To fix our fractured society, we must understand why people voted for Donald Trump

To fix our fractured society, we must understand why people voted for Donald Trump

Catherine Neilan

17:08 4th November 2020

As I write, my social media is full of people expressing confusion, disbelief and despair that the results of an election they thought was sewn up is too close to call.

The polls, their social network - and, as a result, their gut - had told them that the voters of the US would easily jettison Donald Trump in favour of Democratic rival Joe Biden.

With millions of ballots still to be counted, it may well turn out that the divisive tycoon turned leader of the free world is ejected from the White House with enough votes that his initial claims of a "major fraud" can be as easily tossed out. But even if he goes - and it is still a sizeable if - the problem with the facture in Western politics remains.

I say Western politics because it is not only in the US, although it is arguably most acute there. But the response today is exactly the same one I saw in 2015, 2016, 2017 and even 2019 when Boris Johnson wiped the floor with Jeremy Corbyn, winning an 80-seat majority on his promise to Get Brexit Done.

Sure, the pollsters have got it wrong and arguably some of the commentators too - although I can guarantee that almost every viewpoint is covered by the media in one form or another right now, despite what the naysayers might believe.

But the extent of the disbelief comes from something much more fundamental: it is a function of our divided societies.

To the liberal, well educated and broadly well-off, the idea that millions of people would vote for Trump once is hard to understand. The idea that millions of people would vote for him a second time is inconceivable. It is just as unfathomable as the fact that millions of people would vote for Brexit without being manipulated by Russia, or that they would vote for the man who said he would get it done (especially if you had doubts about his ability to do it).

Brexit and the first Trump win were dismissed as protest votes. But it's clear that they are more than that. This is something people want knowingly and willingly. Those who don't want it need to understand why.

Talk of a civil war might be overblown (although with a massive spike in gun sales in the run-up to November 3rd, it definitely feels like it at times).

The truth is there is now a fundamental divide in our societies, and it is not necessarily even one that splits along normal right-left lines. There are plenty of Republicans who are desperate to see the back of Trump, just as there are many Conservatives who believe Brexit is deeply damaging, while many more Labour MPs understand the rationale of their constituents who voted Leave.

But while at times it feels scary - and the abuse directed at MPs, journalists or simply normal people who express an alternative view is scary - we are lucky that it is still possible for us to discuss politics without risk of imprisonment or worse. We are lucky that we live in a society where we do not know for certain the outcome of an election before the votes are counted.

If we are serious about keeping things that way, all of us have a responsibility to start engaging properly. We need to understand why it is that people vote for things - like Trump, like Brexit - that seem on the rational face of it to be self-harmful.

We need to fix our fractured society, take the heat out of the conversation and have an honest discussion about what people want when they vote a certain way, and why. If we can mend the tears in our social fabric, we have a chance of bringing people back from the kinds of extreme situations we have seen in recent years, where death threats become par for the course.

One of the reasons our politics is broken is that our dialogue has broken down. By talking to each other, we can start to find common ground.

Subscribe to receive regular email updates:     

Tags: Donald Trump Elections Joe Biden Democracy