Taking stock in April: Forces at play in the 2016 election

The 2016 presidential election cycle has, as of this posting, revealed itself to be unique in some ways, but not without some historical precedent.

The cast of characters, though, unprecedented indeed: An outgoing two-term President, a political journeywoman in Hillary Clinton, a senator defying expectations in Bernie Sanders, and out of a record number of initial republican candidates, a political newcomer in Donald Trump, who also stands in defiance.

“It seems that the two parties are being pulled to their poles. That is, that the Democrats are being pulled left and the Republicans pulled right,” says Dr. Sam Hoff, who teaches Political Science at Delaware State University.

One of the major forces driving candidate and voter behavior, in both parties, is voter frustration.

“You can see it from the greater attendance at rallies, and even the excitement of people at rallies: General dissatisfaction with how things are going, being fed up with partisan gridlock, inability of congress to get the large things done,” says Hoff.

Taking the average of seven major polls, Real Clear Politics shows that just under 15%of Americans approve of the current Congress. A whopping 77% outright disapprove.

Granted, this is a presidential election, not a mid-term, when most congressional seats are up for a vote. But still, these candidates are tapping into frustration by appealing to issues, emotions, or both.

Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, both with Senate experience, have had contentious exchanges, but those moments have largely attacked each other’s policies and voting records, rather than each other ad hominem.

Meanwhile among Republicans, there’s been no shortage of barbs over issues and policy. But the insults, often involving Donald Trump, have been dominating headlines.

Dr. Hoff says Trump, who doesn’t have a voting record to attack, has to this point been effective at channeling the emotions of certain voters.

“Almost no matter what controversy comes up with Donald Trump, his really strong supporters, don’t care about that. They’re not as attuned to specific messages, as they are the messenger,” adds Hoff.

The dynamics of the race so far, according to Dr. Hoff, have common ground with 1964, when incumbent Democrat LBJ trounced Republican nominee Barry Goldwater.

But that was in the general election. The Republican primary that year pulled the party in two directions: Goldwater’s conservative win, and Nelson Rockefeller’s moderate-liberals.

Goldwater surged after Rockefeller’s morals were questioned in extra-marital affair allegations. The ’64 primary, which Goldwater won, helped reset the direction of the GOP for years to come.

But the polarizing tone of the primary continued into the general election, which is uncommon, and which Dr. Hoff says we could see again, soon.

He adds, “Going from a nomination to a general election, both candidates tend to gravitate toward the middle of the political spectrum. I don’t necessarily see that happening as much as we’ve had in previous elections, which hearkens back to 1964.”

Categories: Delaware, Education, Local News, Maryland, Money, Virginia