It’s actually fairly easy to explain Donald Trump’s rise

I guess we should start here: he’s not going to win the GOP nomination. He might run top-3 for a portion of the primaries, but he won’t win. I don’t even think he thinks he’ll win; I doubt any staff he has thinks he’ll win (if I had to guess). It’s more about what it means; it pretty much seemingly always has been.

The flip side problem here (brief tangent) is that the general election will probably be a Bush vs. a Clinton (of course, that could change 10,221 different ways), and “Bush” vs. “Clinton” doesn’t necessarily say anything good about where America is headed either.

But if you want to explain what’s happening with Donald Trump right now in an effortless fashion at a cocktail party, I can help you out.

Let’s go the Pew Research Center Fact Tank for a moment: 

In our July survey, 24% of the public has an unfavorable opinion of both the Republican and Democratic parties. That is up from 19% in January, though little changed from yearly averages in polls conducted in 2014 and 2013 (22% each).

OK, so across the last couple of years, these numbers are pretty consistent. Got it. But

The share expressing negative views of both parties has been higher in recent years than in the 2000s or 1990s. In the 2008 presidential election year, 12% viewed both parties unfavorably. In 2004, 10% did so, and in 2000, just 7% expressed unfavorable opinions of both the Republican and Democratic parties.

OK, so think about that:

  • In the 2000 election cycle, about 7 percent of people polled had an unfavorable view of both parties
  • In the 2016 election cycle, about 24 percent of people polled had an unfavorable view of both parties

In four cycles, we’ve basically quadrupled the amount of people who think both parties — not just one! — are out of touch. That’s a pretty rapid jump.

Here it is visually:

Unfavorable View Of Political Parties

We’ve seen a lot of political polarization in recent years, and that makes sense. But now it appears we’re seeing double-negative polarization: people dislike both parties.

Now, I basically never watch Meet the Press — I’m more of a CBS Sunday Morning dude, if you must know — but I saw it this weekend with some friends and this clip was on it:

That’s a Trump rally in Alabama and what his supporters are saying about him. Common themes?

  • Outsider
  • Change
  • Change the system
  • Real
  • Talks real
  • Represents us
  • Discontent with government

I get all that, although I think some of these voters are missing the sheer idea that a billionaire can never be “an outsider” in a capitalist system. A billionaire is essentially the definition of an insider. Politically, I get it … but that implies “politics” and “money” aren’t intertwined. They very much are.

So there’s your answer on Trump, though: 1 in 4 people dislike both parties, but they realize (hopefully) that they should still be somewhat aware of what’s going on and maybe even vote in a primary/general. If you want to be semi-active but you dislike the options, what do you do? You choose the freakshow screaming from the rafters on the side. And there’s your explanation for the current GOP situation.


Ted Bauer

One Comment

  1. The other factor is Trump himself. I’d argue that even with all the evidence about party dissatisfaction, you couldn’t just put any old billionaire in Trump’s slot and get the same results (remember Steve Forbes?). Trump has charisma, media acumen, and he keeps his “message” simple, which appeals to some people on a visceral level. He’s able to read the tea leaves of the (mostly disaffected) Zeitgeist and respond accordingly. He’s strong and wrong. He’s quick and nimble, missing no opportunity to use the bully pulpit to his advantage.

    His campaign will be self-limiting. The other candidates, regardless of party, would do well to let him do his own damage. Insults aimed at him only legitimize his campaign and detract from theirs. Trump was born on 3rd base and expects acclaim and praise for hitting a home run in life. Too many Americans think wealth signifies virtue, which is hardly the case.

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