Slightly less than half of America’s voters awoke this morning with a satisfied feeling. Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States.
Slightly less than half awoke this morning with a very severe case of morning-after syndrome, questioning the judgment of their fellow Americans, feeling confused and uneasy.
Had the election results matched the trends in the pre-election polls, the same feelings would be present in the electorate, just assigned to different groups. About half satisfied. About half uneasy.
Talk about a divided nation.
It appears that Secretary Clinton attracted the votes of a slightly larger slightly less than half of the voting public than Mr. Trump. But no one attracted majority support.
This is hardly an historic result, especially in recent years. Counting last night, more than half of the presidential elections in the last quarter century have been won by a candidate who did not secure a majority of the popular vote.
There is much we will learn in the days and weeks ahead about how this election played out. Pollsters will do a very serious post-mortem; not since Truman vs. Dewey have the poll results and the resulting predictions been so far from the mark, and not only in the general election, but in the primaries.
Campaign strategists and political pundits alike will weigh in on the critical elements of Mr. Trump’s success. We’ll talk about “movements” and personalities, about ground games and media campaigns, about videos, WikiLeaks, and Attorney General James Comey.
But it is important to remember how little we actually can learn from a single election, whether for president or for property appraiser.
Granted, we have a LOT of data from this presidential election. All kinds of interesting analyses can be run on such a wealth, enough to occupy analysts and academics for a decade.
What we don’t have, what we never have, and what we can’t have, is the ability to test any of the various causal propositions that people will offer as explanations for the central questions: Why did Trump win? Why did Clinton lose?
We can’t test these propositions because to test them, we’d have to have what scientists call “control” in some form, mimicking in meaningful fashion the controlled laboratory experiment. We can capture correlations, but a correlation is not a causal link. We might observe, for example, that Secretary Clinton’s support declined in the days after Attorney General Comey announced the re-opened email investigation. But support might have declined without it as voters worked their way through a choice most considered unpleasant. It might have been that Mr. Trump’s campaign swings through Midwestern states mobilized thousands of voters who otherwise would not have come out, or brought them solidly into the Trump/Pence camp. It might have been that the steady drumbeat of attack ads from Clinton/Kaine backfired, that people who were on the fence became fed up and voted against the attackers.
Or it might simply have been the power of the Republican National Committee’s ground game.
Or any number of other things.
In my opinion (humble or otherwise), one thing matters: how are we going to go forward?
To that end, President-elect Trump probably surprised some folks by doing what newly elected presidents should do. He paid tribute to Secretary Clinton as a person, as a candidate and as a public servant. He promised to be a president for all the people. He reminded us of what his larger (and more positive) goals were. He even assured our friends and adversaries around the world of our steadfastness as an ally to those who seek to work with us.
No, he’s not an orator. If one is a fan of fine prose declaimed with rhetorical finesse, one is going to be disappointed a lot in the next four years. But oratory is only one element of presidential leadership.
One of the great virtues of this remarkable nation is our belief in and support for this political process we created (and at times hate). Even in this year of extraordinary vitriol, the business of moving forward has begun. We will wipe off the layers of mud, shake off the painful images and soundbites, and decide that, after all, this is our country, regardless of who is in the White House.
We may be proud and thrilled, or perplexed and troubled, by what the American electorate has wrought.
But in a sense, none of that matters now.
We will have a peaceful transfer of power. We will have a new administration. And we, as a nation, will move forward.
Let’s do it together.