Thirteen Observations on the 2016 Election

On November 8, the United States held its quadrennial presidential election, along with many other elections for federal, state, and local offices. Thirteen observations on this event follow.

1. Predictions are increasingly unreliable. All of the polls leading up to the election indicated that Hillary Clinton would win, but Donald Trump won. Much like the Brexit vote in the UK in June, there was a group of voters who normally do not vote and supported a politically incorrect option who went undetected by pollsters. As veteran Republican operative Ned Ryun said, “The very premise of polling is based on the idea that voters will be completely honest with total strangers.” Betting markets fared no better. On Monday, three major betting sites predicted an 83 percent chance of a Clinton victory. A similar wrong prediction occurred with Brexit. All of this indicates what should have been common knowledge: the future is unknown and unknowable until it arrives.

2. The election did not end on November 8. The popular vote is over, but it does not determine the Presidency. The Electoral College members meet in their respective state capitals (electors for the District of Columbia meet within the District) on the Monday after the second Wednesday in December (December 19, 2016 in this case), at which time they cast their electoral votes on separate ballots for president and vice president. While unlikely, the electors could defy the will of the people and elect someone other than Trump if they so choose, and some Clinton supporters are asking for this to happen.

3. All votes are wasted in the presidential race, and the majority of votes are wasted in the other races. The definition of a wasted vote is a vote which does not help elect a candidate. In the presidential contest, only Electoral College votes matter. Therefore, all popular votes for President are wasted. In the races in which popular votes directly determine the outcome, all votes for losing candidates are wasted, as well as all votes for winning candidates which went above the amount necessary to win. Thus, the percentage of wasted votes in a race may be given as

W = 100% − (Second highest vote percentage)% − 1 vote,

which will be at least 50 percent unless only two candidates receive votes and the winner wins by only one vote.

4. Elections are quite costly to conduct. The estimated cost of the 2016 election is $6.8 billion. To put that in perspective, let us consider what else could have been accomplished with that amount of funding. Applied to various causes, $6.8 billion looks like the following:

Regardless of what one thinks of these expenditures, surely all of these are better uses of money than the further enrichment of political consultants, lobbyists, and financiers while the American people continue to suffer.

5. This was not a change election. For the first time in many election cycles, it cannot truthfully be said that there was not a dime’s worth of difference between the major-party candidates. But despite all the pleading from the talking heads that this was the most important election of our lifetime, this does not mean that anything will really change. Due to economic ignorance and the inertia of the current system, it is unlikely that Trump will be able to keep his most lofty campaign promises. Had Clinton won, her presidency would probably have been much like that of Barack Obama, and conditions would continue to worsen. Depending on whether or not the Senate had flipped to Democratic control, her first two years might have resembled Obama’s last two years or middle four years. Had a miracle occurred to give Gary Johnson or Jill Stein the Presidency, either one of them would have faced a Congress that would be entirely in opposition, as no House or Senate members are Libertarians or Greens. Congress might resolve its gridlock, but only to work against them, override their vetoes, and pass laws to keep any future third-party candidates from succeeding.

6. Reactionary and anti-establishment sentiment will continue to grow, though the alt-right may be short-lived. The victory of Trump will embolden the alt-right, which almost unanimously supported his candidacy. Regardless of how successful Trump is, they are now a movement which helped place one major-party candidate in the White House and drew enough attention from the other major-party candidate to get a speech dedicated to them. However, the future of the alt-right is uncertain. Will the disparate groups within the alt-right maintain a coalition or go their separate ways? With they find a home within the Republican Party, leave the political scene when the Trump administration does, or bolster a future third-party candidate? Only time will tell.

7. The protesters in the streets are stupid, but not surprising. On the evening of November 9, demonstrators took to the streets in several major cities to signal their disapproval of Trump. But they had the chance to do that in the voting booth on November 8 and for several weeks prior. If they were protesting against democracy itself and were upset that anyone would be President of the United States, then their actions would make more sense. But like petulant children, they are whining because they did not get their way. This is par for the course for the left; there is a well-established historical record of leftists seeking a do-over until they get the electoral results they want, followed by moves to prevent further debate of an issue.

8. Johnson and Stein were inept candidates. In a year marked by a rejection of the familiar, the two largest third parties decided to rehash their nominees from 2012, and both of them appeared worse for the wear. Johnson gaffed badly when asked about Aleppo and foreign leaders, and Stein vandalized construction equipment. Johnson had a multitude of deviations from libertarian positions on issues, and Stein only seemed to believe in science when it suited her. The end result was that the entire third-party vote was under 5 percent, despite historically disliked duopoly candidates.

9. Then again, the alternatives to them were even worse. There were five serious contenders for the Libertarian presidential nomination: Johnson, John McAfee, Austin Petersen, Darryl Perry, and Marc Allan Feldman. Feldman died several weeks after the convention, so nominating him could have caused a crisis within the party. Perry was a stronger libertarian on the issues, but his presentation would likely have been even more off-putting to most voters than Johnson’s. McAfee has a rather sordid past, and revealed himself to be a social justice warrior in his concession speech at the convention. Petersen might have been a better choice to present to voters, but he is no solid libertarian either.

