An Unexpected Election

Economic and political forces changing politics.

Robert Spendlove Nov 1, 2016

The long election process is over. The country selected a new president who will lead the executive branch of government for the next four years (and maybe more, with some luck). It was a fascinating election that played out for months and years.

Who thought two years ago that Republican voters would choose Donald Trump as their nominee, defeating over a dozen more qualified candidates? And who expected Hillary Clinton to face such a struggle against an insurgent campaign from Bernie Sanders and the progressive wing of her party?

This unexpected election process was the result of underlying economic and political forces that are changing politics in the United States today.

Demographic Changes Altering the Typical American Voter

The Baby Boom generation is aging and Gen Xers and millennials are assuming more control over the country. The millennial generation, now entering the workforce and voting, are fundamentally altering the nature of the country. They are less likely to be defined by traditional notions of what it means to be an American. They are more fluid in their political attitudes and don’t adhere to the black and white definitions of previous generations. They are more multicultural and want flexibility in work, politics and life. Clashes are occurring between the older Boomers and those generations who are taking control.

Economic Changes Creating Uncertainty

The U.S. economy endured many difficulties in the past decade. During the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009, more than 8.7 million Americans lost their jobs. At the height of the recession, the economy was losing more than 700,000 jobs per month. Although the recession ended in 2010 and14 million jobs have been created since then, many people feel like the tough times never really ended.

This is partly because many jobs lost during the recession never came back. Technological changes eliminated many of them and jobs created in the new economy are fundamentally different than those that were lost. To many people, it is too difficult and too costly to stay competitive in the new workforce, and they have chosen to instead stay on the sidelines. As a result, the U.S. labor force participation rate remains at levels not seen since the 1970s.

Changes Creating Political Upheaval

After the 2012 election cycle, the Republican Party went through an extensive process of assessing what it took to reach out to this new generation. This assessment recommended the party become more nimble, inclusive and multicultural. However, this year Republican voters elected Donald Trump, who voiced the sentiment that America needs to be more protectionist, isolationist and put “America First” in international relations.

On the Democratic side, few imagined the kind of impact Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont could have. Many were amazed that a 75-year-old man created such enormous excitement from the youngest voters in the country. However, his populist message of promoting the working class and fighting against a “rigged economy” resonated with progressives and had a large impact on the entire Democratic party. Although Hillary Clinton prevented an upset in the Democrat nomination process, it was a difficult and costly exercise.

Leading in Times of Uncertainty

Although this election season was defined by strife and struggle, America will survive, and it will thrive. Our next president must rise to the challenge of leading a country facing uncertainty. The president must unite the country and bring people together. The president must reach out to the disaffected and to those who have been left behind by a changing economy and society. Our country has the ability to accomplish great things with the right leadership.

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