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When voters are voting, what are they doing?: Symbolic selection and the 2016 U.S. presidential election

Abstract

The article proposes a view of voting as symbolic selection that enables commensuration among otherwise balkanized electoral theories, focusing on the 2016 U.S. presidential election. When voters select candidates, it argues, what they are doing is selecting a signifier for a coalition of symbols that the candidate has come to signify to the voter over the course of the campaign. This perspective is used to better understand why Trump won by focusing on how different aspects of the campaign redounded to the assemblage and formation of the coalitions of symbols that voters would be voting on when they were voting. The paper argues that these coalitions help explain Trump’s narrow victories in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania that were so decisive in the 2016 election.

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Notes

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    All four of these states are in the top half of states in percentage of 18–64 year olds receiving disability payments by the population of 18–64 year olds, and have seen either no improvement or a worsening of that rate between 2002 and 2014 (Social Security Office of Policy, 2002; Social Security Office of Retirement and Disability Policy, 2014).

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Acknowledgements

My thanks to the AJCS reviewers and editors for their helpful suggestions on this paper and to my family for putting up with me during the election.

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Correspondence to Matthew Norton.

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Norton, M. When voters are voting, what are they doing?: Symbolic selection and the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Am J Cult Sociol 5, 426–442 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41290-017-0040-z

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Keywords

  • 2016 presidential election
  • Clinton
  • electoral theory
  • political sociology
  • symbolic coalitions
  • Trump