Bernie and The Donald: Why Trump Succeeded Where Sanders Failed.

By Ethan Skelskie ’18


Pollsters have been dramatically altering their models following the shock victory of Republican nominee Donald Trump. Most media outlets predicted landslide success for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Instead, real estate magnate Donald J. Trump will be inaugurated in January.

This election’s theme was change. Both Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and President-Elect Trump contrasted themselves to Secretary Clinton, who was portrayed as the establishment candidate. While Secretary Clinton was able to defeat Senator Sanders, the race was far more contentious than expected. Furthermore, the areas where Sanders handily defeated Clinton were the areas that swayed the general election for Trump. Michigan and Wisconsin heavily felt the Bern in the democratic primary, while Pennsylvania appeared split between the two. The exception is Ohio, who heavily turned out for Clinton in the primary but not in the general. The question becomes, why did the Rust Belt turn out so heavily for anti-establishment candidates?

Both Sanders and Trump were able to portray themselves as the champions of the disenfranchised. They made their supporters feel like someone was paying attention to them when the Washington elites neglected them and took their votes for granted. Frustration with Washington motivated calls for a political revolution.

NPR notes that whites without college degrees, previously championed by the Democratic Party, have now left to the GOP. Since 1996, this group has steadily become more and more republican. Furthermore, blue-collar white voters have abandoned the Democratic Party. NPR cites strong Trump showings in Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other rust belt states as evidence of this trend.  Numerous media outlets attribute Donald Trump’s strong showing among whites to liberal culture of denigrating these voters through “isms” (racism, sexism etc), while failing to address the realities of their everyday lives such as drug addiction and joblessness. Worse, the Democratic Party took their votes for granted. In Trump, this demographic found a champion who was willing to address their realities.

Self-proclaimed outsider Bernie Sanders was insistent on talking about “the damn issues.” While his insurgency candidacy was a shock to the democratic political system, Sanders was unable to stand up to the political machine that backed Hillary Clinton. By contrast, Trump was disavowed by his own party for his numerous controversies, even more so than was Bernie Sanders.  Yet despite Speaker Paul Ryan pulling Republican funding from the Trump campaign, Trump emerged victorious.

There’s a saying that any publicity is good publicity. Donald Trump was able to capitalize where Senator Sanders failed because his controversies provided him with unparalleled media coverage. Trump emerged as the champion of the downtrodden white middle class because his statements drew more attention to him and everything he said. By contrast, Sanders’ minimal coverage largely rested on “the issues,” which hindered his media coverage. The Nation reports that Trump received 23 times more media coverage than did Sanders. The Atlantic and the New York Times report Trump’s media coverage equaled $2 Billion Dollars, 29,019 articles, and 388,287 television mentions. Sanders received $321 Million 7,841 articles, 8,185 television mentions. Trump’s coverage focused heavily on words like rapists, internment, madman and illegals. The media covered Sanders, by contrast, using words such as poverty, health, free, and college.

The Washington Post reports a phenomena called the availability heuristic.  This idea is that media coverage influences people because what’s most recently covered in their minds corresponds to who they vote for in the polls. President Trump’s controversies played into more media coverage. More media coverage meant that he was more easily able to champion himself to the disillusioned rust belt, in a way that Senator Sanders was unable to because of his focus on “the issues.”





Filed in: Politics

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