The presidential election of 2016 could arguably go down as the most hotly contested and important election since the election of 1860.
In case we are all not history buffs, in the presidential election of 1860, many felt Abraham Lincoln won by default and because of divided political parties. In fact, the election of Lincoln marked the era of the Republicans, and almost completely and utterly destroyed the Democratic party. Had it not been for the South during the Reconstruction era, the Democratic party may have very well ceased to exist.
Historically, voters in the United States tend to elect moderate candidates for political office. Moderate in the sense that their political views are closer to the center on the political spectrum. It is also worth noting that on the whole, the political spectrum in the United States is arguably much smaller than in all other democracies. However it appears the political spectrum in the United States may be widening out, which could lead to some interesting outcomes or possibilities.
Let us come back to the present now. The presidential election of 2016 has already gotten off to a historic start. The Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary both had record voter turnout. To give some perspective, voter turnout for primaries according to electproject.org during the 2012 presidential primaries and caucuses was lower than 20%.
New Hampshire alone this year, just in their own primary had over a 50% voter turnout! Again to add to the perspective here, a 50% voter turnout is higher than most general elections even when a presidential race is on the ticket!
For those who are unfamiliar, a primary or caucus election is simply an election to determine who will run for political office for the political parties. A general election is where voters decide who will serve an office. Most voters lack political efficacy which is one reason why the voter turn out is so low for all elections in the United States, especially during primaries and caucuses. However, this year it is and will be different.
This year we have some interesting players in the game and some potentially interesting scenarios.
The Democratic Party seems to be the easiest to dissect at the moment. There are really only two front runners as I am writing this. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. If we were to place both candidates on the political spectrum, Hillary Clinton would be much closer to the center than Sanders. Sanders advocates for socialism. Socialism pins very far to the left on the political spectrum. Much farther than any Democrat president the United States has ever seen.
Bernie Sanders is rapidly growing in popularity. His numbers continue to rise and his passion and his ability to connect his ideas to the youth of America seem to be paying off for the time being. His plan is to socialize the economy. He is proposing to tax the wealthiest one percent of Americans heavy.
However, many have argued that his numbers “don’t add up” and that many of his economic ideas are pipe dreams. In an attempt to remain objective, I will only state that again, his numbers are growing and while some are trying to bring him down, he is still rising in the polls. Many economists claim that his plan would involve raising all taxes, not just the wealthy. This will be interesting to watch going forward to see how he reveals his plan for the economy among other issues such as terrorism, employment, entitlements, etc. Lastly, how will the public respond as he continues to campaign for the Democratic Part nomination?
Hillary Clinton is the only other choice at the moment. Unless an unexpected twist of fate for an unknown challenger arises, the Democrats will be represented in the upcoming 2016 general election by either Clinton or Sanders.
Clinton represents the typical, and not-so typical Democrat politician running for president. Her views are more centered, which is generally more appealing to the public overall. Her views are less radical, which voters tend to gravitate towards and she would be the first female president if elected. However, that notion could potential work in favor or against Clinton.
While American’s claim to be less sexist and more accepting, there is still an underlying of sexism and racism within the country. Yes, President Obama is of African-American heritage and managed to win two presidential elections, but the Republicans arguably put up two weak contenders. In addition, whether you love or hate the man, President Obama is a phenomenal speaker and extremely charismatic and had a large voter appeal because of his appearance, moral values and family.
Clinton however does not carry the same advantages that President Obama did. It does seem however, that President Obama will lend his support to Hillary (mainly in my opinion because he did appoint her Secretary of State.) President Obama’s approval rating is not very high at the moment, and as he leaves office, his approval rating may actual hurt the more moderate Hillary Clinton in the primaries and caucuses.
What about the Republicans?
The Republican Party potential stands to win huge or completely crash and burn in my opinion. They seem to have at the moment only two real contenders at the moment in Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. However, unlike the Democrats, I believe there is a much higher chance that another candidate may emerge and take the Republican nomination before this is all over.
Cruz and Trump both are farther on the right of the political spectrum than any Republican elected president who has served before them. As mentioned above, voters tend to support candidates who are more moderate in their approach. Cruz and Trump have proven to be anything but moderate.
In what is almost a dead heat tie, Donald Trump has the slight edge for now with the Republican voters. Many consider Trump to be as far right as any Republican candidate who has ever run for the Republican Party nomination for president.
