Penn State profs, local politician dissect presidential election

President-elect Donald Trump pumps his fist after giving his acceptance speech as his wife Melania Trump, right, and their son Barron Trump follow him during his election night rally on Wednesday in New York.
President-elect Donald Trump pumps his fist after giving his acceptance speech as his wife Melania Trump, right, and their son Barron Trump follow him during his election night rally on Wednesday in New York. AP

It was the election that shocked people to the core. The polls were wrong. The pundits, the websites, the charts and percentages.

Except, was it? Really?

Not necessarily, according to Penn State associate professor of political science Michael Nelson.

“All the political science kind of basic fundamental models predicted a Republican win,” he said.

Take away all the electoral math and political guesswork and there is one simple truth. A White House that has been in one party’s hands for eight years is probably going to switch sides. The instances where that hasn’t happened, like Ronald Reagan being succeeded by George H.W. Bush in 1988, are the rare exceptions to the rule.

“A lot of people had walked that back on the theory that (Donald) Trump was an unusual candidate,” Nelson said. “But if you had asked somebody two years ago what the election result would be, it would be remarkably similar to what we saw last night. People kind of lost sight of the fact that elections are pretty boring and you can predict them if you know a little bit about the economy and who has been in power.”

Now there are similar questions about what a Trump presidency will look like. How many of his campaign promises will actually come to fruition?

Well, some, sure, but not necessarily all.

“Certainly he’s going to come into office with a Republican House and Republican Senate, and that is going to work with him to get things done,” Nelson said.

But he said that’s not a blanket approval for all his policies. After all, Trump spent much of the time since his June 2015 candidacy announcement at odds with not just Democrats but much of the Republican establishment and leadership, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

“It’s certainly not a blank check,” Nelson said.

While this historic election didn't bring the U.S. its first female president, there were some other firsts. Explore the results, reaction and history of Election Day 2016.

Zach Baumann is a lecturer and internship director in Penn State’s political science department. He said much of the future of the Trump presidency will not be about what happens in Congress, but what he chooses to do, or has done, himself.

“...Who President-elect Trump considers appointing to key staff and Cabinet positions could be consequential. Because his campaign largely focused on big-picture policy goals — like ‘Make America Great Again’ and ‘America First’ — who lands in these posts should tell us a lot about the direction he wants to take the federal government,” he said.

And then there’s how he chooses to work with his legislature.

“Additionally, his preference to craft his own policies and shepherd them through Congress or allow the legislative branch considerable authority in the design of bills will be important. Will he leave the bulk of policy creation up to Congress or will he try to be an active participant?” Baumann said.

So what about those people who are pricing moving trucks for re-location to Canada or a nice, friendly-to-expats island in the Caribbean? Do they have the right idea or is that just sour grapes — the same kind of grapes, incidentally, many on the right were munching on after Barack Obama’s election?

“The most important thing anyone can do is just get involved in the process,” Nelson said. “You need to have a good slate of candidates. They need good people to run for office. Being involved in the process is important regardless. It’s easy to say you’re going to pack your bags and move to Canada, but that’s being the little kid in the playground who takes his ball and goes home.”

State Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, agrees.

“Whether you are happy or unhappy, people went to the polls and voted. They picked the person they thought was best,” he said. “We need to do that every year, not just presidential years. Your township, your borough council, your school board, they have more impact on your lives than your president or member of congress. Those are the ones that do your zoning, spend the money, fix your roads, those affect your lives. They do those jobs because the work needs to be done.”

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce