Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a series of electoral mistakes, while pollsters underestimated President Donald Trump’s support, according to Professor Samuel J. Potolicchio (COL ’04) in a talk in White-Gravenor Hall on Tuesday evening.
Potolicchio, the director of Global and Custom Education at the McCourt School of Public Policy, said at the event, sponsored by the Georgetown University College Republicans, Georgetown University College Democrats, foreign policy group Alexander Hamilton Society, Georgetown Bipartisan Coalition and the undergraduate think tank Roosevelt Institute, Trump’s victory was unexpected but not inexplicable.
According to Potolicchio, election night reports about a lack of participation leading to Trump’s victory were overstated because they failed to account for absentee ballots that were counted in many Western states after Nov. 8.
“The voting rate that was reported, that I think is seared into many of our brains, is 55 percent, which would’ve been the lowest in 20 years,” Potolicchio said. “But what did the voting turnout rate end up being? Just over 60 percent, which actually is the second best turnout rate since the 1960s.”
Even though the majority of exit poll participants said Clinton spoke more to their particular concerns and possessed better judgment, a plurality of citizens — 39 percent — wanted a president who would bring change. Potolicchio said that these citizens who prioritized change probably swung the election in Trump’s favor.
Potolicchio said that significant shortcomings in the Clinton camp contributed to her defeat. According to him, the main reason Clinton lost was because Obama’s diverse electoral coalition failed to rally behind her, especially women.
“Now you would expect this demographic to be a stronghold; this is someone who’s endeavoring to be the first female president of the country,” Potolicchio said. “But we saw indications of this in the primary, against Sanders. Sanders was actually clobbering her not only among the young, but among young women.”
Potolicchio also said rising Obamacare premiums, which Americans became aware of a week before the election, also made a greater percentage of citizens vote against Hillary.
“Many people got their new Obamacare premiums, and discontent with Obamacare spiked in the seven days before the election,” Potolicchio said. “It actually hit 58 percent that slightly or strongly disapproved of the Affordable Care Act.”
According to Potolicchio, a ‘shy Trump voter’ phenomenon came into play in states where Trump outperformed expectations. As a result of voters declining to say they supported Trump, his popularity was underestimated by polls.
“You would have white Democrats or Democrat-leaning Independents who, when they were polled on the phone, they would be embarrassed to say that they were supporting the white Republican, because that might indicate that they were racist,” Potolicchio said.
Clinton made strategic mistakes throughout her campaign, according to Potolicchio. He said Clinton’s advertising in the Rust Belt and other battleground states was inadequate, for attacks on Donald Trump ultimately detracted from her message and heightened the appeal of her opponent’s.
“In the week before the election, in the battleground states, 100 percent of Hilary Clinton ads mentioned Donald Trump,” Potolicchio said. “And only 10 percent of Donald Trump’s ads mentioned Clinton.”
However, despite a failure to win a majority of seats in the House and the Senate, Democrats performed better relative to the 2014 mid-term elections on the congressional level while Republicans performed worse, according to Potolicchio.
“If you look at the difference in the popular vote between 2016 and 2014 in the House of Representatives, the Democrats did about two points better, and the Republicans did two points worse,” Potolicchio said. “Republicans did 10 points worse from the 2014 Senatorial Elections and the Democrats did nine points better.”
According to Potolicchio, the Electoral College disproportionately benefits small, rural, Republican-dominated states on electoral outcomes. But, with half of the states falling in the category of small and rural, Potolicchio considers there to be little possibility for a shift to direct elections.
“California, just over 37,000,000 people, 55 electoral points, that means each electoral point is determined by 670,000 people approximately,” Potolicchio said. “You look at North Dakota, with a population of about 670,000, three electoral points, each electoral point is determined by 220,000.”
Potolicchio said it is impossible to predict the path of Trump’s presidency. However, he said conclusions could be drawn from Trump’s cabinet picks or his methodology for negotiating as described in Trump’s book, “The Art of the Deal.”
“One of the seminal negotiating tactics which he said has led to his ‘success’ is you throw out something ridiculous first,” Potolicchio said. “You knock your opponent out of their feet, and then you actually start to bargain.”