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The 2016 Election, the Media, Favorability Ratings, and the Shifting American Electorate

 

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

John Adams, 2nd President of the United States

 

The cornerstone of all science is observation. Lately I’ve made some interesting observations that raise a lot of questions about the 2016 election, the media and the shifting American electorate.

     The Status of the Republican Party

A good question to consider is why more than 50% of Republican voters seem to prefer outsiders rather than professional politicians, for example (Trump, Carson or Fiorina). By comparison, on the Democratic side, Democrats mostly seem to prefer tried and true democratic professional politicians like Clinton, Sanders, or O’Malley. I do not have a guiding theory to explain these peculiar political party differences in preference. Although Democrats too have different preferences among their candidates, they appear nonetheless to be more at ease with their choices than do the Republicans.

This is a fair question to ask—why it is Republicans are so dissatisfied, and why it is the Republican Party is in such disarray due to in-fighting.

With respect to these questions, I do have some ideas that relate to congressional gridlock, and favorability of the candidates as seen by demographically different voters.

Congressional Gridlock and Demographic Preferences

Many Republican voters who now express contempt for professional politicians are the same voters who willingly sent professional Republican politicians to Congress during the 2014 mid-term elections. It was a Republican landslide just a year ago. This may mean that Republican voters since 2014 have no one to blame but themselves for their own dissatisfaction.

And it’s true. Although the Republican Party since the 2014 mid-term elections has controlled both the House and the Senate, virtually nothing has been achieved due to recalcitrant ultra-conservatives and other malcontents who desired to commit mischief with gridlock and threatening to shut down the United States government.

During the last year, and more recently, Republicans wanted to defund Planned Parenthood. The results: their efforts failed. They also wanted to nix the Iran nuclear diplomatic agreement. The results: their efforts failed. They wanted to deep-six Obamacare and they failed (several times I might add). They wanted to shut down the government over the fiscal budget (in 2013). Except for a few days, the result was abject failure again and condemnation and scorn by the American people against the Republicans. All the President had to do was threaten a veto and they caved in like a very bad West Virginia mining accident. With Republicans in the majority, why couldn’t they control and overturn a presidential veto?

In addition, it is clear that Republican ultra conservatives from the Benghazi Committee have been wasting millions of taxpayer dollars money in order to vilify and tarnish the reputation of Hilary Clinton. Please observe the “smokescreen of doubt” that was created from these hearings; also note that no charges of any kind have yet been filed against Hilary Clinton. Polls showed that even Republican voters understand what was really happening in those hearings.

The Media and Republican Presidential Candidates

There is one area where I am in complete agreement with Republican presidential candidates. It is their anger at the media. There are liberal media and there are conservative media, and they are just as biased as any politician. It’s a common belief that the media are able to sift through truth and falsity and always have the public’s interest in mind. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many hide behind the smokescreen of the First Amendment in order to keep hidden their real intentions. Head-hunting and biased questions (and got-you questions) are still the goal of many reporters around the country. When watching them work, as in the debate in Colorado recently, I felt that the public’s interest in learning a candidate’s real view on many important issues was left out. Consequently, the media had their own agenda that night. Our interests were totally ignored.

Gone are the days of superior reporters like Edward R. Murrow, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, and the great Walter Cronkite. Today, we’re more likely to get Heckle or Jeckle as “talking heads” news journalists or commentators. There are some exceptions to what I’m saying.

In fairness, today there are some really good people in the media such as Don Lemon, Erin Burnett, Rachel Maddow and one of the very best news reporters, Lester Holt. What I like about these journalists is that, although some opinion creeps into their shows, they nevertheless make a real sincere effort to bring out the facts for the public.

I do have some personal experience with this issue. Back in 1996 I wrote a very positive editorial for the Sacramento Bee on the Chief of Naval Operations who had committed suicide. I had worked directly as a gunnery yeoman for the Admiral when he was just an Ltjg/Lt. onboard the U.S.S. John R. Craig (DD-885) during the Vietnam War.

