2016: The Election Of The Low Information Voter

It has been several weeks since I last posted on my blog. This is the first break I have taken in 240 weeks. It seemed that in fairness to myself and those who read my blog that I needed to take a breath and gain some perspective. The recent months of the Presidential Primary season have been so intense, bizarre and unpredictable that it just tended to suck you in and cause you to forget that there is still another world out there that isn’t scripted but is filled with real people and real events. I needed to find the answer to the question: What makes this election cycle so different from all others I have experienced in my life?Why does this one seem to have a life of its own and follow none of the traditional rules and patterns?  There are only two possible answers. It has to be either that the candidates have created this electoral anomaly or that those who have come to identify with them and support them are of a different mold than we have come to expect or experienced in the past.
Certainly there is no doubt that the surviving candidates on the Republican side have presented themselves in a unique way. Any candidate that was in any way perceived to be part of the Republican establishment was summarily dismissed in the early stages of the primary season, while two of the three that have survived are in place only because they are viewed as anti-establishment. The Cruz and Trump supporters have left no doubt about the way they feel about the Republican establishment, the current political process as dictated by them, and their expectations for the future. Kasich, while still a candidate, is the last hope of the establishment and is still running only in hopes of somehow negotiating a win as a consensus candidate at a contested convention. What has become clear however, is that the extreme rhetoric being hollered by Trump and Cruz has been successful only because the voters they are spouting this baseless verbiage at are ill-informed, poorly educated and politically inexperienced. These low information voters are therefore particularly susceptible to these outrageous and baseless claims, with equally simpleminded and outrageous solutions. The Republican establishment has been at whits end as the anti-establishment candidates have outmaneuvered them at every turn. The uniqueness of the candidates combined with the low information and inexperience of the their supporters has created a perfect storm for the Republican Party which could potentially lead to its demise by the end of this cycle.

The Democrats have confronted their own challenges during this elections cycle. There are interesting similarities between the Republican campaign and the Democratic campaign. While neither candidate is blatantly anti-party establishment, Sanders has positioned himself as the party revolutionary.  He has been very clear about his efforts to lead a social and economic revolution that will address issues of income inequality, the power of the banks and Wall Street, and the availability of free university education for all. HIs approach to foreign policy is anti-interventionist and leans towards isolationism. His supporters come from the far left and from the very young, primarily academics and college students. Hillary Clinton is viewed as an establishment candidate with loyalty to the Obama Administration and policies. Her support comes from the more traditional Democratic loyalists and coalition. While Sanders began as a protest candidate, his impressive crowds soon turned him into a candidate to be reckoned with. However, like the Republican supporters of Trump and Cruz, Sanders has attracted a low information following. They like his ideas and they are young enough and idealistic enough to accept his vague explanations of how he will achieve them. It appears that Clinton will likely win the nomination, but the challenge of engaging the Sanders supporters during the general election may present a major challenge to party unity.

The uniqueness of this election cycle is the support it has attracted from many who have never participated before, have limited knowledge of the issues and the system and are blindly loyal to their candidate. In short, they are low information voters. Loyalty to their candidate brought them into the process, and a rejection of their candidate by the party may very well alienate them from future engagement. The potential for major discontent in both parties is very real and potentially very dangerous. This is a Presidential cycle like none seen in my lifetime.


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