Sunday, May 22, 2016

Knowing the known unknown.

Apologies to Donald Rumsfeld (does that make us even), but this campaign, certainly the coverage of  it, has now turned on its head for the umpteenth time.  A short  few weeks ago, when Cruz was riding high, the narrative was that the Republicans faced a convention fight that  would make Chicago 1968 look like a Girl Scout meeting. But Trump swept and Cruz faded and then the most remarkable thing began to happen.  Republicans, who for the better part of a year were repulsed by Trump began to come around. Voters who had favored one of the 18 or so former candidates begin to assert that, well, Trump might be a dolt but he could be the one to win the election. The most recent polling showed that over 80% of Republicans would support Trump in a general election. That is higher than those who said they would support Romney at the same time four years ago.

So, what is going on? Well, let's remember that polls are but snapshots of a general feeling at the time the questions are asked.  So, as far as being predictive, do not put too much faith in them at this point. What is probably happening is that voters in general are facing a binary choice.  Trump or Hillary (you can use Bernie if you want, the choice for Republicans is still binary). And they dont want either Hillary or Bernie.  So, the majority has moved on to Trump.

What happens over  the next few months is what matters.  And it is hard to see any issues that might move a large enough collection of voters from one candidate to another that is not already in the equation.  What that means is that the campaign may not be about traditonal issues, and may be more volatile, more subject to effect by events, than past campaigns.  Economic upheaval, terror attacks, events that we cannot yet imagine, and how the candidates respond to them will be vitally important. Will the voters like the shoot from the hip Trump, or the careful, calibrated Hillary?  

And the electorate is not happy.  There is both palpable anger, and an undercurrent of unease. And the majority of voters are not yet  engaged, though there is indication that they are paying more attention than in prior elections at this stage.

Will money used in the traditional way, to undercut, define down and disparage the opponent work?  With the negatives of both leading candidates so high, how much worse can we voters think of them? And if individual issues are not key, what good will issue ads do? If this is a campaign based on who we trust more, well, that might be no better than  a coin flip.

The primary season grinds closer to finality, but this general election portends to be a very interesting one.

No comments: