core of his support; in Florida, for example, voters who cared about immigration outscored others by 38 points. In the general election he outperformed among white voters with no college degree; it was a huge turnout among white voters with no college degree that won him the presidency and it was in the rural and working-class areas of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania that he secured his victory.

And his victory underscores another broad pattern that extends beyond American politics. When combined with the polls for other electoral decisions such as Brexit, it strongly suggests that polling tends to underrate the power of positions that are nationalist, culturally conservative or which favour immigration restrictions. It’s not simply the case that polling suggests the public is more socially conservative than its elites, but also that polls underrate that difference.

Secondly, it’s time to dismiss the idea that the Republican party is in a state of collapse. This is a narrative that has been remarkably resistant to evidence. The GOP now dominates every level of elected government in the US: not just the presidency, but Congress, state governors and state legislatures to an extent unseen since the 1920s.

The only level of US government where Democrats tie or dominate is its least democratic branch — the federal courts. And that is unlikely to stick for long. Nor can one make this a simple Trump effect — the GOP did better in 2014 and Senate candidates this election cycle seem to have run ahead of Trump as much as behind. The strong vote by practising Christians for the GOP this election speaks to the electoral advantage the GOP has gained by Democrats’ embrace of a strongly liberal ‘moral’ (but secular) agenda.

This does not mean the GOP is invincible. Mr Trump is at minimum a highly unorthodox figure in whom a party should be wary of placing their future. But at this moment if there is a majority party in America it is the Republican party — for the first time since the 1930s. It is the Democrats who’ve been in denial.

Thirdly, the infrastructure of campaigns and party establishment should be regarded much more sceptically. There was a huge emphasis by commentator and political operatives on how much better organised the Clinton campaign was than Trump’s, which was possibly the least well-organised and run of any major party candidate for decades.

Trump got less formal campaign support at both elite and popular level than any Republican major party nominee since at least 1964: neither of the living Republican presidents voted for him or supported him, while the Clinton campaign mobilised everyone from President Obama to previously non-political celebrities like LeBron James to thousands of volunteer advance organisers across the country. The fact Trump won doesn’t mean it didn’t matter — he might have won by much more otherwise. But it does suggest its impact is limited.

Finally, the massive shock to world politics has opportunities for the UK as well as disadvantages. One factor that has been neglected is the impact on the UK’s Brexit negotiations. Mr Trump has talked up the positive side of Brexit, effectively endorsed it and talked about a potential ‘great deal’ between Britain and the US. His closest ally in UK politics is Nigel Farage.

This suggests that as the UK leaves the EU he could potentially be helpful. The possibility he will be less ready to underwrite Europe’s defence also makes those European countries with a powerful military much more important — a category that very much includes the UK.

Mr Trump has revolutionised US politics it remains to be seen what will follow next.

More Oxford academics gave their take on the election here.