Awful Presidential Cycle Likely to Get Much Worse

If you think this campaign has been awful, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

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trump-clinton-angry

The 2016 primary contest is all but over, leaving the two least liked presidential nominees in memory.  We’re likely going to like them much less come Election Day.

Americans already hold extremely negative views of both candidates.  In addition to the already-referenced Reuters poll, the most recent surveys by reputable outfits show utter disdain for both.   CNN finds that Trump is viewed unfavorably by 57% of Americans, compared to 39% who view him favorably and 3% who have no opinion.

Trump and Clinton have both been national brands for more than a quarter century. CNN only shows numbers going back to 2011 for Trump but he’s been viewed far more negatively than positively in every poll in which the question has been asked, never having approval above 40% and never having disapproval below 55%; it’s been as high as 67%.)

Clinton’s numbers have been much more variable.   Her numbers go back to 1992, of course, and she’s been all over the place. She’s currently at 48% positive and 49% negative.  Over the last decade, she’s been as high at 57% positive and as high as 56% negative.

Oddly, she and Trump both had their highest negatives a month ago and have bounced back considerably in the month since.

John Merline, analyzing a recent Investors’ Business Daily poll, observes,

Despite Trump’s supposed appeal with blue collar voters, Clinton does better among those who earn less than $35,000 a year (53% to 38%), while Trump ties Clinton among those making more than $75,000. Trump does, however, do better than Clinton among the less educated, beating her 48% to 43% with those who have only a high school education.

Trump also faces an enormous gender gap with Clinton. While he gets more male votes than Clinton (45% to 43%), Clinton gets 51% of the female vote to Trump’s 36%.

And his support among Republicans remains weak. Even as the primary season winds down, his support among Republicans and GOP leaners is still below 50%. Romney was polling much better than this in late March 2012, and John McCain was over 60% by the end of February 2008.

Trump’s negative ratings are also sky-high, with 62% of the public saying they have an unfavorable view of the likely GOP nominee, while just 36% view him favorably. Far more independents dislike Trump than like him — 60% vs. 37%.

Hillary Clinton’s negatives are high, as well, but not as high as Trump’s. Forty-three percent view Clinton favorably compared with 56% who view her unfavorably. She gets identical low marks among independents, however.

More alarming for Trump supporters is the fact that 51% say they have a “very unfavorable” view of Trump compared with just 16% who say they have a “very favorable” view of him.

Even among Republicans, 1-in-5 have a “very unfavorable” view of Trump, while only 31% view him very favorably. And conservatives are likelier to have a very unfavorable view of Trump than very favorable, 33% to 23%.

Far fewer people have a “very unfavorable” opinion of Clinton than Trump — 40% to Trump’s 51% — and she scores much better among Democrats than Trump does among Republicans.

But Trump is emerging from a scathing primary fight where essentially the entire GOP establishment was trying to take him out, whereas Clinton has been fighting off a happy warrior taking her on from the left of her party. Things will get much worse once Trump starts attacking her in earnest. (More on that later.)

Writing for Reuters, Chris Kahn notes that people are unusually motivated by negative emotions than love of their own candidate this year.

Nearly half of American voters who support either Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump for the White House said they will mainly be trying to block the other side from winning, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released Thursday.

The results reflect a deepening ideological divide in the United States, where people are becoming increasingly fearful of the opposing party, a feeling worsened by the likely matchup between the New York real estate tycoon and the former first lady, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

[…]

About 47 percent of Trump supporters said they backed him primarily because they don’t want Clinton to win. Another 43 percent said their primary motivation was a liking for Trump’s political positions, while 6 percent said they liked him personally.

Similar responses prevailed among Clinton supporters.

About 46 percent said they would vote for her mostly because they don’t want to see a Trump presidency, while 40 percent said they agreed with her political positions, and 11 percent said they liked her personally.

[…]

But the negative atmosphere is likely to reign, says Alan Abramowitz, an Emory University professor who has studied the rise of negative partisanship in America.

Both campaigns probably will decide their best strategy is to work even harder to vilify each other, he said.

“It’s going to get very, very negative,” he added.

That would play into a longer-term trend.

A 2014 study by Pew Research Center 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.”

That’s a sentiment that’s been brewing for a long time. In my own political memory, going back nearly four decades, it’s been getting steadily worse.

Granted, I was in diapers at the height of the culture clash that surrounded the latter days of Vietnam and the Civil Rights era. Even Watergate was before I was conscious about politics. Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were certainly polarizing figures, caricatured and vilified by the other party. But there was never a sense that they didn’t have the legitimate right to govern. That sentiment pervaded Bill Clinton’s eight years in office and escalated during George W. Bush’s term, which was punctuated by both the controversial way the 2000 election was decided and the bitterness over the Iraq War. And the hostility has grown more intense still under Barack Obama, with a significant number of Americans questioning his very loyalty to the country.

Among those Americans, sadly, is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party. Capitalizing on his media savvy and the anti-Washington sentiment that has fueled the Tea Party movement, he’s run the most vicious and tasteless campaign I’ve ever seen by a serious presidential candidate. Against fellow Republicans.  He’ll certainly be more brutal against Hillary Clinton, whose long career in the national spotlight would give even the most genteel candidate plenty of ammunition.

Clinton’s campaign has been much more above-the-fray, a function both of being a professional politician and having never been seriously threatened for the nomination. (Bernie Sanders’ campaign did far better than anyone, certainly including me, ever would have predicted. But he was able to present the illusion of being a serious contender only because of the flawed nature of the nomination system, which was far too dominated by unrepresentative caucus voting.) But she’s already shown that she’ll target Trump’s character—a very ripe target.

 

My strong sense is that Clinton will win the presidency, quite possibly by an Electoral College landslide. But this has been an incredibly unorthodox election year and I’ve been extremely bad at judging the zeitgeist. And Clinton is a woefully bad campaigner, lacking the ability to charm voters.

While the long-term impact of the race may be good for the country and the political system, the short-term impact will be awful.  The winner will likely be at 40% or lower in the approval ratings and have very little ability to rally public support for their governing agenda. And there’s next to no chance of reversing the poisonous atmosphere that has surrounded our national political scene the last quarter century.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Kylopod says:

    Despite Trump’s supposed appeal with blue collar voters, Clinton does better among those who earn less than $35,000 a year

    This shouldn’t be surprising. A substantial portion of low-income Americans aren’t white.

    We need to realize that terms like “blue collar” and “working class” are loaded with racial overtones–they’re used to further a stereotype that white people in poverty are working, while blacks and Latinos aren’t.

  2. An Interested Party says:

    Oddly, she and Trump both had their highest negatives a month ago and have bounced back considerably in the month since.

    That doesn’t seem all that odd…perhaps more people are finally realizing that these two are going to be their party’s nominees and are adjusting their views accordingly…

    And there’s next to no chance of reversing the poisonous atmosphere that has surrounded our national political scene the last quarter century.

    Well certainly one way to reverse that would be for a certain political party to not demonize government in such a harsh negative destructive way…

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Kylopod: Yes, that’s a fair point. The demographics of Trump’s appeal was tangential to the main thrust of the piece—that far more people dislike Trump and Clinton than dislike them. But, yes, race complicates income based analysis.

  4. Mu says:

    I’m not sure a “full speed ahead damn the torpedoes” campaign will help Trump here. There’s a lot of substance you can throw at Clinton, but if he’s going all out “Trump style” he might push more people in the center away from him, people who’d feel sorry for Clinton having to deal with a buffoon as challenger.

  5. CSK says:

    @Mu:

    To some degree, this has already happened.

  6. MarkedMan says:

    Trump has a very predictable response – if he feels he is being attacked, he will hit back, usually in an instantaneous and unthinking way. He seems honestly blind to the idea that what to him is an obvious strength might, to others, seem to be a weakness. So when asked why he went on national TV and told millions of viewers not to worry but he was adequately sized “down there” his response was literally that Marco Rubio started it and he had no choice but to respond.

    I wonder if Clinton can take advantage of this. It wouldn’t work to get him to respond crudely to her – we are going to see plenty of that and his supporters expect it. But perhaps her campaign could manipulate him into lashing out at the Catholic Church or some other institutuon or person and cause members of his base to take offense.

