America’s Angry Voting Bloc

There are four months to go until America elects its next President. It is generally believed at this time that Hilary Clinton will defeat Donald Trump, primarily due to her governmental experience. Mr. Trump is perceived by many as being a loose cannon, whose blunt manner is unsuitable for the nation’s highest office. Late June polls show Ms. Clinton leading by an average of five points, but as pollsters cautiously note, the 2016 presidential campaign is full of unforeseen surprises. The meteoric rise of Mr. Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders has caught the political experts off guard. How a Real Estate tycoon and professed Democratic Socialist became the leaders of a major political insurgency reflects a restive citizenry that is unhappy with the current state of affairs.

This discontent is noticeably evident among America’s middle class, whose share of the economic pie has decreased since the beginning of this century. Several factors explain why this has occurred: America’s transition from a labor-intensive industrial to a specialized, information based society; foreign trade agreements which enable American manufacturers to move their operations to less expensive overseas locations; the growing list of Federal, state and local regulations that US companies have to maneuver without incurring financial penalties. The labor force participation rate (a measure determining how many people are employed nationwide) currently stands at 62.6 percent, its lowest rate in nearly forty years. These transformations have especially impacted the male population. Their workforce participation rate is at a record low, with a significant percentage pessimistic about their future prospects and subsequently dropping out of the job market.

Suffice to say, these circumstances pose a challenging environment to middle class families. There has been minimal income growth for this segment of society amid steadily rising health, insurance and consumer expenses. While parents struggle to make ends meet, their children face burdensome educational costs and an uncertain job market upon graduation. Their political representatives – Democrat and Republican alike – seem tone deaf to their concerns, espousing respective party doctrines with no perceptible impact. Frustration ensues, bringing about an alienated constituency.

Trump and Sanders have tapped into this undercurrent of discontent with the status quo, albeit from different sides of the political spectrum. Projecting themselves as “outsiders” who weren’t beholden to backroom politics and special interest groups (even though Trump’s commercial and Sander’s legislative backgrounds suggest otherwise), their respective messages resonate throughout middle class communities. Mr. Trump’s motto “Make America Great Again” evokes a renewed sense of patriotism that contrasts with the globalist tendencies of the Obama administration. Senator Sanders now-suspended campaign advocated “A Future to Believe In” for those who had been marginalized by their changing environments. Compare these slogans with Hillary Clinton’s “I’m With Her”. Whereas Trump and Sanders express their goals and ideals to the general public, the Clinton campaign conveys the notion that its sentiments are already known and don’t bear specifying.

Many Americans are rankled by this attitude since it denotes that the Clinton name is reason enough for being elected to the presidency. The same rationale troubled Jeb Bush’s short-lived candidacy. A family’s political legacy can be a detriment in the current environment. The Bush and Clinton’s devotion to public service has an elitist “insider” aspect to it, a sense that they know what’s best for America. Much of the nation believes otherwise, discarding what they perceive as patronizing dynasties with shopworn remedies.

A region that may become pivotal to the election’s outcome is the Upper Mid West. This area is generally referred to as the “Rust Belt,” due to the numerous industrial towns and cities scattered throughout the region. The population is predominantly working middle class, blue collar communities that have seen better economic days. The Rust Belt has been severely impacted by “globalism” and the “new economy”. Numerous factories have either shut down or moved elsewhere because of such circumstances, leaving huge social and economic voids in their wake. As for remaining plants, they confront a widening array of labor and environmental regulations, whose net effect often results in workforce reductions or part-time employees.

These environs have supported the Democratic Party’s nominee in recent presidential elections, but there are indications this might be changing. Political analysts are noting the re-emergence of what’s known as the Reagan Democrats. As the term implies, these are people who will cross party lines when they feel the nation needs a major overhaul. This noticeably occurred in 1980, when many registered Democrats decided to cast their ballots for Ronald Reagan, who was the Republican Party’s candidate.

A similar situation is emerging within Rust Belt surroundings, where a significant number of Reagan Democrats reside. They have been a largely dormant factor since the Reagan years, either returning to the Democratic fold or simply not voting, dissatisfied with whom the choices were. Trump’s emergence has grabbed their curiosity, his outlook and persona somewhat reminiscent of Reagan’s. He directly addresses the region’s fear and concerns, especially its rapidly dwindling industrial base. The continuous haranguing against “professional politicians” and their sincerity is a further draw, vulnerable aspects per Ms. Clinton’s campaign.

Recent polls taken in the states of Pennsylvania and Ohio indicate that the Rust Belt will be a closely contested region. The Clinton campaign is slightly ahead by an average 2.7 points, half of her nationwide lead. Ohio is a very critical gauge – no president has made it to the White House without winning this state in recent history. The polls also show approximately 20% of both states’ voters are undecided as to whom they’ll support come November. Reagan Democrats might once again be the determining factor in a general election.

GSR is a policy analyst who has worked with democratic development projects in Turkey and the Caucasus. Copyright GSR, 2016


Photo: / Bill-Muckler

07 July 2016 20:16