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'After the Vote' discussion helps Elon community sort through Election 2016 results

The session headed by four members of the Department of Political Science and Policy Studies faculty drew nearly 200 people to Whitley Auditorium on November 10. 

Members of Elon's political science faculty gathered on Thursday to help the Elon community wade through the results from Election 2016 and look ahead at what the decisions by voters at the polls will mean for U.S. policies and politics going forward. 

The panel for the After the Vote discussion included Elon faculty members, from left, Carrie Eaves, Alisha Savchak-Trogdon, Jason Husser and Jessica Carew. 

The discussion in Elon's Whitley Auditorium followed an Election Day that saw Republican businessman Donald Trump win the closely contested presidential race over Democrat Hillary Clinton in a result that caught many in the country by surprise. Election Day saw close races at the top of the ballot in North Carolina, with the gubernatorial race between incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and Democrat Roy Cooper headed for a recount. 

The panel fielded questions from students about how to become involved civically if they're upset by the outcome of the election, as well as whether there is likely to be a change to the Electoral College. One student asked for areas where Democrat and Republican leaders in Congress were likely to align with President-elect Trump from a policy standpoint, given the deep political divisions. 

An investment in infrastructure could be a rallying point for the leadership in both parties, several on the panel said, and an effort to alter the Affordable Care Act could see some cross-aisle cooperation. "Unfortunately, we're seeing more of a culture based on a lack of compromise," said Jessica Carew, assistant professor of political science.

The results on Election Day have many questioning the accuracy of polling leading up to the election, particularly given that many predicted Trump had a very narrow path to victory. Jason Husser, assistant professor of political science and director of the Elon University Poll, told the crowd of nearly 200 gathered in Whitley that the aggregators of poll results that many in the media and the public relied upon created false impressions. 

The discussion included a look at factors impacting his year's election and the policy implications going forward. 

​Husser said states like North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania all ended up being true "swing states" with Trump and Clinton very close to each other going into Election Day. "What these aggregators ended up doing ... was giving Democrats a false sense of security that Clinton had a number of states in the bag," Husser said. "The results (of individual polls) were largely within the margin of errors of the polls. ... What we saw was a wave of voters breaking toward Trump."

Carew sorted through the demographics of Election Day results, noting the different voting patterns of populations of different races and genders. Nearly two-thirds of white men and a little more than half of white women supported Trump, while Clinton had a marked advantage with minority groups, Carew said, citing exit polling. 

Traditionally, college-educated white voters have been more likely to support the Democratic candidate for president, but that didn't happen this year, with a majority backing Trump, Carew said. "This was a population that behaved unexpectedly in many ways, in terms of trying to make a prediction," she said. 

Assistant Professor Carrie Eaves said that Trump's campaign message of "Make America Great Again" resonated with a large swath of the population, while Clinton faced a broader challenge in connecting with voters. "She just wasn't successful in terms of energizing voters and encouraging voters on the merits of herself as a candidate," Eaves said. 

Addressing a question about whether the Electoral College, which has states casting electoral votes for a candidate based on popular votes within their borders, Eaves said changes to the system are unlikely. The discussion often arises following an election like the one this year, that saw Clinton win the national popular vote but lose the presidency based on the Electoral College process. "This is a frustrating aspect for some in our American democracy — it's not just about winning the popular vote. It's about winning the right states," Eaves said. 

So what can the country expect going forward? Assistant Professor Elisha Savchak-Trogdon said the future of the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to be greatly altered by a Trump presidency, though changes in the near term aren't likely to be substantial. One seat is currently vacant, and two or three seats could become vacant under a Trump presidency due to either death or retirement. 

Savchak-Trogdon noted that Trump has laid out lists of potential appointees to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia earlier this year, but that his selection isn't likely to drastically change the makeup of the court, given the conservative composition it has had for decades. "A big question is, will he stick to his list ... or will he stray from that list and choose a different person we wouldn't expect to see nominated to the court," Savchak-Trogdon said. 

Owen Covington,
11/11/2016 9:00 AM