Politically Uncorrected: The Unpopular Vote

Hillary-DonaldWhat matters in a presidential election, and what will matter in the 2016 election?

This simple question has produced a virtual cornucopia of theories, suppositions and hypothesis, all developed to explain why one party’s candidate is elected while the other party’s candidate is rejected.

Prominent among these include the state of the economy, foreign policy crises, job performance ratings, the relative strength of the two major parties, nomination battles, incumbency, and much more.

What has not been studied is the personal popularity of candidates.  Does popularity really matter?

This question looms acutely compelling this year since both candidates, measured by the polling standard “favorable or unfavorable,” are both more unpopular than popular.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s dual unpopularity is historically unprecedented. Voters in 2016 will be asked to make a choice between two candidates, both of which they dislike.

The poll numbers are unequivocal. The Real Clear Politics national average for Clinton shows a 15-point plus gap between her “favorables” and “unfavorables.” By any standard she is very unpopular with voters, an unpopularity almost certainly linked to deep voter skepticism about her honesty and trustfulness.

Trump is in even more historic territory. He is viewed negatively by more than six of every ten Americans. The yawning gap between his unpopularity and popularity is almost 30 percent. Trump is viewed unfavorably by seven of every ten women and almost nine of every ten African Americans.

So, we have a paradox here. For the first time in modern history both major candidates are far more unpopular than they are popular. Yet one of them is going to win the election.

How has candidate popularity impacted past presidential elections? We can answer that question using a combination of state (Pennsylvania) and national data stretching back a quarter century.

If popularity or “favorables” are important then an examination of favorable scores in recent presidential elections might offer a clue as to the likely winner in the competition for the Keystone state’s 20 electoral votes.

Looking at the first four presidential elections of the 21st century in Pennsylvania back to 2000, what does candidate popularity show?  The final Franklin & Marshall poll taken before Election Day for all four elections reveals that the most popular candidate carried the state in each of these elections.

1. In 2000, Al Gore won the state with favorables of 45 percent over George W. Bush’s 43 percent, winning by 4 points.

2. In 2004, John Kerry won the state with favorables of 48 percent over Bush’s 42 percent, winning by 2.5 points.

3. In 2008, Barack Obama won the state with favorables of 53 percent over John McCain’s 45 percent, winning by 10 points.

4. In 2012, Obama won the state with favorables of 50 percent over Mitt Romney’s 43 percent, winning by 5 points.

In general, the higher a candidates favorables the wider the victory. And the closer in popularity candidates are to each other, the closer the election.

So, we see consistent outcomes in one state tied to popularity. The most popular candidate always won and the closer the candidate’s popularity the closer the election.

These may tell us something important about Pennsylvania. But what does comparable national data show about national results?

Indeed, quite a bit!

In fact, national presidential election data back to 1992 tells the same tale: popularity matters.

In 1992, Bill Clinton won nationally with 58 percent favorables to George H. W. Bush’s 47 percent favorable.

In 1996, Clinton won nationally with 56 percent favorables to Bob Dole’s 50 percent favorable.

In 2000, Gore won nationally (The popular vote) with 56 percent favorable to Bush’s 55 percent favorable.

In 2004, George W. Bush won with 51 percent favorables to Kerry’s 52 percent, the only election where the less popular candidate won the popular vote albeit, popularity that year was a virtual wash.

In 2008, Obama won with 56 percent favorables to McCain’s  52 percent favorable.

In 2012, Obama won with 50 percent favorables to Romney’s 49 percent favorable.

These national results combined with state data confirm that popularity does forecast winners and losers of presidential elections – although a single election (2004) suggests the correlation may not be perfect when popularity scores are close – while 2000 remind us that national popularity can be eclipsed by machinations of the Electoral College.

What about 2016 when both candidates are likely to be more unpopular than popular on Election Day?

If past popular vote elections have been won by the most popular candidate, this one will be won by the least unpopular candidate. The contest will be won by what the late legendary media analyst Tony Schwartz called “the least objectionable politician.” Some Americans might update that term to the “least obnoxious politician” in the race.

Electing a president because he or she is least obnoxious fails to inspire. Worse, however, doing so means we are going to live through perhaps the most negative presidential election in American history – one in which behind a virtual blizzard of negative ads, both campaigns will depict their candidate as the best of the worse.

Our politics have now reached the point where voters must choose for president the least unpopular, and least objectionable. We are told that the best of the worse is the best we can do.

If it is, we need to stop using the phrase “popular vote” to describe our elections.

