President Trump and Reflections from First-time Voters

by Diana Drake

The results are in. Donald Trump was just elected the 45th president of the U.S. in a stunning victory that defied the expectations of polls. He becomes the first modern president without military or government experience, besting Hillary Clinton on the strength of rural, white voters who say they are concerned about their jobs disappearing overseas and sick of the political status quo.

So, what does it all mean? Wharton legal studies and business ethics professor Eric Orts and University of Pennsylvania Law School dean Theodore Ruger appeared on the Knowledge@Wharton show, part of Wharton Business Radio on SiriusXM channel 111 this morning, to discuss potential fallout from the election. Visit our parent publication, Knowledge@Wharton, to listen to the full podcast.

Below are a few bullet-point takeaways from the conversation with Orts and Ruger. You will also find alternating comments from first-time teen voters reflecting on their experiences in the voting booth and during this historic 2016 election. They did not share which candidate they voted for, but rather what it felt like to have a role in their first presidential election.

  • Why did Donald Trump win so many middle-America states? Globalization fueled the Trump vote in states like Iowa and Ohio as people responded to jobs going overseas. “A lot of manufacturing jobs were lost over the years of 2008-2009, during the recession. People saw Wall Street guys getting bailed out; nobody was really taking responsibility for people losing their houses, losing their jobs,” Orts noted. “Statistically, there has been job growth [since the recession], but a lot of the basic manufacturing jobs people had had were gone…. There was a lot of anger seen about this in the middle parts of the country.”

Reflection from First-time Voter Brandon Wilhelmsen, 18, Utah: “For me, [voting] was really scary. I knew what has been going on, and I’ve been terrified watching these two candidates fight for every bit of soil. After waiting for an hour and a half to walk through a hallway, I finally got my ballot and was ready to begin. The first thing I saw was the presidential options and immediately skipped it out of fear. After completing everything else, I found it was hard to even lift my pen to sign for my vote knowing that I didn’t want to regret my voice. I seriously felt like I might cry out of fear and nerves. I finally submitted mine after taking an extra five minutes of making sure I wouldn’t regret my voice. I’m telling you, this historic moment isn’t going to be easily forgotten.”

  • What mattered most to voters in this election? Studies show that the single variable most voters cared about was “making a change,” said Dean Theodore Ruger. “It was more important than the economy, more important than national security. Among voters who prioritized making a change, 83% went for Trump. It remains to be seen how this translates into governance, but it was a protest vote.”

Reflection from First-time Voter Natalia Lange, 18, New Jersey: “I’ve been paying really close attention to everything that is happening in this campaigning process. I didn’t want to just vote the way that my parents voted, I wanted to find my own ideas and my own voice. Going into the municipal building to vote, I was actually a little bit nervous. I had never been inside a voting booth and I wasn’t sure how the whole process was going to go. But as soon as I got into the building, there were many lovely retirees who…helped me out and made sure I knew where to go. Signing in, I had a little lurch in my stomach. It finally started sinking in that I’m an adult now and I’m actually voting to help decide the fate of our nation. It hit me how scary close this election is and how important it is to the future of our country and the lifestyle of our generation and the next… It’s amazing to know that you have an impact in all of this. Every vote counts.”

  • How will a Trump presidency affect big policy issues like protecting our environment and helping displaced refugees? Ort said if Trump follows through on his campaign promises, policies to combat climate change could be in serious jeopardy. “If the U.S. comes out of the Paris agreement, already people are saying Paris doesn’t go far enough [As part of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, reached in December 2015, every nation pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions]; if we lose U.S. leadership and lose possible deals with China on this, we’re almost certain now to face extremely severe [environmental] consequences within a few decades.” The refugee problems currently facing Europe would be dwarfed by future surges in refugees and global conflicts over access to water and food, Orts added. “A wall [which Trump has promised to build to protect our borders from foreigners coming into the country] is not going to solve this problem.”

Reflection from First-time Voter Holden Bleeker, 18, California: “I voted for the first time yesterday at the Tournament Players Club Golf Course, where they set up a voting facility. I felt a sense of maturity and responsibility as I realized I truly was an adult citizen doing my civic duty. The actual voting for president was not a hard decision, as I followed the election and primaries closely. I felt I was one of the most educated first-time voters, based on how much I love politics. I watched and listened to the national conventions and primaries of both parties, as well as the stances of the candidates. The actual voting was stressful, because I feared after every ballot mark I made that I could have [made the wrong choice]. The hardest part about voting was figuring out who should be in the House of Representatives, the Senate and figuring out every proposition question. After I turned in my ballot, I received my first-ever “I Voted” sticker. It was one of the greatest feelings I have ever had!”

  • Where will a Trump presidency lead? If Trump truly believes the comments he made during the campaign about women and minorities, “then we’re in for a very dangerous world,” Orts said. But Orts saw some room for optimism in Trump’s drive to be successful. “He doesn’t want to fail; if he pursues a lot of his policies, a lot of economists have said he will crater the economy, [create] massive unemployment,” Orts noted. “I think there is hope in that he will want to be successful…. He says he wants to make America great again, and that includes not heading us into another recession in 2017.”

Reflection from First-time Voter Fiorella Riccobono, 19, Florida: “As a first time voter, I truly did not expect to be participating in such a controversial election. Although every election has had scandal, controversies and fundamental disagreements, I truly think this election’s candidates make this election historic. To be completely honest, at first I did not feel compelled to vote, and I know that has been a common feeling among young voters this election. However, this past weekend I attended the Net Impact conference in Philadelphia, and heard moving stories and experiences from people like Ahamad Ashkar, the founder of the “Hult Prize Foundation”, and Alicia Garza, the founder of “Black Lives Matter,” and throughout their powerful speeches they emphasized the importance of voting. It reminded me that having the right to vote as an American citizen is an honor and a civic duty. As the daughter of two immigrants and as a woman who is going to graduate and join the workforce soon, I have to let my voice be known and vote for the candidate who will do right by my morals and my aspirations for the United States of America.”

