By Robert A. Vella
With seven months of campaigning ahead before America chooses its next president, the tumultuous 2016 election can be summed-up thusly:
- The political dichotomy is much more populist vs establishment than Democratic vs Republican.
- The leading Democrat is an establishment candidate, while the leading Republican is a populist candidate. The trailing Democrat is a populist candidate, while all the trailing Republicans are establishment candidates.
- Voter enthusiasm is much stronger for the two populist candidates than for all the establishment candidates.
- The mood of the country is predominantly negative and not supportive of establishment, status quo politics.
- Voter turnout so far in the primaries has been heavily tilted towards Republicans.
From the Miami Herald – Americans overwhelmingly pessimistic about country’s path, poll finds:
WASHINGTON – More than two-thirds of Americans think the country is moving in the wrong direction, the highest in nearly four and a half years, a new McClatchy-Marist Poll found.
Fully 68 percent of adults think the country is on the wrong track, while just 27 percent think things are moving in the right direction.
During the recent Wisconsin primary election, C-SPAN’s news coverage included guest commentary from Robert Samuels of The Washington Post. Samuels discussed this profound populist angst which crosses all partisan and demographic lines. People on the left are angry about wealth inequality, corporate power, political corruption, and the demise of America’s greatness. People on the right share these basic concerns, but express them through the prism of their insular cultural identity. Samuels referred to an upcoming article he’s co-writing, titled “Looking for Something Lost,” which features an in-depth examination of this social phenomenon.
As political analyst John Heilemann suggested recently on Bloomberg News, a general election contest between a status quo establishment candidate (Hillary Clinton) – whom voters aren’t very enthusiastic about – and an energized populist candidate (Donald Trump) would be a worst-case scenario for the former. On the Democratic side, opinion polls seem to support that contention. From Newser – Poll: 25% of Sanders Voters Won’t Back Clinton:
(Newser) – The surge of voter enthusiasm for the Bernie Sanders campaign may not translate into Clinton fever this fall if she gets the nomination. According to the latest McClatchy-Marist poll, some 25% of Sanders supporters—especially independents, moderates, and men—say they won’t support Hillary Clinton if she becomes the nominee. It’s not clear whether they would vote Republican, choose a third-party candidate, or just stay home. Only 14% of Clinton supporters say they won’t support Sanders if he becomes the nominee. “Right now, the Sanders voters are more reluctant to support a Clinton candidacy,” says Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion.
Even if the GOP nominates one of their establishment candidates instead of Trump, the fact that the White House has been under Democratic Party control for the last eight years means that voters demanding change would be less inclined towards Clinton.
However, the actual dynamics which will play out in November are more complex than simply a populist vs establishment dichotomy. Most notably, the ethnic and religious animus coming from the Trump campaign – but, which is widely shared within the Republican Party – might be a determining factor. Likewise, Trump has been such a divisive candidate that many Republican voters might not support him in the general election; and, many of his voters might not support any other Republican nominee for president. Any or all of these possibilities appear to be Hillary’s best chance for victory. Although, from this observer’s viewpoint, Hillary looks like the wrong candidate at the very worst time for Democrats.