Maybe we should call it the “unpopular vote.”

2 Responses

  1. Her campaign is based on the premise she’ll narrow the gap between the rich and the poor and understands the plight of the average working class.
    “For the factory workers and food servers who stand on their feet all day. For the nurses who work the night shift. For the truckers who drive for hours and the farmers who feed us . For everyone who’s ever been knocked down, but refused to be knocked out,” Mrs. Clinton said during her presidential kick-off speech last year, vowing to fight for the middle class.
    But this is a tough needle to thread, considering Mrs. Clinton is part of the top 1 percent of the 1 percent, and got that way profiting off of public service.
    When Mrs. Clinton emerged from the hospital after the birth of her grandson this week, all eyes were on her $3,500 Ralph Lauren calfskin purse, being carried by an aide. New mom Chelsea Clinton and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, paid upwards of $1,700 or more per night to stay in the Lenox Hill hospital in Manhattan, the same one where Beyonce and Jay-Z welcomed their daughter.
    The executive birthing suite is more like a five-star hotel, with “flat-screen TVs, lushly upholstered gray and cream sofas adorned with silken throw pillows,” the New York Daily News reported.
    A far cry from your average hospital room.

    There’s no doubt, Mrs. Clinton’s had trouble connecting with the people she’s trying to reach.
    In the latest Quinnipiac poll in the swing states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, more than half of the respondents said Mrs. Clinton doesn’t “care about the needs and problems of people like you.”
    They also judged rival Donald Trump as more “honest and trustworthy.”
    And there’s no wonder why.
    In 2014, Mrs. Clinton famously said in an interview “we came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt.” That year, the Clinton’s reported a total income of $16.2 million, according to their public disclosure report.
    Today, the Clinton’s net worth is as much as $52.7 million, which doesn’t even include the values of their homes in Washington and New York, which are estimated at $9.3 million.
    And they’re used to this millionaire-style living.
    In 2014 Mrs. Clinton collected a $225,000 speaking fee to address the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Among her requests was a private jet, first class airfare for one of her aides, business-class airfare for two of her aides, and a presidential hotel suite for her at the five-star Bellagio, plus “up to three adjoining rooms for her travel aides and up to two additional single rooms for the advance staff,” according to the leaked advance documents.
    In April, she wore a $12,495 Armani jacket during a speech about income inequality. In an appearance on the View, she clutched a $1,645 Alexander McQueen handbag.
    Mrs. Clinton is so out of touch, she’s had to hire a team of image experts that includes a former Michelle Obama aide who’s been tasked with “shaping her style and making her more relatable,” according to the New York Post.
    Then there’s the conflating of public wealth with private wealth.
    The U.S. Constitution prohibits government employees from keeping presents worth more than $350, but upon leaving the White House, the Clinton’s didn’t seem to understand this and walked out with about $200,000 worth of merchandise — including flatware, china, furniture and rugs.
    After the story broke, the Clintons said they would pay the government nearly $86,000 for items that were actually government property and also returned about $48,000 worth of White House furniture.
    Working in the public sector for more than two-decades — with all its attention, bells being rung and answered — has also diminished Mrs. Clinton’s sense of reality.
    Some of her emails released as secretary of state describe her difficulty in working commonplace office tools.
    They describe her frustration at using a fax machine and her inability to know how to send and receive emails on a desktop — so much so she’s now being investigated by the FBI for releasing classified information.
    But then there are the minor things.
    Emails show Mrs. Clinton had to ask an aide when television shows aired, and how much her personal chef billed her (let alone knowing how much a gallon of milk cost, or how to prepare her own meals).
    On the campaign trail, she’s asked voters silly (but serious) questions about what it means to “go-viral” and if she’d wiped her email server clean with “like a cloth or something?” She had a problem with a New York subway turnstile.
    Yes, Mr. Trump’s a billionaire, but he connects with working-class people more than Mrs. Clinton ever will. He’s been on construction sites, managed employees and made his money through the private sector.
    All the while, Mrs. Clinton has been getting rich off your dime, and living like it in an insular world.
    No wonder why she’s having such a hard time connecting.
    • Kelly Riddell is a columnist for The Washington Times.

  2. After 30 years of virtually non-stop attempts at character assassination, Republicans have little room to complain here. It’s amazing how many Democrats I know have even bought into the Republican talking points on Clinton, which I differentiate from legitimate criticisms one might have within Democratic circles. The problems with Trump are myriad and self evident.

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