Subsequent to my editorial, I was contacted by a reporter from The Washington Post. He too was writing a story about the Admiral. However, he lied to me about what he was really up to. When his article came out in the Washington Post a week or two later, it was a lousy chop piece denigrating the reputation of the Admiral. This Admiral was the first ever enlisted man in United States Navy to rise from seaman recruit to top officer in the U.S. Navy with four stars (as Chief of Naval Operations). The hard lesson I learned was never ever trust a reporter.

When the public is looking for facts about a presidential candidate, always remember it is your responsibility to sift out truth from falsity. You can never depend on the media.

Favorability Ratings

Another important significant factor is favorability ratings. This may be the closest thing to looking inside the heart of the voter, where their sense of who is best for the White House is a gut level reaction to that candidate. Are they liked, or not?

     Research by the Pew Research Center indicates the Republican Party may be in deep trouble next year with the electorate.

The Republican Party’s image has grown more negative over the first half of this year. Currently, 32% have a favorable impression of the Republican Party, while 60% have an unfavorable view. Favorable views of the GOP have fallen nine percentage points since January. The Democratic Party continues to have mixed ratings (48% favorable, 47% unfavorable).

The Democratic Party has often held an edge over the GOP in favorability in recent years, but its advantage had narrowed following the Republicans’ midterm victory last fall. Today, the gap is as wide as it has been in more than two years.

Republicans in particular are now more critical of their own party than they were a few months ago. About two-thirds (68%) express a favorable opinion of their party, the lowest share in more than two years. Six months ago, 86% of Republicans viewed the GOP positively.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted July 14-20, 2015 among 2,002 adults, finds little change in more specific perceptions of the two parties.

As has been the case over the past four years, the Republican Party is viewed as more extreme in its positions than the Democratic Party. Currently, 52% say the GOP is more extreme, compared with 35% who say this better describes the Democratic Party.

The Democratic Party continues to hold wide advantages over the Republicans on empathy and honesty. By 53% to 31%, the Democratic Party is viewed as “more concerned with the needs of people like me.” And the Democrats hold a 16-point lead on governing in an honest and ethical way (45% to 29%).

Neither party has an edge in perceptions about which could better manage the Federal government: 40% say the Republican Party, while an identical percentage prefers the Democrats.

On issues, the Democratic Party holds double-digit advantages as better able to handle the environment (by a margin of 53% to 27%), abortion and contraception policies (50% to 31%), education (46% to 34%) and health care (46% to 36%).  The Republican Party has wide leads for better reflecting people’s views on gun control (48% to 36%) and dealing with the terrorist threat at home (44% to 34%).

In some cases, such as terrorism and foreign policy, the Republicans have lost ground since January. There has been little change in views of the parties on other major issues, including the economy and immigration. Neither party holds a significant advantage on these issues.

The survey finds little change in Barack Obama’s job approval: 48% approve of the way he is handling his job as president while 45% disapprove. Obama’s rating fell into negative territory at the end of last year, but has been mixed since January.

Recent Pew Research Center surveys have found signs of dissatisfaction with the GOP among Republicans. In May, just 41% of Republicans said they approved of the job performance of the leaders of the GOP-led Congress. In 2011, after Republicans had won control of the House, 60% of Republicans approved of the job being done by their party’s leaders in Congress.

     The current survey finds that positive views of the GOP among Republicans have declined 18 percentage points since January, from 86% to 68%. Independents also view the Republican Party less favorably; 29% today, compared with 37% six months ago.

Democrats by contrast continue to express highly positive opinions of their party: 86% view the party favorably, little changed from 84% in January. Independents’ views of the Democratic Party remain at 38%, unchanged since January.

The advantage the Republican Party had on a number of major issues has eroded since earlier this year. The Democratic Party has improved its position on foreign policy, taxes, policies about abortion and contraception, and terrorism since February.

The Democratic Party’s advantage on abortion and contraception has increased 16 points since February; currently 50% say Democrats could do the better job dealing with policies on abortion and contraception, while just 31% say the GOP could. Though these ratings reflect a shift from February (when the parties ran even on this issue), the edge Democrats now hold is similar to its advantage in October 2014.

