William Dunlop, assistant professor in the department of psychology at UCR, recently published a paper that analyzed how Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton voters perceived the night of the 2016 election and how they recount that night in retrospect.
The Highlander sat down with Dunlop in order to get a better understanding of his research. Dunlop said that his research looks at the “master narratives” of what he considers the two groups that comprise the, in his words, “U.S. cultural civil war”: Trump voters and Clinton voters. Dunlop conducted this research because, like many others, he felt at a loss on the day of the election and wished to gain a better understanding of election night.
After recording accounts of election night from Trump and Clinton voters, Dunlop found two major differences. He claimed that Clinton voters told “contaminated” stories of the election, meaning that their experiences of the night began with positive sensations but ended with negative feelings, while Trump voters’ stories were redemptive. This means that their experience began negative but ended positively. Dunlop claimed that he and his team are continuously assessing these narratives in order to understand how voters feel now that it has been a year into Trump’s presidency. Dunlop stated that, “Soon enough, we will have a better understanding of these two groups’ narratives now that it has been a year since the election.”
Yasmeen Dabbas, the Program Coordinator of the Middle Eastern Student Center at UCR, was with a large group of other students at the HUB on election day. “The atmosphere in the HUB started off as one of humor and excitement but it quickly turned to one of fear and anxiety,” she recalled. Victor Meza, a student from UCR’s LGBT Resource Center, told a similar narrative: “It was unreal. It was terrifying. I couldn’t believe it was real life. It was devastating and the whole world was watching.”
Lewis Luartz, a teaching assistant at UCR and Ph.D. candidate in political science recalls feeling “angry and disappointed” the night of the election. “I could not believe a person who said derogatory things about people with disabilities, women and minorities could be elected in the United States in this day in and age given the current culture,” he shared over email.
Luartz noted that he had felt disappointment about previous elections but, on election night, “found that disappointment amplified to levels of both complete dissatisfaction and embarrassment; that is, dissatisfaction at how he has handled his position, and embarrassment when the realization that he represents the people in this country (including me).”
Dunlop claims that Clinton voters’ narrative of contamination allows this group to collectively engage and act politically, stating, “Their stories of contamination make them want a redemptive narrative. Clinton voters are now more willing to become involved in politics.” In January of 2017, UCR students occupied the Bell Tower in opposition to Trump’s temporary ban on immigration from seven Middle Eastern countries. Frankie Younger, a student from UCR’s LGBT Resource Center, recalls seeing the protest (entitled “No Ban No Wall”) and feeling “obligated to take part in it. It was scary, but I feel like Trump’s presidency has forced me to become more politically active. This past year, I’ve seen political activeness become a part of our culture.”
Jorge Flores, internal vice-chair of UCR’s College Republicans, has a more redemptive narrative of election night compared to the contaminated narratives of Clinton voters. “I personally was very excited because I believed the election to be a 50/50 chance for both,” Flores wrote in an email. “As time passed that night I realized that America was tired of the left way of government, watching states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania lean republican (sic) was a big surprise but a clear message that the american (sic) people would not accept socialist policies any longer.”
Throughout the past year of Trump’s presidency, many students felt directly targeted by Trump and his administration. Dabbas recounted how, after Trump signed the temporary executive order that barred immigration from predominantly Muslim countries, “Iranian students were really impacted … Many of their family members could not enter the country and they had MESC as a resource and I thought that it was so inspiring.”
Diana Romero, a student from the Undocumented Student Programs at UCR shared that her family was directly impacted by Trump’s termination of DACA in early September. “I know a lot of dreamers who are affected by this termination,” she said, “My cousins were freaking out when they learned the news. I felt helpless and the only thing I could do to help was protest.”
Amaryllis Williams, a student from African Student Programs, noted, “A lot of people think that immigration policies only target Mexican immigrants but a lot of my friends in ASP are Nigerian and it affects their parents. My best friend is Indian and her parents can’t come see her. The people close to me are directly affected.”
While Meza previously claimed that Trump’s election was terrifying, he also stated, “In a way it is sort of exciting that we are the generation that sees this and experiences it. I never expected myself to be a part of something so revolutionary. Something that will be a part of the textbooks.”