According to Gallup, only 17 percent of Americans are satisfied with the way things are going in the United States, which means more than 80 percent are dissatisfied. (That’s similar to other polls, such as the latest by Wall Street Journal/NBC News, which shows only 18 percent saying the nation is headed in the right direction.)
That perplexes the folks at the Wall Street Journal, who cite rising real wages and median incomes. So, in their view, “For many voters there are very serious and grim issues in this election, but it isn’t really about pocketbooks anymore.”
And while I don’t want to reduce citizen dissatisfaction to their incomes (because, I agree, there are plenty of other “serious and grim issues in this election”), the writers at the nation’s premier business newspaper might want to consider what the folks at Sentier Research (pdf), the source of their household income data, observe:
The June 2016 median is not significantly different than [sic] the median of $57,147 in December 2007, the beginning month of the recession that occurred more than eight years ago. And the June 2016 median is now 1.1 percent lower than the median of $57,826 in January 2000, the beginning of this statistical series. These comparisons demonstrate that despite the gains in income in recent months, we are still at a level of median annual household income that is about the same as the level that existed at the beginning of the great recession more than eight years ago and lower than the level at the start of the last decade more than sixteen years ago.
Why does anyone think American voters should be satisfied with a “median annual household income that is about the same as the level that existed at the beginning of the great recession more than eight years ago and lower than the level at the start of the last decade more than sixteen years ago”?
Presidential polling and forecasts (such as those from FiveThirtyEight) in the United States have quite definitively moved in favor of Hillary Clinton. And, by the time this gets posted, the gap between Clinton and Donald Trump will probably have grown even more.
We should remember all such polling presumes voters are “sincere,” that is, they will vote for the candidate they think is the “better” choice.
But what if voters are strategic, that is, they make tactical decisions in their voting? Then polling, and the forecasts that stem from them, are going to be deceptive. And the loser in the polls might be the winner in the election.
The obvious strategic choice, for those who don’t want Trump elected but also dislike (for a whole host of valid reasons) Clinton, is to vote for the Green Party’s Jill Stein. The idea is that, at least in states where Clinton appears to be a “lock,” it’s important to run up the numbers to Clinton’s left, in order to put pressure on her electoral campaign and post-election policies. This is presumably the option that at least some, and perhaps a large number, of Bernie Sanders’s supporters will choose in November.
But there’s another strategic choice, which will also lower Clinton’s final numbers: those who are indifferent between Clinton and Trump (because both have moved “too left,” or at least more populist, on economic policy) but certainly don’t want Clinton to win in a landslide. It’s the argument Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. has recently made in the Wall Street Journal:
let’s also remember that even if Trump defeats himself, it would not be the same as reaccrediting the Depublican and Remocrat leadership class of which Mrs. Clinton is so spectacular an example. Our system of institutions is not designed to find us the “right” person to be our national hero/role model. Its job is to harness and constrain the forces and personalities that democratic populism throws up.
Voters are perfectly entitled to ask themselves if one of our major parties has thrown up a candidate unsuitable purely on grounds of personality and temperament, but we also should have some humility about the historical moment we’re living through. A narrow Hillary victory or Trump victory might not be outcomes all that distinguishable from each other in the end—whereas a Clinton landslide that produces, like the first two Obama years, one-party government fundamentally out of sync with the American electorate and out of sync with the national moment could be the larger misfortune.
This is an argument for continued “gridlock,” which may be precisely what American businesses want at the national level. Presuming Clinton is going to win the presidential election, they want to make sure at least the House, if not the Senate—in other words, the result of the down-ticket races—remains in the opposition’s hands. And that’s the reason they may vote strategically for Trump.
I can well imagine both these strategic voting decisions affecting the presidential vote, especially if the polling and forecast gaps between Clinton and Trump continue to grow.
To be clear, I am not trying to make an argument for or against voting (or, for that matter, for or against strategic voting). Precisely because it raises the possibility that the winner might lose (or, alternatively, the loser might win), the case I’m trying to make is that voting in elections is merely the semblance of democracy and that democracy falls far short of the horizon of the politics we actually need today.