Obama’s Rise Hindered Clinton’s, Pollster Says

Cornell Belcher says Trump was ‘the right candidate at the right time’

Pollster Cornell Belcher says Donald Trump represented a “course correction” for many who thought they were losing their country. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Pollster Cornell Belcher says Donald Trump represented a “course correction” for many who thought they were losing their country. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted December 12, 2016 at 5:00am

Pollster Cornell Belcher says that what most have described as Donald Trump’s “stunning” election victory didn’t come as a surprise to him because he witnessed the rise of racial aversion during Barack Obama’s presidency.

“Trump was the right candidate at the right time,” said Belcher, a pollster in Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns and for the Democratic National Committee under Howard Dean.

Belcher bears out his theory in his new book “A Black Man In The White House: Barack Obama and the Triggering of America’s Racial-Aversion Crisis.” 

“There is a sense that [white people are] losing their country and Barack Obama, for better or worse, encapsulated that loss because he was a black man in the White House who was not the will of the vast majority of the white people. So there is a sense of loss,” he said.

Belcher began researching his book to gauge how racial attitudes changed before and during Obama’s presidency. Over the past eight years, he periodically conducted surveys of people’s perspectives on race.

Although Trump’s qualifications and temperament didn’t poll well, “what Donald Trump was, was a strongman,” Belcher said. “He’s a strongman figure. He was a strong, nationalistic figure. He was the great white hope.”

When Belcher talked to voters this past election cycle, the desire for a correction in course became apparent, he said.

He recalled a meeting with a woman in Ohio. “She wanted her country back and Hillary [Clinton] wasn’t going to give her her country back,” he said.

For some, “Barack Obama was a cataclysmic event,” he said. “He encapsulated this ideal that [white people’s] dominance is being threatened by the minority and Donald Trump was the perfect course correction for that sense of loss.”

In talking to voters, he also found that young people were more likely to vote for third-party candidates like Gov. Gary Johnson or Jill Stein in this election.

“Younger voters rejected the idea that they need to choose between the lesser of the two evils. So they protested their vote,” he said.

The most telling sign of young voters’ longing for another candidate was their support for Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries. Many millennials backed the Vermont independent with such passion that it made hitching their wagon to Clinton for the general election a difficult, and sometimes impossible, move.

[Generation Gap: Can Clinton and Trump Reach Millennials?]

And while Trump had the “exact same mandate” that Mitt Romney received in 2012, “[Clinton] did not hold the Obama coalition,” Belcher said.

“It wasn’t like it was this dramatic shift,” he said, explaining that Clinton failed to “fully realize” the bloc of voters that twice supported Obama. 

“Trump didn’t expand the Republican party at all,” he said.