Sam Wang: People Are Too Freaked Out Not To Vote

by Dartagnan –

That’s pretty much what he says.

In a New York Times piece analyzing why Trump’s level of support has never fallen below 41% on average, Sam Wang, founder of the Princeton Election Consortium, points out that this election is so polarized there is really no one of any consequence left to persuade.  And because both sides are equally horrified of the other, we on the Clinton side can all breathe a little easier after the events of the last 24 hours or so.

For nearly forty years, until 1992, the difference between the minimum and maximum levels of a Presidential candidate’s average range of support during the campaign season fluctuated about 17%. Since 1996 that fluctuation has been cut in half, to 8%. And now, Trump’s support, for example, has fluctuated only 4%.  The reason is an utterly polarized electorate, with particularly polarizing candidates this cycle.

As Wang points out, Trump represents the endgame of all the bomb-throwing vitriol that began with Newt Gingrich and the Contract On America and continued through the emergence of Sarah Palin. His politics are a kind of anti-politics, more akin to nihilism, enabled and amplified by the connection his followers obtain through social media and the Internet. This has resulted in a kind of collective madness that will brook no dissent, a madness that also explains the rise of the Tea Party.  Think of Trump as the Uruk-Hai bred and grown by Saruman in The Lord of The Rings.  As Wang puts it, Trump’s followers ”will not abandon him, any more than they would abandon themselves.”

And no, this isn’t good, nor was it envisioned by the Framers of our Republic, who sought to avoid exactly this kind of result when they warned us in the Federalist Papers about the dangers of “factionism:”

Social media intensifies the segregation of voters by providing channels of communication tailored to specific preferences. When cable news organizations often seem unwilling to call out falsehoods, wrong information can cause tremendous damage. Technology has made Madison’s vast republic virtually small.

But it does explain why Trump’s level of support will not collapse, as much as that might satisfy us. Not with 40 percent of Trump voters swearing that Secretary Clinton is “a demon.”

The support generated by Trump, however, has an even greater counterpart, namely the millions who find the prospect of a Trump Presidency possibly the most repellent prospect they have ever imagined. This intense backlash against Trump has enabled Hillary Clinton to maintain the most durable lead in a Presidential contest since Eisenhower bested Stevenson in 1952. Virtually no Clinton supporters would entertain supporting Trump under any circumstances, and this attitude is entrenched:

Mr. Trump is the most negatively viewed nominee that Gallup has ever recorded. Democratic-leaning voters and many college-educated Republicans find it unthinkable to support Mr. Trump given his appeals to racial and anti-immigrant resentment. In 2012, Mitt Romney came with the baggage of his party; in 2016, Mr. Trump is baggage personified.

Put simply, a majority of Americans are just “freaked out” by the prospect of a Trump Presidency, to the point where they will stick with Clinton no matter what.  People who are freaked out by the opposing candidate will turn out to vote. And while the same is true of both sides, there just happen to be more of us than there are of them:

For now, we are stuck with an intensely emotional campaign that has been a significant source of stress for more than half of adults. The American Psychological Association has, for the first time, issued tips on dealing with election-related stress. Strong emotional experience reduces mental flexibility, suggesting that when tempers run high, as they have for many voters this season, entrenched support for a party or candidate is more likely.

The existence of yet another FBI email inquiry, preposterous or not, is, according to Wang, not going to change that basic dynamic (He is also emphasizing this point on Twitter):

For this reason, Mrs. Clinton’s support is unlikely to flag even as her email has again attracted the attention of the F.B.I.


Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos