Two interesting pieces in the New York Times on December 31, point to important role of the p---ed off or disaffected voter and the mainstream Republican and Democratic voters in the 2016 presidential election.
The first article examines who are the Trump voters, finding many to be individuals–mainly but not exclusively white male, low income, no college–who still consider themselves Democrats but recently vote Republican. They are the voters Democrats lost when the party embraced civil rights–as told by Mary and Thomas Edsell in Chain Reaction–and they became the Reagan Democrats in the 1980s, when they vote. But many do not vote. They are the ones who have lost out in the nearly two generation economic grind that has produced the economic inequalities that we now see in our society. They see Democrats as having abandoned them as many of their candidates have walked away from talking about economics and class and instead turned into the party of people of color. When they do vote they support Republicans, but there too they see a party that no longer speaks to them. Trump’s message does (even if his solutions will do little to help them too).
The other article is how the battle for New Hampshire is about capturing the 40%+ independent voter in that state who could vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary. Trump and Sanders are fighting for these voters, as are of course the other candidates. This article too speaks to the voter who no longer feels that the two mainstream parties generally represent them, and instead their decision to vote and for whom is really up for grabs. With it high percentage of these independent voters New Hampshire is typical of many of the swing states examined in my book.
We hear terms to describe these voters as swing or independent. I think the best term is actually the p---ed off or disaffected voters. There is little evidence that many voters actually swing in terms of switching to voter for candidates across parties. Instead, they make a decision to vote or not. Swing might more aptly describe swinging in or out of electoral politics.
The disaffected voter is central to the 2016 election prospects for Trump, Sanders, and the two parties. There is evidence that the two parties do not adequately capture or speak to the interests of many voters. This is the reason explaining why there is a strong force behind Sanders and against Clinton, and the same with the support for Trump and against Bush, for example. Robert Michael’s Political Parties well describes the tendency of parties to become less democratic and open over time. One result might now be that the Republican and Democrat parties no longer resonate with many voters–young (especially Millennials), the poor, many people of color, and low income white males without college degrees. And in some cases women. These are people who the political economic system has ignored, and whom the political parties too seem to have left behind or fail to give voice to.
The two NY Times pieces speak to a society where there is a disjuncture between the political and economic systems, where the leadership and mainstream of the two parties fails to capture the political frustrations and interests of many people in the US. If that is the case t hen perhaps 2016 is the basis of what political scientists call a critical election or realignment. Such an election or alignment would produce a new political alignment and set of policy positions among the parties, or new parties might emerge. There is no guarantee that this will occur here. Many thought that 2008 would produce a critical alignment and it did in some ways, one that seemed to benefit Republicans more than Democrats, at least for now. Longer term though the generational changes in the US that will see the Silent and Baby Boomers exit politically to be replaced by Gen Xers, Millennials, and post-Millennials (the Digitals) will reveal something that may not benefit either of the two major parties as they now stand. Instead, the voters of these generation may be driving political changes because they are part of a large cohort of disaffected or p---ed off voters not happy with the status quo.