Five months ago Republicans were seen by more Americans as the party better able to handle foreign policy (48% said Republicans, 35% Democrats); today, the public is equally likely to say Republicans (38%) as Democrats (41%) could better handle foreign policy. And while the GOP maintains a 10-point advantage as the party better able to address the terrorist threat at home (44% vs. 34%), that edge has narrowed since earlier this year.

Over the last two years, the Republican Party has opened a gap over the Democratic Party when it comes to views about which party better reflects American views about gun control. In May 2013, following months of debate about gun policy, the public was divided over which party could better deal with gun control. Today, the GOP holds a 13-point edge on this issue.

Democrats Hold Edge on Health Care, Neither Party Has Advantage on Economy, Immigration

Health care remains an issue that favors the Democratic Party. Currently 46% prefer the Democratic Party on health care, while 36% prefer the GOP. The Democratic Party has maintained an advantage on this issue for much of the last several years.

Democrats also enjoy a 12-point edge on education policy (46% vs. 34%). And on the environment, the public favors Democrats by about two-to-one (53% say the Democratic Party could do the better job, 27% say the GOP).

Americans continue to be divided over which party would do a better job handling the economy. Today, 44% say Democrats could do the better job, while nearly as many (41%) say Republicans could do the better job. Neither party has held a significant edge on this issue over the last year. Last July the Republicans held an eight-point advantage (47% vs. 39%) on the economy.

The parties also run even on the budget deficit and immigration, little changed since October of last year. The public has been split over which party is better able to handle immigration for the last several years.

There remain substantial divides by age and race over which party is better on immigration. The Democratic Party holds the edge on this issue among Americans under fifty, 48% of whom say it could do the better job on immigration, while just 36% say the GOP does. In contrast, the GOP performs better among those over fifty on immigration: 44% say it would do the better job, while 35% say the Democratic Party.

Whites favor the Republican Party over the Democratic Party by a 10-point margin on immigration, while both African-Americans (by 36 points) and Hispanics (by 29 points) are more likely to say the Democratic Party is better able to handle this issue.

Yet there are substantial divides within whites. While white women are roughly evenly split over which party can better address immigration (39% say Democrats, 40% Republicans), white men favor the GOP by a 20-point margin (51% vs. 31%).

And among whites with college degrees, the Democratic Party holds a slim edge (46% to 38%), while those without college degrees and those who have not attended college favor the GOP on immigration: 50% vs. 26%. Among those with some college experience the percentages are 46% vs. 34%.

Overall, Independents are divided over which party could do the better job addressing immigration (38% say each party). As with most issues, partisans overwhelmingly say their own party could do the better job on this issue.

Democratic Party Viewed More Positively Than GOP on Key Traits

The Democratic Party continues to enjoy an advantage on a number of key traits and qualities, and these views are little changed since last fall. By a 22-point margin, more say the Democratic Party is “more concerned with the needs of people like me.” The Democratic Party has held a similar-sized lead on this trait since 2011, and at least a double-digit edge going back to when this question was first asked more than 25 years ago in 1988.

The Democratic Party also leads the Republican Party as the party that governs in a more honest and ethical way (45% vs. 29%). This balance of opinion is also little changed over the last few years.

As it has been since 2013, the public is divided over which party can best manage the federal government: 41% say the Democratic Party, while 40% say the GOP.

And more Americans identify the Republican Party as “more extreme in its positions” (52% say this, while 35% say the Democratic Party). This view is little changed since 2011.

Congressional Evaluations Remain Highly Negative

     Views of Congress continue to hover near record lows: Just 25% of Americans view Congress favorably, while 69% says they have an unfavorable opinion.

Although the GOP now controls both the House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats hold similar views of Congress: 29% of Democrats and 28% of Republicans rate it favorably. By comparison, Democratic ratings of Congress were consistently higher than Republicans’ ratings when Democrats controlled both chambers from 2007 to 2010.

Republican ratings of Congress are little changed since last summer, but Democratic ratings – which had grown more negative following the 2014 election – have rebounded somewhat (up seven percentage points since March).

