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US Election: Insurgence or collapse?

18 November 2016

Amid the seismic shock of the US election, a tweet by a British philosopher has gone viral, contesting the way the results are being understood internationally.

Reader in Philosophy Dr Jonathan Webber posted the message “Turns out it’s not a Trump insurgency, but a Clinton collapse” on his personal Twitter account the day after the votes were cast.

Viewed more than 1.5 million times, the tweet compares 2016, 2012 and 2008 vote totals for the two main candidates, arguing that the representation “cuts straight through today’s punditry”.

Retweeted hundreds of times overnight, the alternative view of the election result has since racked up more than 9,000 retweets.

“Much of the initial media analysis was assuming that Trump’s victory was due to a surge of support for him, his party, or his policies”, Dr Webber explains. “But the vote numbers didn’t show that at all.”

The graph was based on figures as the election was finally called for the Republican candidate. With millions of provisional and absentee ballots still being counted, US contemporary political affairs magazine The Atlantic questions Dr Webber’s thinking for not giving the complete picture.

“Most were cast in the Clinton-leaning states of California, Washington, and New York—not swing states—so they won’t change the Electoral College” argues the award-winning magazine. “But there’s a sufficient amount to put her within striking distance of Obama’s 2012 turnout, and help put an end to the argument that she simply didn’t work hard enough”.

“But the tweet’s basic point still holds”, responds Dr Webber. “The latest figures still indicate that the election was decided in the crucial swing states not by enthusiasm for Trump, but by a lack of enthusiasm for Clinton.”

Last year, BBC Radio 4 broadcast an episode of The Philosophers’ Arms on his analysis of the moral status of different kinds of political deception. “We should have the attitude that all forms of deception are wrong”, he says, “but that outright lying is its worst form.”

President of the British Society for Ethical Theory Dr Jonathan Webber specialises in moral psychology, focusing on what current research in psychology tells us about how we should organise our lives.

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