President-elect Donald Trump speaks during his meeting with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016. AP Photo

U.S. POLLS: Trump appealed to those tired of traditional politics

WATCHING the United States presidential election unfold is much like watching a nail-biting thriller. There are moments of excitement and then deflation, and then buzzing excitement again before you finally find out whodunnit.

With all the Donald Trump-bashing that had gone on the last few months, it was possible that the negative publicity was about to rebound on Hillary Clinton. But on Nov 8, who would dare to even voice the suspicion that Trump could become president?

For us Malaysians, the first few results that came in on the election were predictable enough. By 8.58am, Trump had secured 24 electoral votes to Hillary’s six — this was to be expected since the tallied votes came from Kentucky, West Virginia and Indiana.

Anyone who follows the US elections would know that even if there is a big swathe of red right in the middle of the continental US, this does not necessarily translate into high numbers. The Big Six to watch for has always been California, with 55 electoral votes, Texas (38), New York and Florida (29 each) and Pennsylvania and Illinois (20 each).

At 9am, the states on the Eastern seaboard announced their votes. Unsurprisingly, Clinton surged to 68 votes ahead of Trump. Things were panning out as expected.

Then came the surprise. By 10.48am, the tally had shifted to Trump at 136, Clinton at 106. Texas went red and New York went blue. California was next to turn blue.

Just before 2pm, the deciding states fell red one by one. Trump managed to garner 238 votes, Clinton managed 216 with no more big states to rely on. At 3pm, Pennsylvania, which has 20 electoral votes, put Trump over the 270 mark, clinching the election for him.

Within the next hour, world leaders were sending their congratulatory messages to the president-elect. Malaysia, too, through Wisma Putra, was not far behind in expressing its hope for a continuation of good relations under the US administration.

After all, the American people had spoken. Going by the tone of Clinton’s campaign, you might think that her voters are predominantly female, college-educated and of the older generation.

The exit polls now show that this is a misperception. Clinton’s votes came from only half of the female voters who turned up. Yes, that’s right. The other half voted for Trump.

Most of those who voted in favour of Clinton were college graduates, while Trump’s voters were not. Even here, the chasm was not that wide, with Clinton getting only 49 per cent of college graduates and Trump getting 45 per cent to support him.

In terms of age, Trump scored more points from voters who were 45 years old and older than he did with the younger set. Clinton, on the other hand, received most of her votes from the below 44 years old age group. This was perhaps the biggest upset of all.

In the weeks leading up to the election, most political analysts argued that Clinton would appeal to the older set, while the rebellious and inexperienced voters would choose to vote for Trump. How wrong these analysts were.

One of the post-election claims making social media rounds was that Trump’s voter base are the white trash inhabiting most of the Christian Belt. Not so, say the exit polls.

Trump, in fact, swept the board with Americans whose income was more than US$50,000 (RM214,250). In other words, Trump had more higher-income Americans supporting him.

Why did Trump win?

FIRST, is the US’s two-party system itself. Not since the 20-year rule of the Democrats from 1933 to 1953 (under Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman) has there been two successive Democratic presidents. The Republicans, on the other hand, have had Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford in succession, then Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr.

Somehow, Americans love the idea of exceptionalism that only the Republicans can give them. The pendulum between the two parties never remains stuck in place, but swings from one to the other;

SECOND, Clinton ran part of her campaign as a move to break the glass ceiling for women. As one magazine pointed out, the idea of breaking the glass ceiling is not the same as getting more women to the top. Clinton’s term in the White House did not have a record of enabling women, either through education or opportunities they would not otherwise have had; and,

THIRD, there is now a trend for voters to prefer plain-speaking politicians, even if they are shooting from the hip. This is true particularly for voters who want a president with the “pizzazz” to carry off American exceptionalism, tell countries to shape up or ship out, and lead the charge from the front rather than from behind.

Come Jan 20, the world may be a different place. In all the political scenarios presented, analysts never imagined a world where the US and Russia would team up against the threat of China, or that the US might again rise in influence and clout. After the tumultuous year of 2016, we should never rule anything out.

The writer, Dr Shazelina Zainul Abidin is a foreign service officer, is also a research fellow of the University of Sheffield and a member of the International Advisory Board of the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

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