Independents’ opinions of Congress are more negative than those in either party. Just 22% say they have a favorable view of Congress, relatively unchanged in recent months.

Views of Barack Obama

Obama’s job approval rating is little changed over the first half of 2015, with Americans about equally likely to say they approve of his performance (48%) as disapprove (45%).

Currently, about eight-in-ten Republicans (82%) disapprove of Obama’s performance, while views among independents remain mixed (48% disapprove, 44% approve). Obama continues to receive positive ratings from about eight-in-ten Democrats (79% approve, 16% disapprove). Ratings of Obama among partisans and independents are relatively unchanged over the last year.

Obama’s approval ratings continue to differ by generation, with younger generations more likely to view his job performance positively. Currently 55% of Millennials (those now ages 18-34) approve of his job performance, as do half of Generation Xers (those 35 to 50). By comparison, 44% of Baby Boomers (51 to 69 year olds) approve of Obama, along with just 37% of those in the Silent Generation (currently ages 70 to 87).

On five issues included in the survey, Obama gets a positive net rating on one: race relations. About half (48%) approve of his handling of race relations, while 43% disapprove. The public holds mixed views on Obama’s handling of health care policy (46% approve, 50% disapprove), the economy (45% approve, 51% disapprove) and global climate change (41% approve, 39% disapprove).

Obama’s performance on foreign policy remains in negative territory, and is little changed over the past few years: Just 38% now approve of how Obama is handling the nation’s foreign policy, while 52% say they disapprove.

While there has been little change in Obama’s approval ratings on many issues in the last year, his rating on health care policy has improved since December: Today, 46% approve of his handling of health care, up from 39%.

Obama’s rating on health care policy has improved across many political and demographic groups, but the change is particularly pronounced among those under 30: In December, 37% of 18-29 year olds approved of Obama’s handling of health care policy; currently 52% approve.

Obama on Foreign Policy: ‘Not Tough Enough’ for Many Americans

Just over half of Americans (53%) continue to say that Barack Obama’s approach to foreign policy and national security is “not tough enough”; 37% say he handles these matters about right, while just 4% say he is too tough. These attitudes are virtually unchanged since November 2013.

Republicans are far more critical of Obama’s approach to foreign policy than Democrats or independents. Eight-in-ten Republicans (80%) say he is not tough enough, compared with 54% of independents and just 32% of Democrats. Most Democrats (58%), along with about a third of independents (34%) say his approach is about right.

The 2016 Election

Let’s take a look now at the overall picture that is unfolding for the 2016 presidential election.

By the Numbers

In November of 2016 the United States will elect a new President. It is estimated that approximately 207,643,594 voters will show up at the polls and cast their ballots. Approximately 55 million will be Republicans, 72 million will be Democrats, and 42 million will be Independents who’ll split the vote.

Whoever the Democrat’s choice to run for president in 2016, it is evident that person is going to become our next President.

The reasons are fivefold: (1) the Republicans are once again out of favor with the American electorate, (2) most Americans blame Republicans for the gridlock in Washington D.C., (3) most young Millennial voters look askance at, and do not identify with, the values of conservatives in this new progressive modern era, (4) the Democrats outnumber republicans by 17 million potential voters in a general election, and (5) the powerful AFL/CIO has a block of 12 million voters who will vote for the candidate who policies favor the working man and woman. From the longshoreman to the steel worker, including assembly line automotive workers, this powerful voting group has determined many elections since the beginning of the industrial age. Democrats or Republicans who ignore the needs of these voters do so at their own peril.

Traditionally, labor unions feel more at ease with Democrats than Republicans, the latter of which tend to favor big business and Wall Street over labor unions.

 

Final Comments

A big question looms over the Republican electorate: If the Republicans control the House and the Senate, why didn’t they satisfy Republican voters who sent them to Washington in the first place? It appears the Republican Party tends not to be progressive or forward-looking.

