How angry is America and will it affect presidential election?

Usually, the economy is the biggest issue in US presidential elections, we also see this antiestablishment vs establishment theme. So what topics and why these will determine the outcome of upcoming primaries and US presidential elections? Read fews comments.

The White House, the ultimatimate in the US presidential election. Credit:

The White House, the ultimate prize in the US presidential election. Credit:

Robert Busby, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Liverpool Hope University

The appearance of anti-establishment candidates in the 2016 election represents a notable shake up of the conventional political repertoire in American presidential politics. The expected frontrunners, Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton have faced unprecedented challenges to their candidacies which were unexpected and appear to be sustaining their surprising momentum. There are several reasons for a greater emphasis on running against the establishment. The economy is still the number one issue which defines the election, and it provides the barometer of the type of issues that are discussed and for most it forms the deciding factor to shape their final casting of their ballot. For Trump and Sanders the issues of wealth are to the fore, Sanders with his interpretation of Democratic Socialism and Trump in his ambitions to ‘Make America Great Again’  and his fiery rhetoric on the economic threat posed by China. But this year feels different. A range of issues appear to have greater salience than normal. Issues such as gay marriage, abortion, gun control, health care, demographic considerations and the changing face of the American electorate appear much more divisive than they have been in the past. These serve to divide and frequently the candidates make clear that there is no compromise position to be found, which further serves to fragment the field. Indeed the theme of the election appears to be one of division, and perceptions by a range of demographic groups that they suffer from political neglect, be it Trump’s ‘Silent Majority’ or the ongoing concerns about racial divisions via the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign. Similarly the political discussions of Mexicans, Muslims, and illegal immigrants serves to underscore a sense of social disunity.

There appears to be a lack of faith in conventional political figures, or what the system has delivered in recent years – Obama’s Hope and Change doesn’t really appear to have had a lot of resonance – and the fallout is support for candidates who don’t offer more of the same, but promise to take action to alter the political equilibrium. There may also be a sense of political fatigue, the prospect of a race between another Clinton and another Bush and concept of political dynasties did not offer a lot of excitement. Whether they are nominated or not, Trump and Sanders will change the way in which the race is played out and may serve to make ever more difficult for ‘mainstream’ candidates to find positions which can bring a sense of cohesion and inclusiveness in society.

John Owens, Emeritus  Professor of United States Government and Politics, Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster 

You are right: usually the economy is the most important issue in US presidential elections but not necessarily in the primaries and caucuses and not equally between the two main parties. During the current cycle, unsurprisingly the atrocities undertaken by DAISH and the likelihood of jihadist attacks in the US – after Paris and San Bernardino – have pushed terrorism and foreign policy issues up the political agenda. Recent polls (e.g. NYTimes/CBS, Quinnipiac and Monmouth University) in Iowa (where Democrats and Republicans will caucus to choose a nominee) and in New Hampshire (where there will be a primary next month) show that Republicans in those states are most concerned with terrorism and foreign and national security policy issues while Democrats in those states are more concerned with jobs, wages and the condition of the US economy – even though unemployment is less than 4% in both states. Unsurprisingly, the main candidates – Trump in the Republican race – and Clinton and Sanders in the Democratic contest – have honed in one these issues in order to attract their party’s primary voters. But, beyond these general trends, local issues also kick in e.g. a growing drug abuse problem in NH.

The poll findings for these early races also resonate at the national level. The most recent NBC Survey/Monkey Weekly Election Tracking Poll conducted online in early January show “jobs and economy” and “terrorism” both named by around a quarter of voters as the issue that is currently most important to them. But, again, there are also important partisan divisions: 34% of Republican voters said that terrorism was the most important issue facing the US against 26% who chose the economy whereas only 11% of Democrats list terrorism as the issue most important to them and 29% named the economy; health care (17%), the environment (15%) and education (13%) also figured higher than terrorism for Democrats. These trends, moreover, stand up when one examines which issues are most important for the supporters of the different candidates. Thus, respectively, 34% of Trump’s supporters, 38% of Cruz’s, and 38% of Rubio’s cite terrorism as most important.

So, the nature of the issue contest among the candidates in each of the parties is different.

These are early days in the election process but I would expect these two issues – and the partisan divide over them – to continue right up to November and beyond.

Robert Schmuhl, Professor of American Studies, University of Notre Dame

For the past several years, American public opinion has recorded that almost two-thirds of the people surveyed think the U.S. is going in the wrong direction. That deep pessimism is reflected in what’s happening as candidates for the presidential nominations campaign. Feelings of anger and anxiety are fueling the race. This means that voters are looking beyond traditional candidates to figures like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

It’s too early to say what specific issues will dominate in the fall before the November election. The economy will be central but so will security, if there are any more acts of terrorism.

It is a very unsettled time in the U.S., and the current campaign for president symbolizes that unease and fury.

Cal JillsonProfessor of Political Science, Southern Methodist University

The U.S. national election is still more than nine months away, though the first preliminary event, the state caucuses in Iowa, are just a week away, so much can change between now and then. Though the U.S. economy has been good overall, if not particularly for the average worker, recent upheaval in the Middle East and terrorist events in Europe and here have unnerved many voters, especially conservatives. The billionaire showman Donald Trump has benefited from the unease but he is very unlikely to be elected president. The Democrats probably have the advantage particularly if attention shifts back toward the economy.

Marty Linsky, Adjunct Lecturer, Harvard University, Co-founder, Cambridge Leadership Associates

Trump and Sanders (and to some extent Cruz) have tapped into deep frustration and anxiety about the future that has energized a significant but still a minority of Americans. The yearning for a savior who promises sweeping change and takes responsibility off of our shoulders has powerful appeal in times of uncertainty and rapid change. In a primary, those qualities are particularly effective. The lesson of this primary season for the eventual nominees is that they dare not ignore the emotions that Trump, Sanders and Cruz have tapped into.

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