Friday, October 06, 2017

Wrong Party In 2016

Todd Eberly, who believes the result of the last presidential election "points not necessarily to a realignment in American politics or to a result influenced by nefarious forces," gives unrealistically short shrift to the impact of James Comey, Russian meddling, Wikileaks, and the fixation of the American media on emails.  Still, he makes a good point when he concludes

It was the manifestation of years, in fact decades, of rising levels of discontent by a growing number of disaffected voters. And into the midst of that discontent entered two immensely unpopular candidates for president. One, a former senator, a former secretary of state, a former candidate for president, the spouse of a former president, and the heir apparent to an outgoing two term president, was the embodiment of the very political establishment that populist uprisings rail against. The other candidate … wasn’t. And that is “what happened” on Election Day 2016.

Though the St. Mary's College of Maryland professor probably is unaware, his analysis sheds doubt on the assumption that had Hillary Clinton not been the Democratic nominee, the presidential election would have been a slam-dunk for her party. The thesis relies heavily on exaggeration of the number of Obama to Trump voters. Though they are near-legendary, only 9.1 percent of the individuals who voted for incumbent Obama in 2012 switched to his very antithesis, Donald J. Trump, four years later.

They may have been pivotal- as almost anything is in an extremely close election- but they accounted for less than ten percent of Obama's 2016 votes. Nevertheless, the assumption persists that had Barack Obama not been barred from seeking a third term, he would have garnered the vote of very nearly 100% of the individuals who voted for him in 2012.

Eberly points out that exit polls found that in 2016 "69 percent of voters were either dissatisfied with or angry at government," 39 percent "said the quality that mattered most to them in a new president was that he/she can bring change," and "fully half of all voters said government already does too much as opposed to too little." That was a firm foundation for the election of an anti-establishment, conservative politician over a centrist politician representing the establishment.

So, too, did right-track, wrong-track numbers. In the ninth month of the floundering Trump presidency, with a legislative agenda stalled, fear of war against North Korea, mounting evidence of collusion with Russia, a staff in disarray, and disturbing tweets almost daily, the numbers are now 56.1% negative and 35.2% positive. On November 5, 2016, the corresponding figures were 62.4% and 27.1%.  Stunningly, American voters are more positive now about the direction of the country than they were a few days before the presidential election.

Nevertheless, as Eberly explains, "given her resume" Mrs. Clinton had

had no choice but to be the establishment candidate. In the midst of that populist ire, she ran as the candidate of Mr. Obama’s third term. She wrapped herself in the cloak of the Obama agenda. She did all of this in a year when most voters did not want the establishment to win. Neither candidate was viewed as honest or likable, and most voters were not happy with the choice presented them in 2016. In a rather telling finding, fully 60 percent of voters said Mr. Trump was not qualified to be president. Yet he still managed to win 20 percent of those folks; 2016 was an election based on discontent and frustration, not qualifications and temperament.

Donald J. Trump was (and still is) the wrong man, but one who was running at the right time, when the electorate wanted to "throw the bums out," as it once was phrased. Nate Cohn discovered that 65% of Obama-Trump individuals voted in the 2016 primary, and of those "54% percent reported backing Mr. Trump in the Republican presidential primary... a sign that many of them are pretty strong and consistent supporters of Mr. Trump." Moreover, only "29 percent of white, no-college Obama-Trump voters approved of Mr. Obama's performance, and 69 percent disapprove."

Hillary Clinton, whether or not the right woman, represented the incumbent party at the wrong time. The American people looked at the previous 8-12 years and said "not four more."  It's something neither she nor her critics want to acknowledge, but sometimes facts get in the way of  a good story.

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