Dr Darren G. Lilleker
Associate Professor of Political Communication and Programme Leader, MA International Political Communication, Faculty of Media and Communication, Bournemouth University.
Dr Einar Thorsen
Associate Professor of Journalism and Communication at Bournemouth University, and Associate Director of the Centre for the Study of Journalism, Culture and Community.
Dr Daniel Jackson
Associate Professor of Media and Communications at Bournemouth University and Co-convenor of the PSA Media and Politics Group.
Dr Anastasia Veneti
Senior Lecturer in Marketing Communications at Bournemouth University
On November 8th the United States of America voted on who would be the 45th President. In the end the US election, as is always the case, came down to a binary choice – but the choice this time was not between two ordinary candidates. While the candidates represented the status quo of the Democrat and Republican parties, each candidate offered a unique dimension to the campaign.
Hillary Clinton offered the potential to be the first woman President, a milestone as significant as the first black President. It also marked the first time a former First Lady was standing, so creating a unique form of political dynasty. Her prominence and experience signified her as particularly qualified, yet she was also a figure mired in scandal and lacking in popularity.
Donald Trump presented himself as the ultimate political outsider. Businessman, property magnate and reality TV host figured on his CV, but he had no experience of any form of political office. Trump was the gauche, crude voice of the people, or at least the section who equally felt as outsiders from modern American society, culture and politics.
It was an election contest that would enthral, bewilder, horrify and polarize in equal measure, both in the USA and around the world. Beyond the Americans who threw themselves unequivocally behind a candidate the choice was seen as difficult:
“there must be 700 elected into politics in America. Some of them are really good at their jobs. From that pot how the **** did it come down to a choice between these two”
These words of an ordinary American, a tourist in New York like the lead editor at the time, perhaps sum up the thoughts of many US citizens as election day approached. This may have been a factor in causing turnout to decline to an estimated 57.9%, down only marginally from 58.6% in 2012 but a marked reduction from the 61.6% who voted in 2008.
Of the 130 million who did vote, 47.8% supported Hillary Clinton, 47.3% backed Donald Trump. But this narrow win in the popular vote means little in the US system. It is electoral college votes that matter, and Trump won 306 to Clinton’s 232, a clear 36 over the threshold. The bigger the states, the greater the number of electors, and most of these are expected to vote on a winner takes all basis. Trump may have gained only 68,236 more votes than Clinton of the 6 million votes cast in Pennsylvania but in doing so he won all 20 electoral college votes making her win by a 3 million vote margin in California meaningless despite gaining all 55 electoral college voters. The polarizing rhetoric of his campaign, coupled with the mismatch between actual votes and the electoral college and the tightness of the race has already led to street protests and signals greater divisions to emerge in the future.
Whilst there is undoubtedly an eventful presidential term ahead, in this report we pause to look back at the 2016 contest. The aim of this publication is to capture immediate thoughts, reflections and early research insights of leading scholars in media and politics in the US and around the globe; and in this way contribute to public understanding of the contest whilst it is still fresh in the memory and help shape the path ahead. Here, we are particularly interested in what ways different forms of media, journalism and political communication contributed to people’s engagement with the democratic process during the election – and crucially the relationship between media, citizens, and politicians.
Published within 10 days of the election, these contributions are short and accessible. Authors provide authoritative analysis of the campaign, including research findings or new theoretical insights; to bring readers original ways of understanding the election. Contributions also bring a rich range of disciplinary influences, from political science to popular culture, journalism studies to advertising. We hope this makes for a vibrant and engaging read.
The early analyses explore eight aspects of the election which emerged as our contributors reflected. There are explorations of the campaign tactics of the candidates, the rhetoric, advertising, body language and the interjections of celebrities. Policy differences, similarities and silences are assessed. While not a policy area in itself, diversity and social divisions became a key theme of the contest, therefore we dedicate a section to understanding how the election highlighted divisions in US society. The role of mainstream media is explored and critiqued, while others assess the coverage of the election from other nations. Digital media is deemed of sufficient importance to have a unique section, given it functioning as a space for both candidate campaigning and citizen commentary. Popular culture also played a key role, both in shaping perceptions of what a President should be as well as developing the persona of the candidates. The final section looks at the result, its implications for US and global politics and what we can infer with regards to the state of democracy in the US.
As the US and the world ponders on a future with Donald Trump leading the US, our project offers insights into how he came to power and what this means for us all.