The rock group Buffalo Springfield wrote their great anti-war song For What It’s Worth in the mid-1960’s when America was in the middle of the Vietnam War and struggling to find a new definition of national identity. The surprising emergence of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee suggests America is again at a crossroads in defining our national identity.
Trump’s campaign is unconventional
One need not admire nor approve of Mr. Trump to appreciate how dramatically he has reshaped American politics over the course of the past 18 months. He has run a campaign that has ignored the political playbook and left countless ‘experts’ at a loss to explain his appeal to the voters.
Trend over the past week has turned toward Trump
Nevertheless, that appeal cannot be denied. Roughly 40% of America feels that Donald Trump is the best choice for President. The ever-changing polls show that a slightly higher number of voters feel that Hillary Clinton would be the better choice were the election held today, but her lead has been steadily shrinking over the past two weeks. Indeed, two respected daily tracking polls show that Trump has gained the lead in the past week. The Reuters Daily Tracking Poll had Trump ahead of Clinton by one point in its 5-day rolling average and the USC/LA Times daily poll for September 5 had Trump ahead by two points – 44.7% to 42.7%.
The polls will change daily between now and Election Day. Nevertheless, they are useful in identifying trends, and right now the trend shows that the American public is not as ready as America’s media to write off Donald Trump.
Most Americans feel the country is headed in the wrong direction
What fuels Trump’s appeal is an overall dissatisfaction with the leadership of the country. Various polls that measure how people feel about the direction of the country portend bad news for the average politician. According to the most recent Real Clear Politics average polling data for the month of August, 63.3 percent of Americans feel the country is headed in the wrong direction while only 28.3 percent feel America is on the right track. The last time the polls showed that Americans believed the country was on the right path was back in June 2010.
The public does not view either Clinton or Trump favorably. In the most recent Gallup poll, 57 percent of the public had an unfavorable view of Hillary Clinton, while 61 percent held an unfavorable view of Donald Trump. It seems a race to the bottom, not to the top.
Combining the high level of dissatisfaction with the direction of the country and the highly unfavorable view of both candidates, the election may come to the lesser of two evils in the eyes of many voters. Trump, for better or worse, represents the more dramatic voice for change than does Hillary Clinton, who has been a familiar face in American politics for the last quarter century.