How did Republicans and Democrats mobilize their voters? Which political communication strategies were used in the campaigns of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton? And, did new media have any influence on the voting behavior of Americans? 24 Dutch Honors Students in Communication from Fontys School of Economics visited Washington and New York to pore upon political communication in the U.S. presidential election of 2016. From November 2nd to November 13th the students studied the battle between Clinton and Trump and blogged/vlogged about it for Dutch media and on their own website: www.amerikaanseverkiezingen2016.com (in Dutch).

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Personal story by student Imke Goudsmits (21):

After a fantastic trip to the US, we are back in the Netherlands. Luckily, we didn’t leave empty handed, but brought back a wealth of experience and memories of interesting conversations and events. Most Dutch people we spoke to before going on our trip predicted that Hilary Clinton would win the elections and this was no different in America. We spoke to a number of strategists, news reporters, think tankers and researchers and they all predicted the same thing: Clinton would become the next President of the United States. Something completely unexpected would have to happen to change this.

The weekend preceding Election Day, we spoke to different Democrats and Republicans. It was notable that the Democrats were confident about the elections and openly admitted that they were going to vote for Clinton. The Republicans, however, had an altogether different experience. One mother admitted that she was afraid to publicly vote for Trump, fearing that her son would end up being bullied. One man proudly wore his Trump cap, but held his camera in his other hand because he felt like something might happen at any time. Someone else told us they had dug a grave in their own backyard and had buried a fully clothed Trump doll in it before setting everything on fire. All in all, some pretty intense experiences.

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Now, a week after the elections, many things have happened. There have been numerous speeches, demonstrations, talks with foreign governments and the first intended nominations have been revealed. But who could have seen this coming? At the night of the results, we were at a bar-restaurant with a predominantly democratic crowd. From here, we were able to closely monitor the elections as votes kept coming in. As time passed, more and more swing states went to Trump resulting in the bar slowly emptying.

We could see the bewilderment and even fear increase as the night progressed. Democrats grabbed their cigarettes as their eyes started to water, while the Republicans were laughing and clapping. Immediately following the results, people got together at different locations. At the Trump Hotel in Washington DC and the White House, there were small riots. Screaming, angry Democrats faced laughing, cheering Republicans.

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The next morning, while on the bus to New York, we listened to the bus driver express his incomprehension: “Trump did the exact same thing Bill Cosby did, but he is being rewarded by being voted President. It is like a huge slap to my face!” It was still very much the topic of the day in democratic New York and Washington D.C. The next few days there were a number of demonstrations. We saw some of them up close at Washington Square where hundreds of people had gathered with signs with slogans like “Love Trumps hate” or “Love will always win”. We also saw parents with children carrying little flags with “Never Trump” on them. A few times, we spotted a woman standing near the crowd with a sign stating: “I voted for Trump and I’m proud of it” on it. Contrary to our expectations, the protesters ignored her.

My prediction is that the demonstrations and the incomprehension will last for some time even though Clinton and Obama have already accepted Trump as the next President. And even though Trump has become milder in his pronouncements since his win, people are unsure about what to expect and this will continue to cause unrest. The big question now is: Are the electors really going to vote for Trump in December? Because that is the moment when we will know for certain whether or not Trump is officially the next President of the United States of America.

Imke Goudsmits
Imke is a fourth year student in Communication at Fontys School of Economics Tilburg, the Netherlands. She is interested in various aspects of communication and marketing. Think of website optimization: discoverability and usability, but also designing (online) flyers and brochures and advising in internal communication projects. This T-shaped professional (it’s hard to still call her a student) is not afraid for responsibilities and challenges.

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