  7. Jen says:

    I remain unconvinced that Trump actually really wants the job. I think he started this out as another one of his brand-building exercises and inadvertently tapped into the zeitgeist. He likes a fight and was probably enjoying things and assumed that the GOP would snatch things away at the convention, allowing him to retain his fan club but releasing him from the responsibility of the top job.

    How he comports himself during this general election campaign will be interesting to watch.

    I guess I just can’t see how or why someone with the money and relative freedom he has would trade that in for the fishbowl-level scrutiny and hard work/confines of this job.

  8. Gustopher says:

    Nothing makes someone look good more than standing next to someone hideous. Clinton is going to look great.

  9. Scott says:

    And Clinton is a woefully bad campaigner, lacking the ability to charm voters.

    Clinton’s campaigning is a mystery to me because on the small group and individual level she is really good. But something happens on the larger stage that is negative. Somehow, she is going to have to translate the retail to the wholesale much better.

    Another aspect of Clinton that she never capitalizes on (probably because she considers it a loathsome thing to do) is her deep Christian faith. Others put it out there on their sleeve but she rarely lets the public have a glimpse.

    It will be interesting to see whether Clinton has learned to deal with her weaknesses and campaign to her strengths.

  10. grumpy realist says:

    Interesting analysis.

    The reason I’m voting for Hillary as opposed to Trump is because the Democratic Party seems to be the only party interested in spending money on science and technology. We’re already starting to slip behind China when it comes to certain technologies. And if you think The Donald ever thinks about the long term effects of not having sufficient R&D in this country, you’re crazy.

  11. Mr. Prosser says:

    @Mu: I don’t think anyone will feel sorry for HRC in this campaign but I think most will be repelled by the inevitable Trump boorishness. It will be an interesting duel, I hope Clinton can demonstrate real abilities with a rapier as Trump hacks around with a machete.

  12. An Interested Party says:

    And now, let us take a look at Donald Trump’s attempt at Hispanic outreach as well as the shiny turd that is Reince Priebus…

  13. gVOR08 says:

    @Jen: I agree. We’re seeing a few hints from his campaign that he’s as surprised by his success as anyone else. Hints that this did, indeed, start as a brand building exercise and developed it’s own momentum. I think the family has taken over the business and this looked like a fun hobby for six months or so.

    However, Lincoln once observed of one of his rivals that once the presidential bug bites you, it never lets go. I don’t see his ego letting him backing out now.

  14. CSK says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Oh, that taco bowl Tweet Trump sent out is priceless. His supporters actually think this is good outreach. And in a way, it is: He’s telegraphing to his troglodytic fan club that if you eat taco bowls (especially the crappy overpriced ones in the Trump Grill!) that means you love Hispanics!

  15. Facebones says:

    Clinton’s numbers have been much more variable. Her numbers go back to 1992, of course, and she’s been all over the place. She’s currently at 48% positive and 49% negative. Over the last decade, she’s been as high at 57% positive and as high as 56% negative.

    It’s not really that mysterious. When she’s not campaigning and just doing her job, her approval ratings soar.

    When she runs for president, her approval ratings drop precariously.

    Why, it’s almost like a certain segment of the population wants that ambitious harridan to know her place!

    And yes, when anyone runs for president their approval ratings drop because they get hit with a barrage of negative ads. (Which is one reason that Bernie Sanders’ ratings have stayed high. No one has spent the money or energy to go after him.) But it’s really hard to deny that sexism plays a part in this.

  16. Jen says:

    @Facebones:

    But it’s really hard to deny that sexism plays a part in this.

    I think you’re right. Anecdotes are not anywhere close to data, but I’ve noticed that my female friend/Bernie supporters are more likely to be “Vote blue no matter who” types, while the men are more likely to be in the “Bernie or bust” camp. I can’t help but think there’s a bit of sexism playing a role there–and I hope that post-election there’s analysis of this done.

  17. bookdragon says:

    @Scott: Hillary was raised in the UMC the same as I was, and in roughly the same era. One of the things that still sticks with me is the “go into a closet to pray” and when doing good deeds don’t trumpet them in the streets but be so quiet about it that “your left hand doesn’t know what your right hand is doing”.

