Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Feb 1, 2016 in 2016 Elections, 2016 Presidential Election, Politics | 2 comments

Why America might elect a president it doesn’t like

shutterstock_251546575

Are we really down now to the nitty gritty to a syster that boils down to the lesser of two evils? The Christian Science Monitor notes that the United States could be on the brink of electing a president it really doesn’t like. And a key reason, Mark Sappenfield suggests, is the growth of strict partisanship and a weakening of the center.

And it’s true: each side sees each other as correct and and demonizes the other. Partisans cherry pick facts to support their arguments more than ever. People only want to go to cable news stations where they feel the anchors and guests agree with what they already believe, and a sin for a website these days is offering a different point of view since people want to read websites that they agree with before they even click on the URL. Each side also seemingly minimizes how their candidate has vulnerabilities that can be used by the other side in advertising. It’s not really an ech chamber; it’s a line of people sitting on a chairs hypnotized at a county fair hypnosis show.

At a time when partisanship has taken new and more rigid forms, the result has been an America increasingly wary of the other side. Many Americans are increasingly motivated to vote against candidates rather than for them.

Mr. Trump and former Secretary of State Clinton symbolize this shift in different ways, but they speak to the shrinking middle of American politics. As the national parties have less and less in common, their national candidates likewise have less in common, leaving voters with a starker choice that they are just as likely to oppose as embrace.

Indeed, political scientists note that Americans are more neatly “sorted” into the two parties than they have been in recent history. In other words, conservatives support Republicans and liberals support Democrats.

No more “blue dog” Democrats who want to reform welfare. No more Northeast Republicans who want to address climate change.

Indeed, when this site The Moderate Voice started in 2003, “moderate” was an acceptable word. Now to many in each party it’s a word only slightly less appealing than herpes. Purity and rage over those who aren’t pure enough is the name of the game. What does it mean for our political system?

It means there is a brighter line between the national Democratic and Republican Parties than there has been in decades, because there is less internal pressure to moderate. If, increasingly, everyone in the party is left-of-center (or right-of-center), the party naturally shifts left (or right).

The result is two sharply different visions for America, two sharply different sets of solutions.

They’re sharply different images, but they are the same in terms of triggering a political fight or flight mechanism: a kind of a mirror image. And those who do suggest that compromise or consensus were virtues as they had been in past political eras are considered political traitors political wussesor oh so 20th century. Meanwhile, swing voters are vanishing as quick as political RINOS:

Another result is the vanishing swing voter. (See the Monitor’s Cover Story on the subject.) A larger share of American voters might register as independents than as Democrats or Republicans, but they don’t act that way. Those independents who reliably turn out to vote tend to take sides just like the partisans, voting in consistently partisan ways.

“People are more confident in their opinions when they see polarized parties,” Corwin Smidt, a Michigan State University political scientist, told the Monitor. “They think, ‘Well, if the choices are so stark, it’s just not a gray area at all.’ ”

And so they worry about the “other side” winning, according to research by Emory University political scientists Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster. They found that voting behavior is increasingly guided by this “negative partisanship.”

This fall, it seems, American voters might have a lot to vote against.

Trump has become the Republican front-runner precisely because of his lack of broader appeal, argues pollster Frank Luntz in the Financial Times.

“No high-polling presidential candidate in the modern era has so intrepidly drawn the ire of so many within the American electorate,” he writes. “Yet in rendering one voting bloc utterly apoplectic, he has appealed viscerally to another. The balance of middle ground politics is not, shall we say, Mr. Trump’s bailiwick.”

….For Clinton, the issue is less ideological than historical. She is facing a perceived lack of trustworthiness that dates back to her husband’s administration – and has been exacerbated by her handling of State Department e-mails.

Yet the same trends that have vaulted Trump to front-runner status are apparent in the Democratic primary process, too.

Bernie Sanders could topple Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire. And he is an avowed socialist talking about a revolution.

“In Sanders’s vision, a massive grassroots uprising will shatter the constricting limits of today’s political debate and thrust forward long-time liberal goals such as single-payer health care and free public-college tuition,” writes Ronald Brownstein in The Atlantic. “For Sanders’s growing army, it’s an exhilarating prospect.”

For Republicans, it is appalling.

To some degree, this is what primaries do: push candidates toward the extremes. But there is a mounting sense that, as the parties move further apart, this year represents something new – or at least more intense.

Congress’ approval numbers have gone down so far “WELCOME TO THE SOUTH POLE” signs could be seen. And the prospect of a “revolution?”

After all, a revolution entails one side “winning” – not likely in a political environment where each side is becoming more entrenched to stop the other.

“On both sides, the energy is with candidates … offering the dream of a clean sweep and a blank sheet on which to rewrite the nation’s priorities,” writes Mr. Brownstein. “Yet because the candidates offering such fundamental change are largely misdiagnosing the reasons for today’s impasse, it’s unlikely they could break it even if they capture the presidency.”

Their misdiagnosis? Brownstein suggests that it’s unlikely one side can ignore the other to rewrite the nation’s priorities. But getting the numbers and consensus to turn aspirations into reality isn’t the priority.

“Given the nation’s underlying partisan divisions, the only way to advance bigger ideas may be through compromises across party lines that neither side is discussing much yet.”

What this primary campaign has done, perhaps, is highlight the shifting political topography and distance between those party lines.

A distance which grows bigger by the day, as the good, ‘ol ship U.S. Polity cruises farther away from Compromise Island — an island beginning to look like a tiny speeck framed against raging waters against a stormy sky.

graphic via shutterstock.com