It may very well be that dissatisfaction among Republican voters has been simmering for some time, going back to the mid-term elections of 1994 when they were promised a “Contract with America.” It was proposed by the Republican Party. Once again the result of Contract with America was utter failure. They achieved virtually nothing that was proposed or promised.

President Bill Clinton jokingly said at the time, “the Contract with America was really a Contract on America.”

To this author it is really not surprising that extremist, obstreperous and recalcitrant Tea Party members of Congress, as well as other irresponsible right wing demagogic conservatives, drove an irredeemable ideological wedge between most Republican lawmakers (moderate Republicans versus conservative Republicans) This is the mess the Republican Party finds itself in 2015.

Such a quixotic and largely self-serving approach to governing the people has been, and will continue to be, a political disaster.

One will recall that within days after the 2008 presidential election of Barack Obama, Republicans in Congress wanted to evaluate, not only what went wrong, but the very values of the Republican Party that led to their defeat.

That moment of self-reflection didn’t last long. Within weeks they were picking fights and engaging in congressional bickering, troublemaking with gridlock at every turn. Although some Republican voters approved of the watchdog approach over the Obama administration, most Republicans still expected there was something in it for them, namely legislation that would lower taxes and reduce the national budget and deficit, reduce the size of government and generally get things done. What happened was the Republicans in office forget why they were elected in the first place?

Consequently, most Republican voters today are pissed off at professional politicians in the Republican Party because of prior elected official’s failure to pass legislation helpful to Republican voters. As a result, the silent majority of Republicans may not be so silent anymore.

My original observation is important. Consequently, you’ll notice that on the Republican side, Republican voters are now more interested in outsiders, or those outside of Washington. Specifically, the polls are now showing widespread support for Republican non-professional politicians like Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. It should be pointed out that historically being a non-politician running for President of the United States is not all that unusual.

For example, Dwight David Eisenhower did not hold elected public office prior to becoming President. Neither did Zackery Taylor, John Adams or Ulysses S. Grant. Therefore it would not be unprecedented if an outsider running for president in 2016 became president of the United States. But, as the old expression goes “that was then and this is now.”

I made my prediction a while ago. That is, the Republican Party has as much chance of winning the presidency in 2016—as a snowball in hell. With all the Republican in-fighting, and the fact they were primarily blamed for all of the post-2008 gridlock, it’s clear they will fail to regain the White House in 2016.

While I could spend days articulating why Republican values miss the mark because of a modern and ever changing progressive American electorate, one important factor as to how the country will vote—is the factor of favorability. It will likely predict the election outcome in 2016. And, not surprisingly, demographics differentiate specific favorability ratings of the candidates. And, of course, Democrat Party voters outnumber Republican Party voters. Given that blacks and Hispanics and educated whites, along with younger voters do not favor the Republican Party, it’s time Republican voters once again reassess its values and what it means to be a conservative with non-inclusive values in a diverse culture.

All of this said—one factor may trump (no pun intended) the economy as a presidential issue. That is the issue of foreign policy since the horrific attacks in Paris.

On the surface one might think that the Republican hardliners would have an advantage as terrorism gains traction on the international scene. This is a complex issue given the humanitarian concerns of “collateral damage.”

Republican presidential candidate Senator Lindsay Graham has some good ideas about putting together a regional army to destroy ISIS. But his numbers in surveys are still hovering slightly below 1% of the Republican vote. The other Republican candidates, like everything else they do, are all talk and no action. More bluster than anything else.

Remember, the good citizens of this country don’t elect the president—The Electoral College does.

It takes 270 Electoral College votes to win the presidency. There currently are 538 total Electoral College votes (435 House, 100, Senate, and 3 from the District of Columbia). It is important that both political parties work to get out the vote in 2016. State majorities matter except in Maine and Nebraska (congressional district method).

If the Democrat presidential candidate turns out to be Hilary Clinton, she will need to have either retired General Wesley Clark or former Florida Governor Charlie Crist run as her running mate. If she does the ticket will be unbeatable and I predict she will win the presidency in 2016 with 304 Electoral College votes. The Republicans would therefore win only 234 Electoral College votes, and thus lose the 2016 election.

 

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