In a college bar in the centre of town, students from the DC College Democrats gathered en masse to watch the US election results come in over beer and burgers.
With TV screens surrounding the bar’s walls, and the sound on high, it was impossible to escape the electric energy that filled the room. As early electoral counts arrived indicating Clinton victories, the bar roared in celebration. With every state Trump won, the sound of boos was overwhelming.
As the night progressed however, the mood grew increasingly somber as projections increasingly suggested a Trump victory was becoming a possibility. The fate of the battleground state of Florida, which ultimately fell to Trump, attracted particular attention, as the Republican surged through an early Clinton lead.
Results continued to flood in and when it was clear that Donald J Trump would be the US’ 45th president – the young crowd was silent.
“I’m in shock,” said 19-year-old student Katy Turner. “I was calm all day. I spent the weekend campaigning in Pennsylvania and I was sure [Clinton] had it in the bag.”
Twenty-one year-old student Colleen Reynolds felt unnerved at the prospect of a Trump presidency: “Shock and fear are the emotions I feel. No one knows what [Trump’s] policies are, I don’t think even he knows what his policies are, but really my greatest fear is not about the policies he might pass, it’s about how divisive he is.”
Turner agreed: “He validates so much bigotry in this country, he validates hateful behaviour all across America.”
Reynolds was was determined to look to the future and what was still possible. “I’m nervous, but everyone in this room is going to have to wake up tomorrow morning and think how are we going to make the best of this situation,” she said.
“I would really hope Trump surrounds himself with policy experts. I’m deeply concerned that the leader of our country doesn’t know what’s going on.”
Youth support for Clinton
According to latest census data, there are 83.1 million millennials living in the US today, a group defined as those born between 1982 and 2000. And while it is still unknown exactly how many voted in Tuesday’s elections, a high youth turnout had been thought to have been a likely tool in Clinton’s early advantage, but ultimately not enough to secure her victory.
“Turnout is difficult in the US, it’s not like in Australia where it is compulsory, but I know a lot of young people who were excited to vote,” said recent graduate and real-estate agent, Daniel Warwick, 23.
With a veteran politician on one side and a businessman turned reality TV star on the other – it was never clear which campaign would wholly capture the hearts of America’s youngest voters.
Despite Trump’s promise to add $20 billion of federal spending towards higher education institutions and his pledge to work with congress to ensure that universities make expansive efforts to reduce the cost of college programs, millennials never really warmed to the Republican according to polls.
However, that did not affect what ultimately resulted in a surprising win for the political newcomer.
“A lot of people predicted a Clinton victory. However, that may have kept some people from coming out to vote,” said Stephen Farnsworth, Professor of Political Science at the University of Mary Washington. “Clinton clearly didn’t excite young people the way Obama did.”
Farnsworth said that it is uncertain what a Trump presidency would entail but that “it is clear that anger is a very powerful motivator for voters”.
For students in the bar, the atmosphere was solemn. “I’m genuinely shocked, disheartened and heartbroken about this outcome,” said 21-year-old political science student, Kelli Slater.
“I’m horribly disillusioned because I believe a voter for Trump is horribly inconsiderate and selfish,” she said.
“I don’t know how you can vote for him while taking into consideration the lives of women, black people, Mexicans, Muslims, immigrants, the disabled and so on. I’ll continue to fight and make this country as great I possibly can, but the ‘make American great again’ calls back to a time in this country I have no interest in revisiting.”
For 21-year-old student, Nicholas Kram Mendelsohn, who is also running for local office in DC, the result was overwhelming. “I’m thinking about my generation and how our future may have been decided for us and we may not have been paying attention,” he said. “I think from here, we just need to get to work building up our communities.”
Whatever mechanics may have been behind Trump’s shock victory, as the bar emptied out and college students headed back to their dorms, America looked set to awaken on Wednesday to face an uncertain future.