Political Polarization in the USA and the 2016 Election

Pre-University Paper, 2018

15 Pages, Grade: 1



1. Introduction

2. Overview
2.1 Literature
2.2 Background Information

3. Analysis
3.1 America as a Divided Country
3.2 Campaign Against All Elites
3.3 Clinton as Trump’s Political Opponent

4. Conclusion
4.1 Final Answer to Research Questions
4.2 Prospect: The 2020 Election

5. References
5.1 List of References
5.2 List of Figures
5.3 List of Surveys

6. Declaration of Independent Scientific Work

1. Introduction

The election of the former businessman and TV personality Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States of America (US) was a shock not only for America but also for the world. The unprecedented outcome of the election on 8th November 2016 followed a campaign like no other the world had ever seen before. Although struggling in the polls in the course of the electoral campaign, Trump managed to win 306 electoral delegates over to his side compared to his opponent Hillary Clinton’s 232 electoral delegates. Because of the unpredictable result of the 2016 electoral campaign, I was highly interested in the background of and reasons for this development which I am going to elaborate in further detail.

In order to understand why such an unforeseen event as Trump winning the election could happen, it is necessary to examine the political development in recent years leading to the image of American politics that can be seen today. Moreover, one needs to consider the electoral strategy of the Trump campaign targeting the hate and distrust of parts of the American population against the Washington establishment.

Therefore, one has to ask themselves how American politics became as polarized as they are today and how Trump was able to use the polarization within the population to promote his campaign. Furthermore, it is crucial to take a look at in how far the nomination of Hillary Clinton as his opponent played into Trump’s hands as well.

In the following, I am going to give a brief overview of the literature I used and some background information about the biography of Donald Trump and American politics in the past. Subsequently, I will analyse the political development that left the US as a deeply divided country in terms of political polarization as well as the strategy of Trump’s campaign against all elites. Another focus of the analysis is going to be the nomination of Clinton and its consequences for the Trump campaign. Thereupon, I am going to conclude by answering my research questions and by presenting a possible prospect of the next presidential election in 2020.

2. Overview

2.1 Literature

The analysis is based on the books “Die Akte Trump” by David C. Johnston which focuses on the important events in the life of the current President, “Die gespaltenen Staaten von Amerika” by Winand Gellner and Michael Oswald consisting of essays by various authors which deal with several analyses of the election and the political polarization throughout the last decades, and “The Unprecedented 2016 Presidential Election” by Rachel Bitecofer which attempts to explain the election through a strategic focus. Another book that was used is “Nach Obama” by Christoph Bieber which emphasizes Trump’s use of the political cleavage of the population, as well as numerous polls and surveys and the worksheet “Isolationism vs. Internationalism”.1

2.2 Background Information

Biography of Donald J. Trump.2 The Trump family first set their foot on American ground when Friedrich Trump, Donald Trump’s grandfather, moved to the US to avoid serving in the German military in 1885. He then started the “family tradition” of accumulating wealth with questionable methods. After the early death of Friedrich Trump, his wife Elizabeth and his twelve-year old son Frederick founded the car park construction company Elizabeth Trump & Son, Fred’s ticket into the world of the real estate industry. On his way to extreme wealth he did not hesitate to build relationships with criminals such as the Mafia families Genovese and Gambino (which “are maintained by Donald Trump decades later”). Fred later married and had five children, Donald, born on the 14th June 1946 in New York, was his fourth child. He attended an undergraduate-program at the University of Pennsylvania and acquired a bachelor in economic sciences. After his graduation, Trump took his place in his father’s company and started transacting his own real estate business. He later divided his business segments into properties (e.g. golf courses), hotels, gambling and apartment buildings. In order to reach international popularity, he proceeded to build his “landmark on the Fifth Avenue, the Trump Tower”. Furthermore, he is the author of several books (e.g. “The Art of the Deal”), temporarily was the owner of his private football-team and was starring in the TV series “The Apprentice”. Estimating his capital is very difficult considering his varying statements about it, however, it is publicly known that Trump was almost heading for ruin in 1990 and could only be rescued by the government since he was deemed “too big to fail”. Trump married three times, the first time in 1977 Ivana Trump who bore his first three children Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric. His second marriage to Marla Maples started in 1993 and resulted in the birth of Tiffany Trump. Currently, Donald Trump is married to Melania Trump who he had his youngest son Barron with.

