W&M government professors gather to analyze presidential election

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A boy holds up a sign that reads "Trump 2016 Make America Great Again." The boy attended a Donald Trump rally at Regent University in Virginia Beach on Oct. 22. (Adrienne Marie Mayfield/WYDaily)
A boy holds up a sign that reads “Trump 2016 Make America Great Again.” The boy attended a Donald Trump rally at Regent University in Virginia Beach on Oct. 22. (Adrienne Marie Mayfield/WYDaily)

The recent atmospheric-rise of President-Elect Donald Trump on Nov. 8 has left many political scientists and pollsters analyzing the results and finding the errors in their predictions.

Nine College of William & Mary professors from the Department of Government faculty touched on the subject in front of a crowd of 100 people on Nov. 17.

At the event, which was co-sponsored by the Young Democrats and College Republicans, professors offered their “post-mortem” opinions of the presidential election including why the polls were wrong, how Donald Trump won the electoral college, and opined on what could be the future of healthcare and taxation in the president-elect’s administration.

The panel was comprised of eight professors: Lawrence Evans, John Gilmour, Lenneal Henderson, Chris Howard, John McGlennon, Christine Nemacheck, Ronald Rapoport and Jaime Settle. Associate Professor of Government Paul Manna served as moderator.

“The idea is to show [that] we know how to get together, we know how to talk, how to focus on evidence and reason, and how to treat each other with respect,” said Manna.

Trump’s election was at the fore of the discussion, with many of the professors suggesting that while the polling was wrong there were many factors in the polling errors.

“There’s the perception that polling was really wrong,” said Settle.

The polls had become increasingly tight after FBI director James Comey announced further investigation into more of Hillary Clinton’s emails on Oct. 27, and later said on Nov. 6 there was no new material that could lead to criminal charges.

Although the polls incorrectly predicted the winner of the presidential election, pollsters were showing Clinton polling weaker than President Barack Obama in 2012.

Rapoport said he thought there were a lot of factors involved in the incorrect polling predictions.

“In the primaries Trump under-performed the polls consistently, right, and I didn’t think there was any reason that that was going to be the case,” he said. “I think that one thing is that Trump did over-perform in virtually every battleground state. I think that what happened this year is that a variable came into play, which meant that surveys were consistently wrong.”

Settle and Rapoport both expressed that a reason behind Trump’s resounding victory in the electoral college could have been an enthusiasm gap and an historical pull for the opposition or “change” candidate.

“I think that the other thing to think about is the role of enthusiasm so even if turnouts not lower,” Settle said. “One of the explanations I heard that could make sense, is that the people who we rely on most to be participatory and engaged and volunteer and to give money, if they weren’t as excited this year, you still were going to vote, but you might have been less likely to go knock on doors, or bring four friends with you to the polls.”

The Affordable Care Act was a topic of discussion — with Howard saying he would need to know which principles the incoming administration intended to use to guide its legislative agenda, but he was skeptical that the Trump administration would gut President Obama’s landmark healthcare legislation.

“American healthcare is fundamentally a public-private hybrid,” Howard said. “We have access problems and cost problems that span the public sector and the private sector. So efforts to change just the public sector without recognizing they’re going to have ripple effects in the private sector may have some unintended consequences.”

A brief discussion about the future of taxation and the budget deficit led to Howard predicting the Trump administration will have a much larger budget deficit due to its proposed tax cuts and increased government spending.

“With respect to tax policy, it seems like there’s a lot of interest in Congress and the White House for bringing down tax rates on the higher end and on businesses, and I’m old enough that my basic reaction is ‘I’ve seen this movie before,’” Howard said. “We tried this approach to the economy. It doesn’t have any durable positive effects on economic growth or wages. It makes some people a bit more wealthy. It makes the deficit much much bigger.”

James City County Supervisor and William & Mary Professor John McGlennon noted that political scientists are at a disadvantage when it comes to analyzing election data in real time.

“One of the disadvantages that political scientists have against the pundits that appear so frequently is that we really do have to sit back and wait for the true reliable data to be available to us to make sense of a lot of what’s going on,” he said. “But one of the things we’re already seeing is that this election has had an impact on reshuffling the bases of political parties across the country.”