ELECTION NIGHT—Students gathered in every dorm, in Main building and on the upper floors of the Students’ Building to see the results of the 58th presidential election.
For many students, it was their first time voting in a presidential election, and for some, their first time voting at all. “This is pretty much my whole class’s first election ever, which is very important,” said Colby Morrison ’20. “It’s a pretty cool feeling to really have your voice out there, and some people may say that maybe these elections are rigged, but I would say that our democracy is a very special thing, and I’m very honored to participate in it.”
According to an informal poll of students in the screening locations, 16.7 percent of those polled voted here in New York, 70.3 percent voted early or absentee in their home states, and 11.5 percent did not vote at all. Students who voted in Poughkeepsie reported that the process was generally smooth, and the assistants friendly and helpful. Explaining their choice, one student remarked, “I like to be involved in local politics and local matters so it made more sense to vote here.”
Early on in the night, Clinton had a modest lead. At 8:00 p.m., she was winning with 44 Electoral College votes to Trump’s 31. By 10:00 p.m., fivethirtyeight.com predicted she had a 72 percent chance of winning the election. Just two hours later, however, at 12:15, the same website predicted that her chances had fallen to 21 percent, and set Trump’s chance for success at 75 percent.
Around 9:30, when results were trickling in, and the online counters wavering between candidates, students began to get nervous. Trump had 129 votes, and Clinton, 104. On the third floor of Main Building, students talked and watched the television anxiously. “I’m basically really nervous because they’re really close,” said Allie Pilkington ’20. “I’m optimistic for Hillary, but crazier things have happened.”
Trump ended up winning important swing states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin, all of which Mitt Romney lost in the 2012 race.
The Vassar Democrats hosted a well-attended screening in the old UpC space. President Conor Flanagan ’17 remarked, “We figured it would be a good idea to bring everyone together for this, no matter who was going to win, it was going to be a very stressful night for a lot of people, given everything that’s happened in this campaign. Clearly things have not gone as we wanted them to; Donald Trump has done much better than we thought, and he has a good chance of becoming president at this moment.”
Towards the end of the night, around 1:30 a.m., when Trump was leading with 244 electoral votes but newscasters still called it “too early to tell,” the screening rooms were still full of students, but by this time it was nearly silent. One student remarked, “It’s important to stay optimistic. As much as we joke about running off to Canada, we can’t. We’ve got to stay here and hold down the fort.” Flanagan noted, “I think it’s very important that in the wake of something like this, we come together and we recognize that the whole country is not Trump.”
As the night wore on into the small hours and a fraught Tuesday night turned to a weary Wednesday morning, people everywhere poured out their emotions on social media. Vassar students wrote about their frustration, anger and disgust, but many also voiced their determination to support their friends and peers whom this presidency will impact the most. Students still watching the events unfold on television expressed their profound disbelief. One spectator noted, “People were kind of scared Trump would win but they didn’t think it was actually going to happen.” Another remarked, “I don’t think we had a plan for what would happen if Trump actually won.”
Obama recorded a video on Tuesday, before the results were announced, voicing his support for the nation during this time and his belief that everything would turn out alright, despite the grim outlook. “Remember, no matter what happens, the sun will rise in the morning and America will still be the greatest nation on Earth.” Wednesday dawned rainy and grey, as people across the nation and the world awoke to discover that Trump had been named president-elect.
The Vassar student body, and liberals across America, seem largely to be caught off guard. Feelings of powerlessness and vulnerability were palpable on campus and throughout the country as the 2016 election cycle drew to a shocking close. Many Vassar students reacted with outrage; on Wednesday morning and into the early afternoon, a group gathered downtown to protest the results. Other, larger protests are being assembled for the coming days, in cities across the nation.
Some young voters believe that even Trump himself didn’t see this coming. One student theorized, “I honestly don’t even think he wanted to be president and really just wanted to prove a point that he could come in and win with power and money and ignorance.” Another added grimly, “I think this is one of those elections that you think people in the back country in the middle of nowhere are voting for Trump. But there are regular people walking around voting for Trump.”
Clinton reportedly called Trump late Tuesday night to concede the race. According to NPR, Trump passed the mark of 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency at 2:31 a.m. ET, and media outlets around the world began to declare Trump the victor. As of 3 a.m., Trump had 279 electoral votes to Clinton’s 218. However, Clinton won 59,299,381 popular votes, surpassing Trump’s 59,135,740—47.7 percent to 47.5. She is the fifth presidential candidate in history to lose the electoral vote but win the popular vote (National Public Radio, “Shades Of 2000? Clinton Surpasses Trump In Popular Vote Tally,” 11.09.2016).
Clinton was expected to make her concession speech at 10:30 a.m. ET, and ended up ascending the podium in New York to address the American people at around 11 a.m. She gave a gracious speech, asking her supporters to keep hoping and continue striving to achieve the goals that her campaign established. Her remarks focused mostly on the future of the country, but she began by acknowledging her opponent, saying, “I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans. This is not the outcome we wanted or we worked so hard for, and I’m sorry that we did not win this election, for the values we share and the visions we hold for our country.”
She continued, “This is painful, and it will be for a long time. But I want you to remember this: our campaign was never about one person, or even one election. It was about the country we love, and about building an America that’s hopeful, inclusive and big-hearted. We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than I thought, but I still believe in America, and I always will. And if you do, then we need to accept this result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our President. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead. Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power, and we don’t just respect that, we cherish it.”
Obama took the podium at 12:15 p.m. on Wednesday to voice his thoughts on the results of the election. He expressed his intent to effect a smooth segue between his and Trump’s administrations, recalling how President Bush did the same for him eight years ago, and has since invited him to the White House to discuss the transition in detail.
Both Clinton and Obama beseeched young people to take heart and not give up on political activism. The outgoing president remarked, “To the young people, who got into politics for the first time, and may be disappointed by the results, I just want you to know, you have to stay encouraged. Don’t get cynical. Don’t ever think you can’t make a difference. As Secretary Clinton said this morning, fighting for what’s right is worth it.”