Trying to Make Sense of How Voters Decide

Dec 4, 2016 by

This presidential election has been mentally and emotionally exhausting. I’ve had to turn off cable news to regain my sanity.

The news coverage focused almost solely on the horse race—incessantly going over the polls and charting the various scenarios on the electoral map. Very little coverage was devoted to issues. Perhaps that would have been too boring for our entertainment-driven culture.

There’s plenty to criticize about the news media’s handling of the election, including their inability to handle an unconventional candidate who expertly manipulated them. Cable news networks failed to get policy details out of one candidate and to report them for the other.

Voters complained they weren’t getting detailed plans of the candidates’ platforms. But how much do issues really matter in a voter’s decision? Not much, it seems.

Recent polls provide examples where the election outcome doesn’t logically follow voter opinions.

Most Americans—58 percent, according to a Rasmussen poll—believe the country is on the wrong track, with only 30 percent who think we’re heading in the right direction.

President Obama is leaving office with high job approval numbers—57 percent. Only 39 percent disapprove, according to the latest Gallup poll.

Congress didn’t fare nearly as well. A Gallup poll showed congressional job approval at a dismal 19 percent, with 74 percent disapproving. That’s a whopping negative 55-point spread.

Yet Hillary Clinton, the popular president’s choice to succeed him and protect his legacy, came up short in electoral votes—even in states that he won twice and where he enthusiastically stumped for her.

Pundits opined that this was a change election and that voters wanted real change so they opted for the outsider candidate.

If that’s true, then how do you explain how nearly every incumbent member of Congress—the body with approval numbers in the teens—was returned to office?

Do voters not see the contradiction here?

I’ve been struggling to make sense of it. If you’re unhappy with Congress, change it.

Most Americans agree with President Obama, Hillary Clinton and others that background checks should be required for all gun buyers. A CBS/New York Times poll found that 92 percent of Americans favor background checks—including 87 percent of Republicans. Two other polls—CNN and Quinnipiac—showed 92 and 89 percent support.

Despite the consistent and overwhelming public support, the Republican Congress repeatedly blocked efforts to close background check loopholes—without any backlash from voters.

Congress also stopped another popular common-sense issue that 85 percent of voters favor—preventing people who are on the U.S. government’s terrorist watch list or no-fly list from owning guns. Donald Trump joined in opposition.

Some voters chose Trump despite being at odds with him on numerous issues—several that were key to his campaign.

According to a Quinnipiac poll:

–Voters support the Roe v. Wade abortion decision by 67-30 percent. Trump adopted a very strong anti-abortion position.

–Voters oppose building a wall along the Mexican border 55-42 percent. Trump made this the cornerstone of his campaign, even leading supporters at his rallies in chants of “build the wall.”

–Support for allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S. with a path to citizenship has grown to 60 percent. Trump has threatened to deport them.

–Voters overwhelming say that reducing taxes on the wealthy will not improve the economy and create more jobs–57-38 percent. They oppose lowering taxes on the wealthy 67-29 percent. Trump includes a tax cut for the wealthy in his economic plan.

–Voters want more regulation of financial institutions, 46-43 percent, and oppose removing regulations on businesses and corporations by 48-38 percent. Trump wants to reduce regulations.

–Voters want Trump to defend all our NATO allies by 77-16 percent.

–Voters are concerned about climate change—68 percent—and don’t want to remove regulations to combat climate change, 59-31 percent.

Voters agreed with Trump on a few issues—renegotiating trade deals, suspending immigration from terror-prone regions, and increasing federal spending for infrastructure—but disagreed on many more.

Clinton and the Democratic Congressional candidates weren’t able to benefit from public opinion favoring many of their positions. For whatever the reasons—party loyalty, peer pressure, family tension, hatred toward the opponent or an emotional connection with the candidate—many voters in this election cycle voted for candidates despite their stances on issues.

If Americans feel like their government isn’t listening to them or isn’t working for them, they can make their voices heard through their vote. If they don’t elect candidates who share their views, they will continue to be disappointed in the government they get.

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