Friday, May 6, 2016

Election 2016: The world's biggest UNpopularity contest

Walt has written at least twice this week alone about the Great Divide in American politics -- the huuuuge and still growing chasm between Democrats and Republicans, left and right, blue and red. See "The real reasons millions of Americans are voting for Donald Trump" (1/5/16) and "US political pendulum swings... to the right!" (5/5/16)

My thesis -- and it's not original -- is that the polarization of US society which is so evident now began with the backlash to the loonie liberalism of the Kennedy-Johnson years, the revolt of the Silent Majority against the economic and social engineering policies of the limousine liberals, do-gooders and dreamers who dominate American universities, mass media and the Democratic Party. Although those forces were defeated by Nixon, Reagan and Bush, their "progressive" panaceas came back like bad pennies during the Clinton and Obama administrations. And the gap between the elitists and ordinary Americans keeps growing and growing and growing.

In yesterday's post, I mentioned Dr Hunter S. Thompson's "pendulum theory", according to which the middle-of-the-road, uncommitted voters swing back and forth between left and right, Democrats and Republicans, etc. My take on today's political situation is that there are fewer swing voters than before, and more committed Democrats and Republicans. That being so, both Donald Trump and Hellery Clinton can count on about 45% of the vote come November 8th. The battle will be for the 10% or so who have not yet decided who is the lesser of the two evils.

You read that right. For the first time in ages, the next US president will be the candidate who can best overcome the fear and loathing factor. The coming election looks like being "one of the world's biggest un-popularity contests"!

Those are the words of Chris Kahn, reporting the results of a Reuters/Ipsos poll released yesterday. His piece is headlined "Top reason Americans will vote for Trump: 'To stop Clinton'".

According to the poll, nearly half of American voters who support either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump said they will mainly be trying to block the other side from winning! Larry Sabato, Director of the Center for Politics of the University of Virginia called this phenomenon "negative partisanship". "The results reflect a deepening ideological divide in the United States," he told Reuters, "where people are becoming increasingly fearful of the opposing party, a feeling worsened by the likely match-up between the New York real estate tycoon and the former first lady. This phenomenon is called negative partisanship. If we were trying to maximize the effect, we couldn’t have found better nominees than Trump and Clinton."

Chris Kahn explains that Mr Trump has won passionate supporters and vitriolic detractors for his blunt talk and hardline proposals, including his call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, his vow to force Mexico to pay for a border wall, and his promise to renegotiate international trade deals. As for Mrs Clinton, it seems that the former Secretary of State appeals to voters seeking continuity with President Obama's policies. This has won her a decisive lead in the race for the Democratic nomination, but has made her many enemies among those disillusioned by what they see as lack of progress [Mr Kahn puts it mildly there] during President 0's tenure.

To be sure [Mr Kahn continues] voters' opinions could change over the next several months. Candidates will be feted at party conventions, will square off in a series of national debates, and will be targeted by millions of dollars worth of advertisements. But the negative atmosphere is likely to reign, according to Alan Abramowitz, an Emory University professor who has studied the rise of negative partisanship in America. Mr. Kahn quotes Dr Abramowitz as saying "It's going to get very, very negative," as both campaigns probably work harder than ever to vilify each other.

And so we come back to the pendulum theory. Mr Kahn refers to a 2014 study by Pew Research Center which found that Democrats and Republicans have shown increasingly negative views toward each other over the past few decades. In 2014 more than a quarter of Democrats, and more than a third of Republicans, viewed the opposition as "a threat to the nation’s well-being".

In Nixonland, Rick Perlstein said essentially the same thing. And, he argued, those negative views stemming from the upheaval of the 1960s increased and hardened right up through 2008, when he wrote his book. In the eight years since -- the Obama years -- the fear and loathing has intensified still more. So here we are, ready for the Greatest Unpopularity Contest Ever. Should be interesting.

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