The Secrecy of the Voting Booth May Help Divisive and Racist Trump Win

On the eve of the first presidential caucus result, like many others, I sat eagerly anticipating the exit polls late into the night. Or perhaps it was just me. Nevertheless, as I sat there listening to CSPAN radio, one caller began to peak my interest. He suggested that even though Donald Trump had clearly been out-polling his rivals in Iowa, as well as nationally, he may stretch even further what journalists and commentators were predicting to be a Trump victory.

Because of his divisive, socially unacceptable and racist image many Americans - according to this caller - who have an affinity for Trump feel held back from publicly declaring their support. This perception was the reason Trump’s polling was strong, but by no means representative of his true level of support, in Iowa or elsewhere. When the voters had the privacy of the voting booth, he noted, or the confidence and support of like-minded individuals, the result would be catastrophic. Of course, the caller hung up and Trump proceeded to lose in Iowa. But the caller’s rationale was sound, whatever the media focus, still applies.

In the event, Ted Cruz out-polled predictions by between 2 and 8 points to win the highest number of delegates and, consequently, the state’s nomination. Cruz’s victory changed the press coverage. After weeks of hyper-examination of the Trump issue, suddenly it stopped. The complacent panopticon of the broadcast media began to shift as soon as Cruz was declared the winner in Iowa. The media narrative (and betting markets) focused in Marco Rubio’s unexpected third place, following his unexpectedly high third place. Even Trump was unusually subdued in the subsequent GOP debate.

It makes sense that press coverage would attempt to re-angle the media storm to show Cruz’s win and Rubio’s surge as a sign that ‘the Donald’ was less formidable. However, as history shows, the Iowa caucus is not the greatest gauge of success. In 2008, Mike Huckabee was the Republican winner in Iowa by almost ten points. He lost the nomination to Mitt Romney. George H W Bush came third in 1988 the Iowa caucuses; he went on to become president that year.

prejudice is something that bubbles away under the surface until it is safe to come out

The caucuses can potentially produce outcomes that grossly misrepresent the true intentions of local party members: diehard activists, who attend often small gatherings to speak on behalf of their chosen candidates, are able to exert a lot of influence; voting is often done by raising the hand or by breaking into groups. Social attitude mitigates against extreme, or non-traditional, candidates. As our CSPAN caller asserted, many Trump supporters are not so rambunctious in announcing their preference, a phenomenon similar to the ‘Shy Tory Effect’ in the UK’s May general election. How many caucus goers were unwilling to stand in a room beside their peers and align with Trump? It would have been a ‘coming out of the closet’ type experience. After all, prejudice is something that bubbles away under the surface until it is safe to come out.

Trump still leads the field for the Republican nomination. In New Hampshire his lead has increased. Yet it is those unrepresented by mainstream politics and previously disinclined to exercise their right to vote who will turn out for Trump, not any of the establishment candidates. Last week Bernie Sanders said, ‘Democrats win when voter turnout is high and Republicans win when turnout is low.’ It was less a partisan statement than one intimating that, populist candidates win when new and unengaged voters actually vote. Trump has certainly roused a swollen mass of potential working class voters. He has become the self-proclaimed champion of this demographic. ‘We are gonna build a wall,’ he shouted ‘And who is gonna pay for it?’ In unison, the faithful replied, ‘Mexico.’

In Iowa, a state where voter participation is low, Trump lost the nomination by only one delegate. Nationally, he continues to soar ahead of his Republican contemporaries. The majority of states - starting with New Hampshire on 9th February - have a primary system, where voters have the benefit of a secret ballot, and activist influence reduced; Trump’s loss in Iowa is little more than a pothole in the road. The more inviting, welcoming culture of the primary system which predominates the race is, as the CSPAN caller noted last Monday, bound to encourage the Trump masses to vote. And when they do, it may well be that Trump’s followers exercise their constitutional right with utter free will, unfettered by their leering peers. Iowa, as history has shown again and again, means little and Trump should not be disregarded as a potential winner.

After a robotic debate performance Rubio’s surge could be just another flash in the pan. His inexperience showed. Meanwhile, Trump is running a non-traditional campaign in a party that has usually opted for establisment candidates. Can he confound his critics? By the time the votes have been counted in New Hampshire, we may know the answer.

Leon Zadok

More about the author

About the author

Leon Zadok writes on politics with a focus on opinion and analysis, and tea. Being a recent graduate in law from Leeds Beckett and having written for the local press and online, Leon is sure he has got it all figured out. Previously contributing to Column F, The York Press, The Wakefield Express, and The Yorkshire Post, to name a few, Leon works on a freelance basis and writes regularly for Disclaimer.

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