Related Links

Conversation Starters

University of Pennsylvania Law School dean Theodore Ruger makes the point in this article that most voters cared about “making a change.” What is behind this motivation? Why do you think change was so critical in this election?

Several of the first-time voters interviewed for this article allude to their “voice.” What do they mean by this? How do you find your voice? Develop it? Lose it? Explore this concept of having a voice and using it.

Are you excited by the outcome of the U.S. presidential election? Are you dismayed? Indifferent? Share with a partner or a group how you feel about living in a country that is led by President Trump, then report to the class about what you learned. This exercise will require you to listen carefully to the views of others and not just express your own opinions. Also, please share your ideas and reflections in the comments section of this article. We want to hear from you!

10 comments on “President Trump and Reflections from First-time Voters

  1. I believe this was a crazy election, but Donald Trump, whether we like it or not, is our President and we must give our optimism and respect to him, in hope to come together as a country.

  2.     The talk of the Election of 2016 has been crazy. It is all we have been listening about for the past six months. Finally the talk is over, the outcome of it was Donald Trump will be the next president. This election was like no other, making the people all very interested and involved. Shockingly though the first time voters were really involved. As you could assume these first time voters felt as if they were finally having an adult impact on this world. “I felt a sense of maturity and responsibility as I realized I truly was an adult citizen doing my civic duty.” This was an interesting election for the first time voters to vote in.

  3. I believe that with trumps determination, and want to be successful will lead america into a better future. Many believe that he is a fool, and will get nothing done. The american people felt that it is time for change in the way we run our country. That is what the american people got. We have had a democratic president the last two terms now and it hasn’t been pretty. I am glad we have a change now. For young voters it was a tough decision whether to vote or not to vote. With people going around making claims about each candidate it was hard to decide whether you want Trump or Clinton. But now the American people have voted, and hopefully it wasn’t a bad choice.

  4. Reading over the first time voter’s reflection, there was something that stood out. It was how they felt when actually voting. They were nervous and scared for who they should vote for, this being their first time, but also because of who they had to choice between. Fiorella Riccobono stated that she did not expect to be involved in such a controversial election. And “Although every election has had scandal, controversies and fundamental disagreements, I truly think this election’s candidates make this election historic” and I agree with that. While I myself did not pay attention to politics as much as I did last election, this one really stuck out. Both because of the candidates in general, and the fear of the aftermath. I believe that’s exactly what Brandon Wilhelmsen, another first time voter, mentioned. That he was terrified over these two candidates. I was terrified for what could and will happen to this country if either of the two candidates were to be elected. If I was voting for the first time, like all of these people that gave their reflection on it, I wouldn’t even honestly want to be anywhere near the voting ballots. But these adults in the article realized, just as I have, that voting is a privilege to have. To take advantage of it and try to better our country by picking the better candidate, even if that decision is difficult to make.

    • I loved that you “listened” to what the first-time voters were saying, Alexis. When we consider other points of view, it helps us gain clarity in all sides of a situation. That nervous feeling you recognize comes with taking a risk. It’s hard, but also rewarding. Thanks for your comments!

  5. I believe that people need to stop rioting and start to realize that Donald Trump is our president and nothing is going to change that (unless he is assassinated). We need to respect him and let him take our country and turn it into something we will be proud of. This article is about how he becomes the first modern president without military or government experience, besting Hillary Clinton on the strength of rural, white voters who say they are concerned about their jobs disappearing overseas and sick of the political status quo.

  6. The 2016 election is a very controversial election. Many people have different opinions about who should’ve been president and have strong emotions behind their beliefs, but we have finally chosen Donald Trump. I was so shocked to hear that Trump won this election. I expected Hilary to take this election by a landslide. So many Americans are enraged due to the outcome of this election, but the truth is, there is nothing we can do about it now. We have to accept this and give him a chance to make us better. I wish Trump the best of luck, only because I want my country to stay strong and successful.

  7. I think that people should stop acting the way they are, for example someone recently burned the American flag. That is not proving anything to the U.S.. Donald Trump is now our president and people need to get over it. People should start to support him more now, hoping that he will change what they don’t like and continue to make our country better. Also so many people were in the streets of towns holding up harsh signs about Trump and the election. This did not prove anything to Trump, he is the way he is and I doubt he is going to change because of people protesting in cities. If anything, I think that he would get more aggravated and make a bad decision. Supporting him may help many other people living in the U.S., of every race.

    • Hi Taylor. I wholeheartedly agree with you that protesting Donald Trump won’t change who he is, so sometimes all these rallies and outcries seem pointless. And then I remember that we are lucky as Americans to have the right to voice our own opinions, non-violently of course. Things are already settling down, and the good news is that we can speak up when we have something to say and especially when we don’t agree with how something is being done. I appreciate your comments!

  8. Everybody was shocked when they announced Donald Trump as our new president, and it even made a lot of people furious. What caught my attention while reading this article is how the first time voters felt. They had a lot of stress on them while doing this. It made me realize that in a year I will be the voter in the both. This article made me realize how much of an impact you really have. I also believe that no matter what decision you make there is no wrong one. You vote for what you believe in, and what you think is right. But if you vote and the person you wanted to win did not you should not go crazy about it. People protest and freak out about who gets voted into office, but no matter what they do it will not change anything. What you should do is look on the bright side, and help your community as much as you can.

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