You’ve heard it. I’ve heard it. We’ve all heard it.
“I don’t like either candidate.”
Statistically, you probably feel it too. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, are historically disliked among voters. Both nominees have the highest “strongest unfavorable” and lowest “strongly favorable” ratings of the past 10 presidential election cycles (1). No past candidate is even close.
“I don’t trust Hillary Clinton, but Donald Trump is too outrageous.”
This was the response from Sarah, my best friend, when I asked her to describe her opinions of the candidates. It was almost identical to what seemed like everyone I had talked to about the presidential election, especially my millennial friends. For a large portion of us, myself included, this is the first presidential election we are old enough to vote in. Yet, it seemed no one was thrilled to vote, because to them, both options seemed terrible. The 2016 presidential election would just be choosing the lesser of two evils.
Influenced by James Morone, the budding scientist in me saw an opportunity. In his book, The Democratic Wish, Morone describes a four stage cyclical pattern of reform throughout the history of the United States. Essentially, that there is a give and take between the power of the people and the institutions which we give power to, driving political reform. I wondered, is there a way to find our current place in the cycle? But more than that, due to the tumultuous nature of the cycle, is this election the “political stalemate” needed to define the first stage of the cycle? If this presidential election really was so bad, could it spark widespread ideological change? Just how bad would things have to be for people to shift their views and join those pushing for reform, furthering our journey through Morone’s cycle?
I wanted answers, so I took matters into my own hands. I conducted my own mini-study by creating a simple survey of five questions:
- What political ideology do you most identify with?
- What is the largest influence on your political beliefs?
- What do you believe is the biggest problem facing our country?
- Has the election cycle caused you to change any of your political beliefs?
- What beliefs have you changed?
When my survey was complete, I sent it out. I sent the link to all of my friends, posted the link of my social media accounts, and asked people to share it. I received 101 responses in the time that it was live.
Of those who responded to my survey, 12.9% identified as Very Liberal, 30.7% as Liberal, 32.7% as Moderate, 13.9% as Conservative, 5% as Very Conservative, and 5% as Other (four people identifying as Libertarian and one person as Not Sure.)
Just a note: I believe the high percentage of liberals is due to the platform in which my survey was distributed – social media. My millennial friends, those who most frequent social media, tend to lean to the left. However, I found this audience was fitting because dissatisfied millennials where the ones who gave me the idea of this survey in the first place.
As a general response, the biggest influence on the politics of those who answered my survey was their personal set of morals. And the biggest problem in this country? Ignorance – a lack of knowledge, either amongst the people or elected officials. I broke the responses down by ideology in the figure below – both morals and ignorance can be seen across the political spectrum.
But, what about my large, overarching question? Has this election caused people to change their political beliefs? Did they see things differently? Is it enough to incite political reform? To be honest, I predicted that yes, people overwhelmingly would feel influenced by the election. Because they felt so strongly, their priorities would shift one way or another, perhaps towards a certain candidate or away from the other. Maybe this was personal bias, for I thought my beliefs and priorities had certainly changed.
Well, I was wrong. Very wrong. The data did not support my hypothesis. At all.
Of the 101 people who took my survey, an overwhelming majority (69%) of them did not have their political beliefs changed by the current election. Only 31% of people reported that their political beliefs had changed.
After looking at the data, however, I realized that of course my hypothesis would be wrong. Why would someone change? A great number of people, across the political spectrum, believed the problem in the United States was simple: other people. The number one influence of people’s political beliefs is their personal set of morals, the greatest problem facing the nation stems from the ignorance of others. If the ignorant people saw things the respondent’s way, then United States would be better off.
But what about the people who reported that yes, their beliefs had changed? I found, after reading their extended fifth answer, that yes, some of them experienced a fundamental ideology change, on issues such as gun control or immigration. For the most part though, people reported that their political beliefs remained the same, it was their faith in the government specifically the two-party system, that was altered.
These are just some of the responses I received:
“My political beliefs have not changed, my confidence in the system has been shaken.”
“I’m voting 3rd party.”
“Two political parties should not control the election.”
“I have very little faith in our democratic process now. I believe it will only be righted when the two party system we have created is destroyed.”
And by far the most common answer, a version of “I believed only competent candidates would be presented on a national level.” Essentially, “I don’t like either candidate.”
Perhaps though, these 31% of people still represent those who are still willing to take the steps forward to strive for reform, make the change, and begin the cycle as Morone describes it. Interestingly, it seems, from my very small survey, that the cycle is not being pushed by political ideology. This isn’t a liberal versus conservative debate. Liberals, moderates, and conservatives reported change in beliefs towards government at nearly the same percentage, 29, 33, and 32 percent respectively. At least one respondent from each ideology voiced their concern with the current two-party system and how they believe it needs to change.
Therefore, I conclude that yes, we are close to entering into the first stage of the cycle, with the current presidential election acting as a catalyst. Instead of pushing for ideological reform, there is a greater push towards election reform – essentially the reform of the way future reform can occur. That instead of an ideological failure or shift occurring because of this election, there is a belief share by those across the spectrum, although it still may be in a minority of people, to reform the two-party system to ensure that we do not have similar disapproval numbers for future elections. Instead of this, in future, we are easily able to nominate candidates we find suitable, instead of highly unfavorable.
1.) Enten, Harry. “Americans’ Distaste For Both Trump And Clinton Is Record-Breaking.”FiveThirtyEight, May 5, 2016. Accessed September 22, 2016. http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/americans-distaste-for-both-trump-and-clinton-is-record-breaking/