This year’s presidential election has dominated news and conversation for the better part of the last four years. November 8 is fast-approaching, and as we enter the final weeks of the election cycle it is useful to take a step back and consider how we got here. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump compete for the presidency of a country that is at once fearful and hopeful. People are at odds over decades-old civil rights issues, dissatisfied with establishment politics, and concerned about the economy and immigration. A reactionary wave sweeps the Republican Party, seeing more success than an also significant push for democratic socialism in the Democratic Party. Fluctuating opinion polls offer little help in predicting who Americans will choose as their next Commander-in-Chief.

Dr. Benjamin Knoll, Associate Professor of Politics, suggests that despite all of the issues that matter to voters, the strongest motivator remains party affiliation. “Partisan identification is the strongest predictor of voting in U.S. presidential elections,” Dr. Knoll said. “This is why many Republicans who don’t care for Donald Trump are still planning to vote for him in the fall (Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is an example of this).” In other words, when it comes down to it, voters are extremely likely to vote for their party’s candidate regardless of significant issues they may disagree with the candidate on. Dr. Knoll adds, “It’s not very often that someone will cross party lines…even if the issue is important to them.” This year’s election could boil down to the same political trends we are used to despite seeming abnormally polarized.

Party affiliation may account for election results, but it does not explain many oddities of this particular election. For example, Donald Trump, if elected, would be the first president in US history who did not previously serve in a government or military position. There must be something to account for voters’ willingness to break an over 200-year-old trend. According to Dr. Knoll, the prevailing explanation for Donald Trump’s surge is peoples’ “anxiety about the rapid pace of social change.” Trump offers an alternative to a continuation of relatively progressive policy, including the Affordable Care Act, Dream Act, decriminalization of marijuana, the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”, and the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling. Of course there are other factors at play here too, most notably a concern among the middle class about their economic well-being, as well as uneasiness about immigration and terrorism. Still, preeminent commentators, like Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, say that economics play a secondary role to matters of race and identity when figuring into a voter’s decision.

Hillary Clinton rebukes Trump’s positions on nearly all counts. Her campaign promises the extension of civil rights to disenfranchised populations, the pursuit of economic recovery in the same vein as the Obama administration, and the maintenance and improvement of  existing social welfare programs. While many Democrats may have preferred Bernie Sanders as their nominee, Clinton receives almost universal support from her party.

There are a small contingent of Democrats encouraging support for Trump, but there are many more prominent Republicans who say they plan to vote for Clinton. Many Republicans from the Bush administration, like former Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson, Jr., have voiced strong concerns about Donald Trump, and support for Hillary Clinton, urging, “Never Trump.” On the other hand, Michael Flynn, a retired general and registered Democrat, endorses Donald Trump on the grounds that he will better protect the U.S. from foreign threats. “There’s going to be a cost here and it’s the cost to our country’s national security,” Flynn said, referring to a potential Clinton presidency. Cross-party endorsements are not unprecedented, but their number and fervency during this election are worthy of attention.

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