Faculty Forum - Featured Post Posted on Friday, November 11, 2016

Trump’s Electoral Support in a Deeply Divided Country

Shyama Venkateswar Distinguished Lecturer, Hunter College and Director, Public Policy Program, Roosevelt House

The bitterly fought 2016 presidential election campaign ended with Donald Trump’s Electoral College victory over Hillary Clinton, which highlighted a deeply divided nation along race, class, and gender lines. It was the United States’ version of the Brexit vote: various analyses of the unexpected outcome have pointed to the support that Trump received from rural, white working-class voters who have been affected by the loss of manufacturing jobs outsourced to other countries, and who have been left behind by the country’s cultural and demographic shifts. With his unorthodox campaign, Trump tapped into what many have referred to as “a white populist rage.” Casting himself as an outsider to the insular world of Washington, D.C., his electoral strategy focused on immigrants and trade deals, which resonated with voters in districts where “the coal mines are gone, the steel mills are closed, the drugs are rampant, the towns are decimated and everywhere you look depression, despair, fear.

The Democratic Party, some have argued, was out of touch with the alienation white working-class voters felt which transcended gender lines. Even though 94 percent of black women and 68 percent of Hispanic or Latino female voters chose Hillary Clinton, an astounding 53 percent of all white female voters – who were thought to be firmly in Hillary Clinton’s camp – chose Trump. Adding to the challenge of Clinton not being able to connect with a segment of the white vote is the fact that there are 868 fewer voting stations in the country as a result of the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision. Clinton’s losses in key states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan made it impossible for her to secure a path towards the requisite 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency.

Trump has made building a wall on our southern border, deporting illegal immigrants, requiring Muslims to be registered on a database, rolling back LGBTQ rights, and canceling the Paris Climate accord key elements of his campaign promises. Even as anti-Trump protests take shape across the country, the ACLU has warned that his campaign promises are unconstitutional and that the civil liberties organization would see him in court were he to follow through on these actions.

Trump’s promise to focus on infrastructure – to build roads, highways, bridges and hospitals – is a start towards an economic plan which might help give much-needed momentum to the still struggling economy. However, with the current political polarization – which has only increased following his victory – he has his work cut out for him to bring the country together. Yet, despite the current national mood, one thing is clear in the post-election landscape: Americans will fight fiercely to defend civil liberties, to uphold Constitutional protections, and to maintain the rule of law. Tolerance, inclusion and justice are values that Americans have been proud of, and a Trump presidency is not going to easily divert those commitments.


Shyama Venkateswar is Director of the Public Policy Program at Roosevelt House and Distinguished Lecturer at Hunter College. In this capacity, she leads the Public Policy Program’s undergraduate curriculum, teaches the senior Capstone Seminar, co-manages faculty initiatives, works closely with city & state agencies for student internships, manages adjuncts, and directs a scholars program funded by the Jewish Foundation for Education of Women. She is a regular columnist for Roosevelt House’s website on a variety of national and global policy issues on conflict resolution, food security, women’s leadership, criminal justice reform, among others. She has almost twenty years of experience in research, policy and advocacy focusing on social justice issues, both in the U.S. and globally. Before coming to Hunter College, she worked at the National Council for Research on Women (NCRW), where she served as Director of Research & Programs, and helped provide the vision and strategic direction for the Council’s policy agenda on economic security for low-income women, diversity in higher education and the corporate arena, women’s leadership, and ending global violence against women. She is co-author of two NCRW reports, Caring for Our Nation’s Future; and The Challenge and the Charge: Strategies for Retaining and Advancing Women of Color in addition to numerous commentary and opinion pieces on poverty, job creation, peace-building, and immigrant rights published in The Miami Herald, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Asia Times, The Indian Express, and the Chicago Sun-Times. She has given Congressional briefings, and presented her research findings to academic, policy, advocacy and corporate audiences. She received her Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University and is a graduate of Smith College.