Stein faced no serious challenge to her bid for the Green Party presidential nomination, with William Kreml’s primary win in his home state of South Carolina being the only result keeping her from unanimity.

10. The perceived legitimacy of a presidential candidate hinges on presence in general election debates. As always, third-party candidates faded away as Election Day approached. This is mostly because the Commission on Presidential Debates keeps them out of the general election debates, which many people use to determine which candidate they should support. A candidate who does not appear in the debates is thus not viewed as a serious contender. This means that if a future third-party candidate wants to have a chance of winning, then that candidate must not allow the CPD to effectively silence them.

11. No one but Hillary Clinton is to blame for Hillary Clinton losing. Predictably, leftist media outlets are blaming Johnson and Stein for “siphoning,” “taking,” or even “stealing” votes from Clinton, describing them is this year’s equivalent of Ralph Nader in 2000. But there is no such thing as this, aside from the voter fraud which is disproportionately committed by Democrats. For people who claim to believe in democracy, Democrats are quite eager to deny choice to the people if it helps their candidate to win. The reality is that votes must be earned, and Clinton did not do enough to earn the votes of Libertarians or Greens.

12. Vote swapping is a terrible idea. The idea of vote swapping is that a third-party supporter in a swing state should make an agreement with a major-party supporter in a safe state to swap votes. This is a terrible idea on four counts. First, there is no guarantee that the safe state voter or voters will actually vote third-party. Such a proposal could simply be a ruse by major-party supporters to weaken third parties. Second, the way that third parties have historically made a difference has been to exceed the margin of victory between the major-party candidates in close elections, thus making the major parties pay attention to their issues in order to court their voters. With vote swapping, the voters who support third parties can be safely ignored by Republicans and Democrats. Third, a third party requires a certain percentage of the vote in each state to remain on ballots in the next election cycle without having to pay filing fees or gather petition signatures. Fourth, it causes the voter base of the party to be inauthentic, in that the believers in that party’s message are not voting for that party, and vice versa. A vote swapping strategy makes third parties fade into irrelevancy in all of these senses, and should therefore be rejected.

13. Leftist cries of bigotry will continue to backfire. Predictably, leftist elites have yet again failed to engage in any self-reflection concerning their policies, which have enriched themselves at the expense of the common person for at least a generation. Their immigration and trade policies have depressed wages, endangered safety, shipped jobs overseas, and eroded cultural identities. Their foreign policies have contributed to terrorism and cost a fortune. Their domestic policies have led to increasing police statism and national debt. But rather than acknowledge that they have done wrong, the leftist elites have decided to deride the voting public as racists and sexists. Not only does this misunderstand what motivates most people to vote against the establishment, it will only serve to throw gasoline onto the fire. There is a proverb in the Deep South of the United States: “If you knock on the devil’s door long enough, someone will answer you.” At some point, the common people will conclude that if they will be accused of racism and sexism regardless of their actions and words, then they might as well be racist and sexist. To some extent, this has already happened with the rise of the alt-right, but that movement has plenty of room to grow and newly fertile ground in which to do so.

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  • p nelson

    Regardless of what one thinks of these expenditures, surely all of these are better uses of money than the further enrichment of political consultants, lobbyists, and financiers while the American people continue to suffer.

    The people who are enriched by campaign spending are web-designers, ad-copy writers, graphic artists, art directors, people who work in broadcasting (technicians, makers of broadcasting gear, etc), printers, photographers and videographers, video and sound editors, actors, sound technicians, and lots of other “little” people. Because at the end of the day, all those billions of dollars of campaign spending go to the producers and distributors of all that political advertising that we see on the web, on TV, in print, or in our mailbox. I know people who work in newspapers and printing companies and business has been very good thanks to the election. I used to do commercial photography and I had both Republican and Democratic political candidates as clients, and I didn’t care as long as I got paid. So that money is not wasted – it ends up in the pockets of lots of ordinary people who spend it on whatever they think is best. In fact since it’s often rich people (Koch, Soros) who freely supply the money and working people (above) who receive it, campaign political spending is a form of redistribution that even a libertarian should love.

    leftist elites … immigration and trade policies have depressed wages, endangered safety, shipped jobs overseas, and eroded cultural identities.

    It’s not clear what this is a reference to because in this election both the left (Sanders) and the right (Trump) have very similar protectionist trade policies. Regarding immigration, the left’s policy is closer to a libertarian policy of free movement of labor. Why shouldn’t I have the right to hire the best person for the job, and why shouldn’t that person should have a right to come here to be hired? On what (libertarian) basis should the government set a quota of how many Indians or Chinese I can hire, or tell me where I have to manufacture my product? Really, having the government tell private individuals what arrangements they should be able to make regarding labor is the antithesis of libertarianism.