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Learning from Loss? How Interpretations of the Last Election Affect the Next One

Sat, September 1, 8:00 to 9:30am, Marriott, Dartmouth


As with most elections, the 2016 presidential election ended with a battle to determine the cause of its surprise outcome. Many political observers and some Democratic leaders argued that the reason for Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump was her focus on “identity politics,” or an overemphasis on advocating for the needs of marginalized groups at the expense of a broader vision accessible to all Americans. How does this interpretation affect the Democratic Party’s response to 2020?

To examine this, I conducted a survey experiment among self-identified Democrats asking them to evaluate several potential candidates for president in 2020. Half of subjects also saw an identity politics interpretation of 2016, while a control group saw no such message. Those that saw the identity politics frame ended up with a lower evaluation of female candidates and candidates of color than those in the control condition. The results suggest that the identity politics interpretation of 2016 may advantage white male Democratic candidates for 2020.


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