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Post-Election 2016: Beyond the headlines

Oct. 20, 2016, 10:12 AM

Three Vanderbilt professors discuss the election

If Donald Trump had been sent packing early in the Republican primary elections – as most pundits thought would happen – there’s a good chance that the Republican Party would have been sitting on a nice cushiony lead a month before Election Day, said a Vanderbilt University election expert.

“A normal Republican – John Kasich for example – would probably be ahead comfortably because he would not be a threat on the change front,” said John Geer, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of Political Science and co-director of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. “But because we have (Donald Trump) and the change he’s advocating, it’s antithetical to what Republicans have stood for.”

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has been leading Trump in most polls by a comfortable margin.

Geer recently sat down with two fellow Vanderbilt University professors to discuss this presidential election. They are Efrén Pérez, a political science professor who has studied the role of implicit bias in behavior and Tracy Sharpley-Whiting, an African American and Diaspora Studies professor who is a culture/gender/race expert.

The electorate

“It’s kind of easy to just put the onus [of supporting Trump] on the white working class,” said Sharpley-Whiting, holder of a Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Distinguished Chair and director of the university’s Callie House Research Center for the Study of Black Cultures and Politics.

“We know that Donald Trump will probably get 40 percent of the vote, and I’m not convinced that it’s just white working class who find aspects of the Trump agenda compelling.”

Clinton’s intention to raise taxes on people who make more than $250,000 a year is likely costing her some middle class and elite voters, Sharpley-Whiting said.

“There are actually people who think $250,000 annually is not necessarily enough (when it comes to tax breaks),” she said. “There are voters who are upper class, who are thinking about their portfolios. … So, I’m not convinced it’s just the white working class voter.”

Clinton’s ‘likeability’ factor

When Trump said Clinton had “hate in her heart” during the second debate, Geer said he was stunned. Hatred for Clinton is the “glue that’s holding [Republicans] together,” he said.

“Their dislike and hatred of Clinton is so strong,” Geer said. “It’s partly gender, and it’s partially that she epitomizes the establishment.

“They want change even if it’s bad change.”

Angry, insecure voters

Anger in voters is a “powerful motivator if you can identify the targets of your ire,” said Pérez, associate professor of political science.

“So if you have a politician like Donald Trump telling you how things are going to hell in a handbasket because of immigrants or Muslims, you bring your targets in sharp relief.” Pérez said. “It’s real easy to feel angry when they give you the information that’s laid right out to you – ‘They’re taking away your jobs. They’re living in your neighborhood and you can pinpoint who that is.’”

Some surveys have suggested that whites see themselves as racial victims, Sharpley-Whiting said.

“There is a certain feeling on the part of whites …that there’s more racism being directed toward whites, that there is ‘reverse discrimination’ that is occurring.”

But other groups are unhappy and merit consideration, Sharpley-Whiting said.

“Black people are angry, Sharpley-Whiting said. “I’m sure Latinos are quite angry about how they’re being picked off and characterized in certain ways. I think other angers need to be put on the table. “

The video

When video of Trump speaking disrespectfully about women was widely viewed and harmed his campaign, it appeared Trump hit a different, more potent nerve.

“What is different is that the elites have jumped ship,” Geer said. “This gave people like (House Speaker) Paul Ryan the chance to jump ship. [Tennessee Gov.] Haslam could defect because of the tape.”

The Republicans who are jumping off the Trump bandwagon “are playing on a kind of particular trope of fragile white femininity that needs to be protected,” Sharpley-Whiting said.

“So they were going to be chivalrous now. Now [Trump] has said all sorts of horrible things about all sorts of groups. But at this particular moment, they step in and say ‘enough is enough, you talked about white women.’”