    To this day I feel an impulse to change the topic quickly if anyone mentions having seen me involved in some charity event and one of the things that turns me off instantly about the rightwing types flashing their faith around for brownie points.

    I suspect Hillary has that same ingrained response and it keeps her from saying much about faith or pointing to the truly good things she has done.

  18. @Kylopod:

    Also, many articles call “working class” (or even worse, “blue collar”) to everybody without a college degree, independently of his profession or income (probably there are many small businessman, local managers, salesman, etc. without a college degree that are for all effects “middle class” but are counted in these articles as “working class”)

  19. steve s says:

    grumpy realist says:
    Friday, May 6, 2016 at 11:22
    Interesting analysis.

    The reason I’m voting for Hillary as opposed to Trump is because the Democratic Party seems to be the only party interested in spending money on science and technology.

    I live in florida, where the Republican governor’s response to science is to ban all government workers from discussing it.

  20. Scott says:

    @bookdragon: Yes, she takes Matthew 6:5-6 to heart.

    And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

  21. Grumpy Realist says:

    @steve s: I keep wondering–how far under water does South Florida have to get before its politicians admit that yes, climate change is happening?

  22. steve s says:

    Never. That’s all a Liebral conspiracy by the Marxist Negro Dictator to destroy capitalism and jesus. According to the local Republicans.

  23. steve s says:

    (around here they don’t say ‘Negro’ though, when they say that, which is only when other non-young whites are nearby)

  24. Kylopod says:

    @Miguel Madeira: By that definition Bill Gates is working class.

  25. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I truly believe that women will end up breaking for Clinton at a higher percentage than we have seen in past Presidential elections. Not because they are excited by her candidacy, per se, but because Trump’s rhetoric will end up including enough blatantly misogynist crap that he is going to actively repel women voters away from the GOP like a magnet with reversed polarity.

  26. Barry says:

    @Grumpy Realist: “I keep wondering–how far under water does South Florida have to get before its politicians admit that yes, climate change is happening?”

    As long as the donors’ checks clear the bank and the Tea Party types vote for them, waaaaay far under water.

  27. Mister Bluster says:

    Rick Perry Endorses Cancer for President

    Rick Perry July 22, 2015:
    Let no one be mistaken – Donald Trump’s candidacy is a cancer on conservatism, and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised and discarded.

    Rick Perry 10 months later:
    “I believe in the process,” Perry said in an interview with CNN, “and the process has said Donald Trump will be our nominee and I’m going to support him and help him and do what I can.”

    When you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.
    Attributed to Nixon henchman Charles Colsen in the movie
    All the President’s Men.

    .

  28. Kylopod says:

    Okay, I see that Ed Kilgore and Jamelle Bouie have made the same point I did in this thread, with a lot more data:

    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/05/white-working-class-not-what-it-used-to-be.html

    What fascinates me is how racial attitudes are baked into the language in a way that totally escapes the pundits’ conscious detection. The phrase “white working class” gets thrown around a lot, but very often the word “white” gets omitted without any recognition of a change in meaning. To most people, as soon as you utter the phrase “working class,” an image springs to their mind–some combination of Archie Bunker, Al Bundy, and Homer Simpson, a middle-aged white male with a receding hairline and beer belly. Blacks and Latinos are never working class, just “poor.”

  29. Tyrell says:

    Hillary said a while back that she would “put the coal miners out of work”. Now she is back walking, reversing, slip sliding, and u-turning her comments, saying they were “misconstrued” and “twisted around”.
    What she needs to explain are the effects of her energy policies and their effects on utility costs for the American working people.

  30. Matt says:

    @Tyrell: Coal miners NEED to be put out of work. Coal kills more people a year then any other source of energy. There are radioactive fly ash storage ponds across this country waiting to be a disaster.

    Not to mention the billions of dollars worth of superfund site that are old coal mines. Once the mine becomes unprofitable the shell company that owns it folds and the owners run away with their riches. It’s the public that ends up paying the bill to clean up after the companies. Privatize the profits and socialize the costs…

    LFTR based gen IV nuclear reactors would produce far less deadly waste in comparison…