The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America
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Racial and religious anxieties, more than economic worries, fueled Donald Trump’s victory.

Political science professors Sides (George Washington Univ.; The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election, 2013, etc.), Vavreck (UCLA; The Gamble, 2013, etc.), and Tesler (Univ. of California, Irvine; Post-Racial or Most-Racial?: Race and Politics in the Obama Era, 2016, etc.) counter some popular assumptions about the surprising outcome of the 2016 presidential election, which pitted two “historically unpopular presidential candidates” against each other. In a narrative replete with graphs and tables, the authors argue against the prevalent idea that Trump attracted white voters who felt victimized by loss of jobs and worries over economic insecurity, instead mounting abundant evidence for their contention that group identities mattered more to voters than perceptions of economic hardship or inequality. “Simple narratives about voter anger,” they write, “obscured who was angry and why.” They assert that in the Republican Party, “divisions centered on how voters felt about groups they did not belong to, including blacks, Muslims, and immigrants.” These groups generated strong emotions and activated white voters’ racial and religious identities, both of which had deepened during Barack Obama’s presidency and caused a backlash against diversity. The authors cite three main reasons for Trump’s victory: “fractured ranks” within the Republican Party that impeded party leaders from coalescing behind any candidate; outsized media coverage of Trump that made him appear to be the front-runner even when coverage focused on scandals; and “racialized economics,” in which racial attitudes “shaped the way voters understood economic outcomes.” Hillary Clinton had problems with both message and campaign strategy, never attracting enough support from diverse voters, including women. The authors doubt that Russian interference changed the outcome of the election. “Russian-sponsored content,” they conclude, “was an infinitesimal fraction” of tweets and posts, and although this content was “misleading and polarizing,” the campaign was already filled with similar incendiary content. Moreover, they maintain, “most voters are predictable partisans whose minds are hard to change.”

A cogent, well-documented analysis of the 2016 election.

Pub Date: Oct. 23rd, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-691-17419-8
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2018


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