Turning Points, Polls and Explanations: Schar School Takes a Look at Virginia’s Role in the 2016 Election

By Jordan Beauregard

“We are not Democrats first. We are not Republicans first. We are Americans first.” These were Verizon State Government Affairs Manager Douglas Brammer’s opening remarks at the 2016 ‘After Virginia Votes’ forum in Dewberry Hall on George Mason University’s Fairfax Campus. The event, sponsored by Verizon and hosted annually in a joint effort through George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government and the Virginia Public Access Project, looked at some of the key highlights of the 2016 Presidential Race, how Virginia played a role in the results, how the Republican and Democratic campaign offices in Virginia were affected, and what the potential way forward will be.

Dr. Mark Rozell, Dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government, moderated a discussion and question/answer session between Mark Lloyd, director of Donald Trump’s campaign in Virginia, and Brian Zuzenak, the director of Hillary Clinton’s campaign efforts in Virginia. In the beginning, Lloyd had no hesitation admitting that Trump’s campaign methods in Virginia were unconventional. “When I joined Donald Trump’s campaign, they didn’t have a plan. They said they wanted to do this ‘Donald Trump-style.’ They said, ‘It’s your state. Win it.” Zuzenak said that for the Democrats in Virginia, it was highly conventional. There were already veteran campaigners, volunteers, and other resources ready to go.

Many questions at ‘After Virginia Votes’ surrounded the Trump campaign’s decision to reallocate resources away from Virginia. The media speculated that Trump pulled resources out of Virginia and gave up.

“Let me tell you something about the reallocation of resources,” Lloyd said, “By reallocation of resources, we moved just four people from Virginia to North Carolina to help with early voting. That was it.”

This opened up a larger conversation about the role the media played in this election and the polling that drove media stories.

“The media tried to create a fake horse race in order to sell coverage and papers, and they did it,” Zuzenack said. “Public opinion polling should be banned. It served no other purpose other than to create that fake horse race.”

Lloyd agreed, saying that all of the polling was wrong and even provided an explanation that has been widely discussed. “People who supported Donald Trump couldn’t do it openly, including in Virginia.”

Polls were not the only things that Lloyd and Zuzenak agreed on. Both had passionate answers to an audience question about re-districting in Virginia.

“Yes re-districting is necessary,” Zuzenak said. “People in Congress can basically draw their districts, and when you have people in office that belong to one party when officeholders throughout the Commonwealth are of another party, it doesn’t make sense.”

Lloyd had similar sentiments. “For me, the more competition the better. The people don’t benefit from just supporting incumbents.”

Zuzenak was asked if there would be a time when the Virginia Democratic Party would try to turn red districts blue instead of making areas like Fairfax even bluer. “We got to go where the votes are, and Northern Virginia is where the votes are,” he said. “That’s efficiency. We had offices around the state, but Northern Virginia means a lot.”

Moving forward, Zuzenak and Lloyd acknowledged the need to adjust outreach methods to communicate better with younger generations. “Generational differences impact the strategies we use,” Zuzenak said, “it is not the same anymore.”

Lloyd made similar comments. “We [the older generation] don’t understand the younger generation, and it’s going to take a lot of work to reach them, especially with their access to technology.”