Political analyst Bob Holsworth offers insights on recent election

2016 hillary clinton donald trumpAsked to sum up 2016 from a political analyst’s perspective, Dr. Bob Holsworth called it “perhaps the most remarkable year that I have watched” and “the year everything we thought we knew about politics was wrong.”

Holsworth spoke Nov. 30 at the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation 2016 Annual Convention in Hot Springs, sharing insights on how a New York real estate developer came to be elected president with the enthusiastic support of rural America.

Holsworth is a managing principal with analysis firm Decide Smart. He was the founding director of the Center for Public Policy and the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University. He also served as dean and interim dean of VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciences.

He noted that while President Obama enjoyed a good approval rating, the overall economy presented “a very mixed picture” with little improvement for the middle class, and as many as two-thirds of Americans said they believed the country “was moving in the wrong direction.”

That set the stage, he said, for President-elect Trump to advance to the Republican nomination. In a field of 17 candidates, “there was only one of them who was against the entire establishment.”

Pundits and analysts were correct in predicting that Hilary Clinton would carry the overall popular vote, he said. “Where they were really off was the state-by-state polls.”

In states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Trump won by significant margins, turnout among rural and working-class voters was higher than expected, while turnout among more metropolitan voters was lower than expected, Holsworth said. The overall turnout numbers were similar to those of 2012, “but different people voted.”

He recounted how, about a month-and-a-half prior to Nov. 8, he was driving from Richmond to a similar speaking engagement in Hot Springs and saw little to no support for Clinton via political yard signs. “All I saw were “Trump-Pence” and “Lock Her Up.”

In retrospect, he said, “you’d have to say that Trump owes an awful lot to rural America.”

He cited changing sentiments in three Southwest Virginia counties—Buchanan, Dickinson and Tazewell—since 1996, when former President Bill Clinton carried each by about 65 percent. This fall Trump won in all three by more than 70 percent.

“For the most part,” Holsworth said, “rural Virginia has switched.”

Asked whether Clinton’s choice of Sen. Tim Kaine as a running mate was a major factor in her Virginia win, Holsworth said it helped, but that she won largely because “Northern Virginia voted against Trump.”

In the next four years, he predicted, “my guess is that Trump policy is going to be consistent with what rural America has endorsed for some time” with regard to issues like estate taxes and Environmental Protection Agency regulation.

He predicted a challenge in making sure agriculture’s interests are considered in other issues such as trade agreements and immigration reform. An approach that could work in Virginia, he noted, is continued promotion of agriculture’s and forestry’s contributions to economic development.

With regard to the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial race, Holsworth said both major parties have about a 50 percent chance of a win. “I think this is the Republicans’ best chance in a while to take the governorship,” he said.

With 126,000 members in 88 county Farm Bureaus, VFBF is Virginia’s largest farmers’ advocacy group. Farm Bureau is a non-governmental, nonpartisan, voluntary organization committed to supporting Virginia’s agriculture industry and preserving the Virginia way of life. View more convention news as it becomes available at VaFarmBureau.org/NewsVideo/ConventionNewsroom.aspx, or get updates via Twitter (@vafbnews).

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