As counterintuitive as it may sound, it appears that the American public will soon elect a president that a majority of them dislike.
Assuming that Clinton wins the Democratic nomination and either Trump or Cruz secure the Republican vote–which seems most likely at this point–the 2016 election will come down to which candidate Americans hate the least, instead of which one voters wish to see in office.
In fact, all three candidates are less popular than the losing candidates of the past five election cycles (The Washington Post, “This election is an unpopularity contest for the ages,” 04.19.2016). Although typically a candidate’s favorability increases in the months before the election, the current state of the polls does not reflect this trend.
This presidential campaign, more than most, is “being driven heavily by the ‘no’ factor, or the motivation voters have to turn out to prevent someone from getting elected” (U.S. News, “The Most Hated Candidate,” 02.26.2016).
Since the start of their campaigns, neither Trump nor Cruz has been viewed more positively than negatively by voters.
Trump, as expected, attracts the most contempt, with a net favorability rating of minus-41 (The Washington Post). 65 percent of registered voters have a negative view of Trump, making him the least popular candidate in recorded U.S. history. Moreover, only 12 percent believe that Trump has the right temperament to take on the role of U.S. President.
Cruz currently holds a rating of minus-23, with 49 percent of the voting population holding a negative view of him. Additionally, Cruz has been much maligned by figures in his own party. Senator John McCain and Rep. Peter King have both spoken at length about their disdain for Cruz.
Although this undoubtedly indicates that the Republican Party needs restructuring, Democrats are not immune to the overall cynicism of the American public. Perhaps the United States needs to reexamine not only the individual vices of each party, but the party system itself and the political environment which it both creates and exists in.
While Clinton started out with more positive ratings than negative ones last April, her favorability has changed. She now holds a minus-24 rating and 56 percent of voters view her negatively. Public opinion of Clinton, however, has proven to be constantly in flux during the course of her political career and, unlike the popularity of Trump and Cruz, her favorability is subject to change. That being said, only 19 percent of voters currently believe Clinton to be honest and trustworthy.
However, while candidates usually have the chance to win over voters as the campaign progresses, both Clinton and Trump have long-established reputations. It is unlikely that either one would be able to recreate their image between now and November.
If it comes down to Trump and Clinton, Trump, of course, has more to overcome in order to win over voters. Nonetheless, Clinton cannot count on Trump’s infamy to secure the White House.
The differences between Clinton and Sanders are far more pronounced than those between Clinton and Obama eight years ago, and therefore Clinton will have to work that much harder to convince Sanders supporters to come to the polls in November.
Bernie Sanders, whose chances of presidency unfortunately look increasingly slim, has garnered the most positive ratings. This factor, however, seems increasingly irrelevant in the turnout of the 2016 primaries.
Ironically, the current outgoing president appears to be the only one benefiting from the toxic atmosphere of the 2016 election; over the past month, his approval rating has gone up to 50 percent (MSNBC, “Unpopularity contest: Poll shows grim outlook for 2016 winner,” 04.18.2016). Unfortunately, this seems to be the only thing Americans can come to a consensus on.
The growing gap between voters’ preferences and the eventual election outcomes is an alarming development in an increasingly polarized nation.
Not only is the U.S. becoming more polarized along party lines, but also within the two major parties. Among Sanders voters, 41 percent view Clinton negatively, and within the Republican party, 56 percent of Cruz’s voters have a negative opinion of Trump. While growing tensions and heightened hostility during election years is certainly nothing new, the effects and scope of the current cynicism seem likely to stretch beyond the November election.
The election may well be decided by the electorate, which has also become increasingly polarized in recent years and which is also not impervious to the “no” factor. The future president should not be determined by who can “keep the more-hated persona away from Pennsylvania Avenue,” which it may come down to in the electorate (U.S. News).
According to Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, the upcoming election “will be the first time in the history of polling that we’ll have both major party candidates disliked by a majority of the American people going into the election” (The Washington Post). The growing cynicism of Americans will undoubtedly affect not only the polls, but the presidency of whoever occupies the Oval Office next.
A blatant unpopularity of whichever candidate is elected is likely to weaken the power of the president.
Peter Hart, Democratic pollster for Public Opinion Strategies, asserts, “The Republicans have a party problem, and the Democrats have a candidate problem” (CNBC, “Unpopularity Contest: Polls Show Grim Outlook for 2016 Winner,” 04.18.2016). Regardless of each party’s individual weaknesses, the lack of candidates that meet public approval exposes an issue that is much bigger than a specific candidate or the current state of any one political party. A government in which a widely disliked and distrusted politician can end up in office is not truly a democracy.
The problem is not the critical nature of the public; this criticism is a positive trend in a nation that necessitates significant social change. Rather, it is the disjuncture between the vision for the future that voters have, and that held by the majority of the candidates, that raises a red flag.
While it is always beneficial to have a multiplicity of perspectives on national issues, the presidential candidates should reflect the most commonly held outlooks of Americans, which is not the case in the current election. The U.S. needs to focus on closing the gap between the political sphere and the social climate which it should ideally reflect.
No matter who wins the general election, the air of cynicism and disenchantment surrounding the primaries is a clear sign that something isn’t working. A democratic election should ensure that the most popular candidate wins; the current system seems only to ensure that the least popular candidate does not win. If Trump becomes the nation’s next president, American democracy can no longer uphold even this meager claim.
The purpose of a democratic election is not to vote against the worst potential leader, but to vote for the most qualified candidate. A nation primarily fueled by hatred for the opposite political faction cannot possibly maintain a social climate of tolerance and acceptance.
The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board is onto something when it says, “It’s time to overhaul the process–or the parties themselves” (“Donald Trump? Ted Cruz? Hillary Clinton? We do it Wrong,” 04.20.2016). It would be in the nation’s best interest to come to this realization sooner rather than later.