We always hear how this is a divided country. Given that we’ve had the same two major political parties for 150+ years and the whole blue state, red state thing, it feels like that’s a binary thing. This side or that. Are you Fox News or MSNBC?
But the Democratic Party is divided between the AOC wing and the traditionalists. The GOP was captured by Trump, but in doing so, many Republicans fled. Does that mean we’re split in three? AOCistan, Trumpland, and some squishy middle, despised by each side?
Perhaps, though I think it’s more messy than that. Regardless of how we’re split, a corollary—you can argue whether it’s cause or effect—is most politicians with a lot of national recognition are despised.
The 2016 election was decided by the voters who didn’t like Trump or Clinton. Both had popularity ratings below their share of the vote. Because the election hinged on less than 100,000 votes, spread between Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, a more granular view shows it was decided by voters who strongly disliked/hated the two.
I repeat. The winning candidate was chosen by voters who hated him on the day they handed him the presidency. At the time, this lesser of two incredible evils decision was viewed as a historical fluke. Since the advent of semi-modern polling in the 1930s, there’s no comparable national example.
It’s unlikely the conditions existed in olden times either. The flow of information in the 19th century wasn’t such that voters could build up a visceral disgust for a presidential candidate they’d followed for 20 plus years in the media.
It’s one thing to hear or read scurrilous tales. Things were said about Andrew Jackson in 1824 and 1828 that would make Bill Clinton blush. It’s another to base your feelings on hundreds of hours of direct media exposure to that individual. It’s simply easier to hate now.
The evidence is in the numbers. A new Fox News poll can guide us.
NOTE: Whatever you think of their editorial content, their polling is highly respected. FiveThirtyEight rates them an A, the second highest of any pollster in their national survey set.
My favorite measure is the Love/Hate Index. Strongly approve minus strongly disapprove. Normally overall approval is the first thing published, but strength of approval/disapproval is more predictive.
Everyone knows the president is a polarizing figure with a strong base and a ton of people who wish him harm in their evening prayers. Mathematically, this works out to -14. 26% of Americans have a strongly favorable view, 41% strongly unfavorable. This is different from the question about his job performance, but the result (-15) is the same. Here’s the whole list:
Donald Trump -14 (28/42)
*Robert Mueller 0 (16/16)
Nancy Pelosi -18 (15/33)
AOC -13 (16/29)
Ilhan Omar -14 (11/25)
Mitch McConnell -24 (7/31)
*The survey was taken before Mueller’s House testimony this week. He’s likely upside down now.
Given the strong views and statements of most of the above, it’s a big accomplishment for McConnell to lead this group. Heading in to an election cycle, the sitting President of the United States, Speaker of the House, and Senate Majority Leader are all hated. As are the two members of the Squad who were surveyed.
This is with an unemployment rate of 3.7%. An inflation rate of 1.6%. Low interest rates. There’s no military draft to send young people into a major land war in Asia. Crime rates are dramatically lower than 25 years ago.
This isn’t to suggest there’s nothing to get upset about, but had you told someone in the late Bush 41/early Clinton Era these metrics would exist along with this degree of angst, they’d faint upon verification of data.
There’s something going on here without historical precedent. The measures we’ve used for generations to track the health of the economy and health of the country are no longer an effective way to project public sentiment.
Maybe priorities have shifted, and the metrics need to adapt. Perhaps current levels of media exposure and how siloed most of us are into like-minded groups means it’s virtually impossible to make most people happy. For now, I’m gonna argue it’s both.
This makes Joe Biden an extra interesting exception. Not all Americans like Uncle Joe, but not that many hate him. Sadly, we don’t have the same data on him from the Fox News survey, so you’ll need to trust the inferences here. He leads Trump by 10 points in a head-to-head matchup. The others don’t.
It’s a remarkably consistent gap over the past several months, and in line with a Fox News survey from fall 2015 when Biden was a potential candidate. Any candidate will get raked over the coals during the length of a primary campaign. It gets even worse during the general election. We may look back on this a few months from now and wonder how he was ever not scorned.
Bernie Sanders does the next best against Trump. Previous surveys also indicate people don’t hate Bernie the same way they do the others above. Some think he’s crazy. Many can’t imagine him in the Oval Office, but he’s not hated. At least yet.
Biden and Bernie both have more firmly developed personas with the public than the other leading Democratic presidential candidates. This may give them more immunity. After flagging a bit after the last debate, both have rebounded in recent polling.
Voters do think Biden is the most electable Democratic candidate. This is a major part of his pitch. Sanders mentions it too. When that word is used, it’s often questioned. Are they really that electable? No, they’re not. Not in the previously accepted sense.
They’re both too old. Way too old. Biden has lost a step or twelve. Bernie doesn’t pass the credible Commander in Chief test. I could go on for a few thousand words about each. But they aren’t hated. Especially Biden. And that may be enough for 2020.