The 2016 election still haunts us: A retrospective

Photo of 2016 election night protests
Mikaela Raphael/File

While COVID-19 has changed life as we know it, and while four years ago seems like a completely different world, many of the anxieties surrounding the 2020 election are haunted by the spectre of the 2016 election.

President Donald Trump clinched an unexpected victory in the election four years ago, a moment in United States history that, for many UC Berkeley students and staffers at The Daily Californian, generated a mixture of anxiety and consternation. The Trump election and presidency for many staffers has represented a threat to their community, whether they are women, LGBTQ+ or Latinx.

The day after the 2016 election, UC Berkeley students began rallying and marching to protest Trump’s victory. The angry reaction to his win was due, in part, to sheer surprise: Most news sources had projected a landslide Democratic win, some going so far as to predict that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton had a 90% chance of becoming the United States’ first female president. 

Daily Cal news staff attributed the discrepancy between polling data and the outcome in part to the Bradley effect, a political science term meaning that part of the electorate voices support for one candidate while voting for the other.

After Trump’s election in 2016, UC Berkeley students reported experiencing identity-based harassment, including being called anti-Latinx epithets. This coincided with an increase in race-based hate crimes across the nation.

Trump pledged to remove millions of undocumented immigrants during the 2016 election, further sparking xenophobic sentiment, then attempted to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program while in office. Janet Napolitano, the president of the University of California at the time, was among the leaders in California public higher education urging Trump to protect the program. Earlier this year, the UC Board of Regents won the U.S, Supreme Court case which found the Department of Homeland Security’s rescindment of DACA to be “arbitrary.” 

While experts in California politics projected that about one-third of Latinx voters would vote for the incumbent, former California state senator Kevin de León said he hopes the Latinx community votes in favor of Biden, given that Trump has made racist comments and instituted discriminatory policies over the past four years.

Additionally, 2020 marks the 100 year anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which expanded voting rights to women. It also marks the four year anniversary of Catherine Straus’s column on how far women’s liberation still has to go, especially with a president who made sexist comments in the name of “locker room talk.”

The untimely death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Supreme Court justice and feminist icon, and her subsequent replacement by conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett just eight days prior to the election reminds voters of fraught women’s rights under the Trump presidency. 

One of the biggest changes between 2016 and 2020 is widespread concern around mail-in voting. 

In 2016, Alameda County installed 24-hour ballot drop boxes in every city to make mail-in voting more convenient, and, that year, Alameda County saw twice as many mail-in-ballots as in-person voters.

Now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, voting in-person may not just be inconvenient, but hazardous to one’s health. 

Changing to an almost entirely mail-in voting paradigm, however, could have consequences, and some UC Berkeley experts are concerned that the controversies around mail-in voting will cause some voters to believe that the election results are illegitimate.

A September 2020 poll of California voters released by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies found that 70% of Biden supporters would feel “relieved” if he won the Oval Office. 

The presidential candidates are both white men, and, regardless of the election results, the winner will become the oldest American president in history. 

Contact Eric Rogers at [email protected].