By Gavin Alcott
The Tower (Princeton, New Jersey)
With five months until the Iowa caucuses and just over a year before the election, the race for the presidency is gaining steam. The stage is set for an interesting election year. As of September 4, The Huffington Post reports, the 15 Republican hopefuls are led by Trump, who holds nearly a third of Republican support—a meteoric rise compared to four months ago, when he held only four percent of the vote. The remaining vote is split between the remaining 16 candidates, where most have less than 10 percent of Republican support. On the other hand, what seemed initially to be a clear–cut Democratic primary has become less predictable. From as far back as December of 2012 up until May of this year, Hillary Clinton held around 60 percent of Democratic support, but since May, Clinton has fallen off harshly to around 44 percent support. However, where Clinton has lost, candidate Bernie Sanders has gained, rising from around ten percent in early May to 24 percent now. But what does all of this mean? More importantly, why should you care?
First, the Republican field. The big story thus far in the election has undoubtedly been Trump’s surprisingly strong popular support among Republicans. Standing out from his competitors with his trademark personality, frankness, and lack of nuance, Trump has certainly attracted the nation’s attention. But the true story behind his public support is best understood by looking at the Republican field as a whole. In third place behind Carly Fiorina, with nearly 14 percent of Republican support, is Ben Carson. Like Trump, Carson is no politician—he was a neurosurgeon from Johns Hopkins University. This means that, with Trump, nearly 53 percent of Republican support is held by candidates who have not served as politicians. This early lead by non-politicians, and in particular Trump, can be seen as a public reaction against politicians and politics as a whole. Americans are tired of the smooth–talking, disingenuous, career politicians who sidestep issues with canned rhetoric and bumper sticker quotes. The rhetorical discrepancies and differences in background and mindset held by Trump and Carson explain the lead that they’ve quickly gathered.
However, Trump is unlikely to win the nomination, much less the election. As primaries go forward in the coming months, the pool will shrink, narrowing choices for now fragmented voters. Those who were not already drawn to Trump’s personality will simply side with conventional candidates like Bush or Cruz. This is corroborated by Quinnipiac University, who found that though Trump leads the polls, he also leads the “no way” list with 30 percent—meaning that 30 percent of Republicans would never support Trump. Additionally, as the true race approaches, the idealists who sided with Trump’s unrealistic policies will be forced to temper their aspirations with reality in favor of a much more electable candidate. But if by some chance Trump manages to win the nomination, he’s even more unlikely to become president. Outside of the GOP base, Trump performs terribly. The Washington Post reports that 75 percent of Latinos view Trump negatively. Similarly, CNN finds that nearly 80 percent of African Americans have an unfavorable view of Trump. Perhaps most significantly, according to Quinnipiac University, only 20 percent of women view Trump favorably. Additionally, Trump is unlikely to appeal to voters outside of the GOP in general because of his extremist, eccentric policies. As MSNBC reports, 51 percent of Americans are moderates. Therefore, an extremist candidate like Trump is unlikely to win unless matched against an equally extremist candidate on the left. Which brings us to the Democrats.
Despite some bumps in the road, Clinton is likely to emerge as victor. Clinton maintains huge amounts of popular and monetary support. Despite her scandal, Clinton triples Sanders’ funds with a record $47 million, according to The McClatchy Company, and still leads by more than 22 points. Additionally, despite the similarities of his campaign to Obama’s campaign, Sanders is unlikely to make an Obamaesque run at Clinton. As the Washington Post explains, grassroots campaigns like Sanders’s and Obama’s have been happening for decades, but every single one of them, with the exception of Obama’s, has failed. Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist, is also an unrealistic nomination for the Democrats. His proposed policies read like a democratic fantasy, but are improbable at best and when-hell-freezes-over at worst. The only way he could possibly win a general election is if he outmatched an extremist on the other side of the spectrum and forced moderates to either abstain or choose between the harsh dichotomy. Otherwise he will be handily defeated by a center-right candidate. Finally, Biden, who ranks third in the polls, has a potential campaign that is uncertain at best and is already behind due to the lateness of his start.
Ultimately, the result of the primaries is difficult to predict at such an early stage, especially with the number of Republicans vying for nomination. However, the final, general election is likely to be Hillary against a conventional Republican politician rather than Trump or Carson.
An overarching question remains—why should we care about the election? It is easy to believe that your vote does not matter among the millions that are cast each year. Additionally, as politics becomes more and more polarized by the year, fewer candidates speak to the aforementioned moderate majority (51 percent of the population). As a result of this feeling of helplessness and lack of true representation, Pew Research finds that the United States is 31st among 34 developed nations in terms of voter turnout—a dismal 54 percent. This percentage is pathetically low and a complex problem.
It is important to remember that the collective decision of the 111.9 million voting-age Americans not to vote is significant enough to swing an election. In 2012, Obama won the popular vote with only 51 percent, carrying 26 states. If even half of the non-voting population showed up, the election could’ve been significantly different. Finally, the worst way to object to polarized politics and extremism is not to show up. When moderates fail to vote, the election is decided by extremists on both sides. Candidates are consequently forced further on either end of the political spectrum in order to appease their extremists. What results is simply more polarization. However, if moderates vote the opposite occurs—candidates must move more to the center in order to appease the moderate majority, reducing polarization. To avoid the current cycle of polarization and bad politics, the only way to make a difference in politics is to show up.
Photo Credit: Phil Roeder