Who Has Their Finger on the Pulse of the Electorate?

You know, I am not really sure if I agree with Steve M. that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have a better understanding than the Democratic candidates of how the electorate feels right now. He could be right, but I don’t see the evidence for it in my personal life.

It’s true that you can find evidence that the electorate is angry and frustrated and filled with anxiety. But that doesn’t mean that either Trump or Cruz have even a puncher’s chance of winning the Electoral College. In fact, it’s quite possible that they’d lose worse than anyone is even imagining right now. Certainly, the GOP elites are feeling apocalyptic about their party’s chances if they go into the general with Trump or Cruz as their champion. It’s possible that they should be even more concerned than they are.

Or course, it’s also possible that they’re as wrong about this as they’ve been about nearly everything else in recent years.

When I talk to people I know or come into contact with in my daily life, the predominant attitude toward government isn’t anger exactly, but something closer to resignation and disgust. People don’t want to talk about politics. They don’t want to even think about politics.

It used to be that people would be intrigued to learn that I write about politics for a living and would seize the opportunity to talk my ear off. These days, I’m more likely to be pitied for having to focus on something as messy and pathetic as our national discourse.

If I had to describe the disposition, it’s apathy.

It’s not that people don’t care about political things anymore, but they’ve given up hope in the system.

In my circles, which tend to be more liberal and activist than most, this isn’t so much a pox on both their houses type of thing, although I see that attitude displayed with disturbing frequency from less committed folks that I know. Among liberal activists, the apathy comes from a sense that they can’t win big. All they can do is prevent the worst and perhaps make some incremental progress that doesn’t inspire much of anyone to drop what they’re doing and get engaged.

If you asked these folks if they’re angry, I suppose a lot of them would say that they are, but they’re really more frustrated and hopeless than they are seething with some desire to make their enemies pay.

Where hope still resides, it’s with a subset of people who are truly excited about the prospect of a woman president and see this as a potentially validating thing that will be quite fulfilling quite apart of any laws that might be passed as a result. Or, it’s with the Sanders brigades who seem to, in my opinion, bring a little (perhaps, much needed) irrational exuberance to the campaign. They believe their champion can shake things up–that he can bring the big win.

If that is what they think, though, I believe they would be disappointed to discover that this country’s will cannot be bent so easily. Our gridlock is structural at this point, and not subject to strategy or rhetoric.

This is not going to be an inspiring election, or, if it is, the result will never live up to the billing.

Politics isn’t exciting anymore because it doesn’t offer a big pay off, and who wants to celebrate a successful defense?

This apathy and hopelessness may be justified, and it does help the party that doesn’t believe in government. But I don’t think it means that the Electoral College is winnable for Trump or Cruz. And, if it’s not winnable for them, then I don’t think they’ve got their finger on the pulse of the (general) electorate in any meaningful way.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.