Trump is in favor of shutting down the borders, putting a tight lid on immigration, balancing the budget, fixing the economy, finding/creating jobs, fighting ISIS, tough international stance on foreign policy, among many other ideas. Trump’s main appeal so far has been to voters who are worried about terrorist attacks and voters who want to see a better economy. Many feel he is the man for the job to fix that.
However, he does come with some strings attached. His views on immigration and immigrants has some in a state of terror of deportation, (even the idea of building walls around our borders) unnecessary intrusion and invasion of privacy. His radical stance appeals greatly to ultra conservatives within the party.
His media portrayal has hurt Trump a bit. He has a negative relationship with the media which has hurt him in the polls. He has often used unorthodox tactics such as refusing to show up for debates, answer questions and even force question prompters to ask or not ask specific questions before a debate or interview.
Ted Cruz is another potential Republican candidate that has some extreme views. Cruz appeals a little bit more to the moderates in the Party, however he also is considered a radical in the traditional sense of the Republican Party. He has been using his Christian values as a platform to run and it has been working so far. Many voters have found that approach appealing and while we try to, and it is stated that church and state will remain separate in our government, all of our presidents have had some sort of Christian upbringing. (Yes, Kennedy was a Catholic, but that still falls under the branch of Christianity)
Ted Cruz has a higher voter appeal in the eyes of some than Trump. While both candidates are considered to be ideologically extreme, Cruz has a higher voter appeal because of his appearance, demeanor, family and overall presence.
Other candidates are still receiving votes and support within the Republican Party and I believe this race to far from over. I believe that a more moderate candidate with a high voter appeal will eventually emerge and begin to gain momentum. A candidate such as Marco Rubio would be an attractive candidate for the Republicans to support. He is a Latino, which would help with the minority vote and he is much more centered on the political spectrum than either Trump or Cruz. Even JEB Bush has a moderately high voter appeal because of his family name, appearance and his more centralized politics. These are just two examples of potential candidates who may be more appealing to independent or “swing” voters.
However, to gain the Party nod to run for president, these candidates must appeal to their Party; the moderates and the extremists.
If I am right in my prediction, and a more moderate Republican ends up receiving the “full” backing of the Republican party, I believe Trump will run anyways. Trump could potentially split a faction of the Republican party. He could also potentially become the de facto leader of the Tea Party. This could potentially cripple the Republican Party for years to come. It could also expand our politics and political spectrum further than we have ever seen in the United States. Republicans may still be able to hold on to their seats within the legislative branch, but the executive branch would be out of reach until the Party could unify again. This of course, is under the assumption that Trump refuses to bow out if not chosen by the Republicans to run for president.
The Democrats face a similar scenario. If Bernie Sanders does not win the Democratic Party nomination, there is the potential he still may run on his own! Similar to Perot in 1992 and 1996, Sanders has growing support among young voters and his ideas are radical enough to splinter off in to a new political party. If this were the case, he could potentially snag votes away from Hillary Clinton. Clinton will have enough obstacles to overcome being the first woman to run for president, she will have to answer for Benghazi during the general election and numerous other attacks the Republican will throw at her. Bernie Sanders and the rest of the Democratic Party are leaving Benghazi off the debate table during the primaries and caucuses. Will it be enough for Sanders just to run to create his own party and platform if he is not chosen by the Democratic Party? Or will Bernie Sanders “take the gloves off” and throw Benghazi at Hillary Clinton? Only time will tell.
Now we can begin to add up all these “what if” scenarios. What if the Republicans choose Rubio for example and the Democrats choose Clinton? What if Trump refuses to gracefully bow out? What id Sanders refuses to gracefully bow out? What if Trump AND Sanders BOTH decide to run even if not elected by their parties to do so? We could potentially see up to four candidates running for president! We may even begin to see parties splinter even more and our current political party system may end up like many other parliamentary democracy systems; a political system with multiple parties.
Think of how dramatically politics in this country could potentially be altered this year. I have presented a lot of opinions and “what ifs” but one thing I believe to be certain. The 2016 general election will have the highest voter turnout in the past one hundred years.
These primaries and caucuses are captivating so many so soon. Some states are considering shutting down state run offices during their primaries and even closing schools for that day (which is normally not done during primaries and caucuses due to the normal low voter turnout) so they can add personnel and prepare for the high expected voter turnout.
This upcoming election has the potential to completely and drastically alter the course of politics within the United States for years to come. I know I for one will be keeping a close eye on all of the candidates and listening very closely to what they say and how they say it. This race could very well come down to not what is said, but how it is said and perceived by the public. This will be a race for the ages, a race that the history books will write a full chapter about.
Author: Adam Wilkinson
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