Brief summary of American politics and historical events.3 As early as the first Puritan settlements on American ground were founded, Americans had a “missionary aspiration”: The Puritan preacher John Winthrop phrased it as “a shining city upon a hill”, meaning that “every nation has concluded an accord with God and the Puritans had to leave England because it was breached there” so the new American community “should be a model for other countries”.4 Phases of internationalism alternated with phases of isolationism. In the first half of the 20th century the US twice decided to become involved in a world war to pave the way for democracy and later (after 1945) “fought against what they considered to be in the way of an ideal state of the world”: The Soviet Union. The 1960s were an era of American over-extension of powers (especially in the Vietnam War). The next 10 years were “a decade of great reluctance in terms of US engagements” in which isolationist views gained ground. This decade was followed by “renewed international activism” in the 1980s with military interventions against communism and terrorism. After the Soviet Union had broken apart, the US was the “sole remaining global power” and although it is “trying to avoid the danger of again over-extending its powers [...] it is still being constantly asked to become active in trouble spots all over the world”. After the terror attack on 9/11 a new era of war against terror began under President Bush, starting the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan with the justification of the Bush Doctrine5.

3. Analysis

3.1 America as a Divided Country

Long ago, there was a time when America had a clear conception of itself: It wanted to be the model-community for other nations to follow which can be seen “at different times, for example during the Cold War and recently in the war against terrorism”6 7. Another deeply American image is the American Dream, a common theme meaning that everyone, no matter the birth, gender, ancestry or ethnicity could pursue any career they wanted (“From rags to riches”). This illustrates some of the American values such as freedom, equal opportunities, self-responsibility and individualism . During the post­war era, the American Exceptionalism (the concept that the US was protected from political disasters by God himself) gained popularity within the population. However, these ingrained values are heavily questioned by parts of the American population: The so-called “working poor [...] who quite contrary to the American Dream work hard all their life without gaining promotion”8. Referring to a 2014 survey by CNN, two thirds of the respondents thought that their children would have a worse life than themselves and 59% were of the opinion that it was impossible to live the American Dream by now9.

But not only the American values have changed during the last century: Also, the relationship between the population and politicians has been deteriorating. This development was caused by several lies politicians told, e.g. the Tonkin incident during the Vietnam war or the Watergate scandal, John F. Kennedy finding a missile gap without it being there (and he knew it) and Bill Clinton in the Lewinsky affair10. More recently, the tissue of lies about the allegation of the possession of weapons of mass destruction leading to the Iraq war under President Bush in 2002 and the thorough staged termination of said war could be named11.

Apart from these political scandals, the population has had another crisis of confidence concerning their own politicians: Many Americans do not feel represented in current politics anymore.


1 All quotes from German textbooks are translated by me and are not specifically accounted in the analysis.

2 All quotes are taken from the book “Die Akte Trump”.

3 Unless accounted otherwise, all quotes are taken from the worksheet “Isolationism vs. Internationalism”.

4 Bieber, C., 2017, p.37

5 Bieber, C., 2017, p. 18f

6 Bieber, C., 2017, p. 37

7 Bieber, C., 2017, p. 38f

8 Bieber, C., 2017, p. 39

9 CNN Survey „The American Dream is out of reach”

10 Bieber, C., 2017, p. 113

11 Bieber, C., 2017, p. 20

Excerpt out of 15 pages


Political Polarization in the USA and the 2016 Election
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Donald Trump, Election, Politics, Polarization, Polarisation, Hillary Clinton, Campaign, USA, US, America, Amerika, Polarisierung, Politik, Wahl, Wahlkampf, Elites, President, Presidential Election, Präsident
Quote paper
Eva Marx (Author), 2018, Political Polarization in the USA and the 2016 Election, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/498029


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