Like many Americans, I watched last week’s election results in a mix of disbelief, bewilderment, and anxiety. As Tuesday night led into Wednesday morning, state after state, from Ohio and Florida to Pennsylvania and Michigan, went red for Donald Trump.
How could this be happening? I asked myself. Am I dreaming? I mean, it was 1:15 a.m. and the events playing out on my television screen seemed like something out of an alternate reality. I felt like I would wake up at any moment, and surely I would see Hillary Clinton well ahead in the electoral college count.
After all, that was the expectation that major news media outlets had been peddling. It was a narrative that Trump’s racist, sexist, xenophobic rhetoric disqualified him from office, and although Clinton had flaws of her own, at least she had the experience, temperament, and character befitting the highest office in the land.
While I agreed with certain aspects of this premise, I had reservations about the media’s complacency in its predictions. Many pundits knew that Trump related to a vast wave of voters across the Rust Belt, the Bible Belt, and large swaths of Middle America who felt left behind by the Washington elite. They just underestimated the size of the wave, and failed to take it seriously. Actually, it wasn’t so much a wave as it was a tsunami, and it took major media outlets, as well as half of America, by surprise.
I admit that I fell into that complacency “trap” if you will. Not in my actions (I still went out and voted), but in my thinking. For example, I thought, How could Trump get the Latino vote given his rhetoric regarding immigration, or garner the female vote given his lewd remarks on that infamous ‘Access Hollywood’ tape? How will he react to criticism from world leaders if he can’t handle criticism from journalists?
Perhaps my rationale was shortsighted or ignorant. According to New York Times exit polling data, Trump ended up netting 29 percent of the Latino vote, two points better than Mitt Romney in 2012. He got 42 percent of women to vote for him, also well above expectations. Trump even received more of the African American vote than originally thought.
The news media also failed to account for the enthusiasm gap. Many Trump supporters were passionately committed to their candidate, while a good number of Hillary supporters seemed to be more ambivalent towards her.
Then there is the question of polling error. Many political analysts came out in the aftermath of the “Trump-quake” pondering how the pollsters could’ve been so wrong. Apparently, many of Trump’s voters were reticent to admit their support of the GOP nominee, and thus, the polls didn’t factor in the entirety of his voting base.
I believe that most media outlets, based largely on the East and West Coasts, didn’t fully account for the millions of Americans in Middle America who felt disenfranchised and left behind by the economic and social change happening on the coastal regions. They, like Hillary Clinton herself, let a sense of early confidence in Trump’s defeat creep into their conscience, and it permeated through to the voting populace, and affected voter turnout.
The Pew Research Center reported that only 57 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in this year’s election. That number was down from 61.8 percent in 2008. I almost couldn’t fathom how over 40 percent of voters didn’t turn up to cast their ballots.
Then again, I remembered that if the complacency of many in the news media seeped into my thinking, maybe it did the same for millions of other Americans.
Of course, that is just one of many issues facing the press in the upcoming weeks and months as President-elect Trump takes office. There will be concerns over press availability, reporters’ rights, and transparency in Trump’s administration.
However, one thing is clear: Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States, and as a country, we can only hope that both parties are able to work together despite an extremely divisive election. In that regard, one concern the media needs to address is how they fell into this “complacency” pitfall in the first place, and how they can work to act as a voice for all Americans, especially those outside the “bubble” of America’s coastal regions.
Of course, there is a litany of questions Trump himself needs to answer, namely, ‘Will he work to mend his icy relationship with reporters and the press at large?’ ‘How can he realistically implement his grandiose policy proposals?’ ‘How, if at all, will his rhetoric and temperament change as he assumes the Oval Office,” and most importantly, “How can he unite a severely divided nation to work together towards a better future, especially in light of recent protests over his election?”
I can only speak for myself, but it is my sincerest hope that a healthy relationship can be fostered between the President, the press, and the American people.
If this election showed us anything, it’s that we have a lot of work to do in that area.