On The 2016 US Presidential Campaign

Robert E. Denton, Jr

The 2016 presidential election was one of the most polarized elections in contemporary history along the lines of ideology, party, income, gender and age.  Polls revealed that the public was frustrated with the direction of the nation and with the institutions of government.  Americans in general were angry, especially the middle class, blue collar workers and minorities. There was a broad anti-government and anti-establishment mood across America.  Not since the 1990s have we witnessed such general anger and political fragmentation.  The general frustration largely explains the candidacies of Donald Trump and Berney Sanders.  

There was also a noticeable shift in media coverage during the campaign in tone and aggressiveness. Many within the journalism academic community note how Trump’s relationship with media has changed political journalism. Because of Trump’s confrontational style and often sweeping generalizations or falsehoods, journalists were more aggressive than ever before in challenging, contextualizing, fact-checking and editorialising content.  However, for many Americans, it made the “main stream media” appear overtly hostile, liberal and cheerleading for Clinton. We witnessed a change in journalistic practice.  If “truth” is the standard, then more aggressive approach is warranted.  Those on the right have a different interpretation.  For them, we are witnessing where news organizations are more open and comfortable with their biases.  Perhaps we are witnessing a more partisan press.  Right or wrong, I think there is little evidence to suggest that journalists will treat Trump any differently as president.  Thus, perhaps American political journalism has changed for the long term. Certainly Trump was the catalyst for it, the question is whether or not it is here to stay.


NB: All opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not represent the views of Palgrave Macmillan.

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Robert E. Denton, Jr. holds the W. Thomas Rice Chair in the Pamplin College of Business and is Head of the Department of Communication at Virginia Tech University, USA. He is the author, co-author or editor of twenty-six books on the presidency and political campaigns, several in multiple editions. Recent volumes include Social Fragmentation and the Decline of American Democracy (with B. Voth, 2016) and Political Campaign Communication: Principles and Practices, 8th Edition (with J. Trent and R. Friedenberg, 2015). See his latest book, The 2016 US Presidential Campaign: Political Communication and Practice .