The Hillary Hypotheses: Testing Candidate Views of Loss

The Hillary Hypotheses: Testing Candidate Views of Loss

by Michael S. Lewis-BeckUniversity of Iowa and Stephen Quinlan, University College Dublin

The surprising election of Donald Trump to the presidency calls for a comprehensive assessment of what motivated voters to opt for a controversial political novice rather than a provocative but experienced political veteran. Our study provides a novel exploration of the Trump victory through the prism of the defeated candidate—Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC). Losing candidates’ perceptions are usually not subject to academic analyses. Nevertheless, these people often hold substantial sway in their parties and thus understanding their views on the loss is essential, especially as a party regroups after defeat. Using HRC’s memoir What Happened, we devise the Hillary Hypotheses, her rationale for her electoral defeat. Using the 2016 American National Election Study (ANES), we provide the first systematic test of a losing candidate’s rationale for their defeat. We show that more often than not, HRC’s assumptions are supported. However, we find little evidence to support HRC’s most crucial assertion, namely that the e-mail scandal and specifically James Comey’s intervention ten days before Election Day cost her the presidency. Our findings have implications for understanding why Donald Trump won, but more broadly the contribution explores an understudied aspect of elections—a defeated candidate’s impression of their loss.

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