History will be made, one way or the other, when the raucous 2016 U.S. presidential election finally reaches a crescendo in early November. Taking up residence in the White House will be either the country’s first female president or its first commander-in-chief without prior government or military experience.
After many months of intense campaigning, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has emerged as the Democratic nominee for president, while billionaire businessman Donald Trump has prevailed to secure the Republican nomination.
Clinton is the first female candidate to gain that status in a major American political party. She served as the 67th United States Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013, the junior United States Senator representing New York from 2001 to 2009, First Lady of the United States during the presidency of Bill Clinton from 1993 to 2001, and First Lady of Arkansas during the governorship of Bill Clinton from 1979 to 1981 and from 1983 to 1992.
Trump is the second major-party presidential nominee in American history whose experience comes principally from running a business (Wendell Willkie was the first). He is chairman of The Trump Organization, which is the principal holding company for his real estate ventures and other business interests. His net worth is approximately $4.5 billion.
Faculty experts at The University of Southern Mississippi have been eyeing the presidential election closely as the political and cultural ramifications mount. We asked Dr. Allan McBride, Associate Professor of Political Science; Dr. Heather Stur, Associate Professor of History; and Dr. Pamela Tyler, Associate Professor of History, to answer a few relevant questions about the election.
How would you summarize the political climate in the U.S. right now?
McBride: “There is a lot of talk about a polarized electorate. The congress and state legislatures seem to be more polarized – perhaps a function of the primary process, partially, which allows the dedicated partisans to select candidates.”
Stur: “Americans are disillusioned by the political system. They feel that it is rigged and that it’s controlled by Wall Street and special interests. Those on the Left point to what they believe was the establishment’s efforts to prevent Bernie Sanders from winning the Democratic nomination. Those on the Right point to efforts by the establishment to block Donald Trump’s nomination.”
Tyler: “Rancorous, chaotic, and disillusioned among one faction/party, and optimistic on the other.”
We will either elect the nation’s first female president or the first person to hold the office without government/military experience. Your thoughts?
McBride: “It’s about time for a woman president.”
Stur: “It’s interesting that there’s not the kind of hope and excitement over this the way that there was in 2008 when it became a possibility that the U.S. would elect its first African-American president. I think part of this is because Americans consider Hillary Clinton to be part of the establishment, and they consider Donald Trump unfit to be president.”
Tyler: “I don’t for a minute equate those ‘firsts.’ The female candidate happens to be eminently well-qualified for the position she seeks, and to all voters (except the most misogynistic), her sex is not the reason to be for or against her candidacy. Should the other candidate prevail, he would be, in addition to the first non-politician elected, the least qualified person ever to hold the office.”
Why do you think Trump has been so effective as a presidential candidate despite alienating so many blocs of potential voters?
McBride: “Again, it probably goes back to the primary process which can reward extremists. I think there are some unhappy Americans right now who may see Trump (and Sanders) as an opportunity to express frustration. My personal view is that Trump voters enjoy his tough talk as much as anything.”
Stur: “He may have alienated certain voting blocs, but he has also given voice to a bloc that had felt, rightly or not, that its voice has been ignored in the culture wars and national conversations they believe are driven by identity politics and so-called ‘political correctness.’ This is working class and even middle class white America – the same demographic that George Wallace courted when he ran for president.”
Tyler: “I am not sure that we should say he has been ‘so effective.’ In a very crowded field, he almost always managed to get more votes than his competition, but he never commanded a majority of votes in any contest. His antics have fractured his party and alienated huge portions of the electorate.”
How do you see the election playing out? Predictions on a winner?
McBride: “I did not think Trump would last this long, but I don’t think he will win. Two concerns however – turnout and invisible supporters. Republicans tend to do well with lower turnout and they have successfully smeared Hillary which means that her support may be weak. The second issue, invisible Trump voters, are those who are afraid to tell pollsters that they like Trump but who may, in the sanctity of the voting booth, pull the lever for him.”
Stur: “I expect there to be low voter turnout because so many Americans are disillusioned and profoundly dislike Clinton and Trump. I believe Clinton will win because of the Clinton machine’s deep connections to the wealthy donors, and because I think so many smart Republicans cannot stomach voting for Trump. But I think the vote totals will be close.”
Tyler: “I predict a Democratic victory. I cannot persuade myself that the U.S. electorate, no matter how frustrated some voters might be, could ever elect a person who is the antithesis of nearly all the values that we hold dear.”