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Polling Peculiarities: What Sets The 2016 Presidential Election Apart?
12/16/2016 Election Andrew S
keywords: Electoral College Politics Russian Hacking

Whatever your political opinion, there can be no doubt that Americans will remember the 2016 election as one of the most peculiar races in their history. With uniquely unpopular candidates, a massive electoral college-popular vote split, and the possibility of foreign interference, this election will remain controversial for years to come.

Candidate Characteristics

There were many factors setting Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump apart from previous candidates. Clinton was a former first lady and the first female major party nominee. Trump had no prior political experience, lacked the support of his party's past presidents, and expressed extreme views on issues like immigration, international involvement, and the rights of Muslims. The most peculiar feature, however, was arguably how unpopular both candidates were. With a "strongly unfavorable" rating of 53%, Trump was the most disliked major party nominee in US history; Clinton was the second most disliked with a 37% rating. This suggests growing polarization among the American public, as well as a general feeling that major party candidates do not reflect the will of the people.

Vote Variation

Although Trump unambiguously won the election, he received fewer popular votes than Clinton. This by itself is not unusual. For better or for worse, the electoral college system allows the winner of the popular vote to lose the election, and this had already happened three times in US history. What makes this election peculiar is the margin by which Clinton won the popular vote. She received 48.1% of the vote to Trump's 46%, giving her the largest popular vote victory of any losing candidate since 1876. That Clinton could receive so many more votes than her opponent and still lose the election reveals a vast disconnect among Americans. The swing state citizens who elected Trump saw the race very differently than the Californians and New Yorkers who handed Clinton the popular vote.

International Intervention?

Perhaps the most unsettling peculiarity of this election is the suggestion that Russian hacking may have decided the outcome. In the month since the election, the CIA has come forward with evidence that the Russian government may have hacked the Democratic National Committee and other liberal groups, using the information to undermine Clinton's campaign. Prominent members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat, have expressed concern over this report, worrying that it undermines the integrity of US elections. The possibility of hacking is a key reason that the election's results remain controversial, with many Democrats and some Republicans refusing to accept the legitimacy of Trump's victory.

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