Why This Isn’t a Normal Election

The top line of the latest ABC/WaPo poll that was released yesterday doesn’t contain a big surprise. Hillary Clinton is leading Donald Trump nationally by about 8 points – which is pretty much in line with what we’ve been seeing lately. But buried deep in the reporting about it comes this:

In a campaign in which Trump is running as a political outsider who would shake up Washington and not be beholden to the establishment, the electorate currently favors someone with experience working in the political system by a margin of 55 percent to 42 percent. That represents a marginal shift in the direction of experience since before the conventions.

But wait a minute…I thought this election was all about angry voters who are hell-bent on throwing out the establishment bums who are responsible for the big mess we’re in. How does that jive with the fact that a clear majority favors experience working IN the political system? And how does that square with President Obama’s increasing job approval?

Pundits have been pointing out that this election isn’t following “normal” patterns. Usually that is in reference to how Republican voters are responding to Donald Trump’s candidacy. But there might be another way this election is different. For the first time in the modern era, the country has a scandal-free President who is fairly popular and is going all-in to support his successor.

We are used to hearing that elections must either be about “change” or maintaining the “status quo.” I would propose that neither of those is an apt description for what a majority of Americans are looking for this time around. Is it possible that behind all the noise being created by angry voters, a majority think that – while things are getting better – we need more progress? Could it be that voters know that taking America “back” means going in the wrong direction and that we need to go forward with the kind of change that is currently underway? Are a majority of voters capable of that kind of nuance in a world of either/or? That was essentially Clinton’s message at the Democratic Convention.

Now, I don’t think President Obama and Vice President Biden get the credit they deserve for saving us from the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes.

Our economy is so much stronger than when they took office. Nearly 15 million new private-sector jobs. Twenty million more Americans with health insurance. And an auto industry that just had its best year ever. Now that’s real progress but none of us can be satisfied with the status quo. Not by a long shot.

We’re still facing deep-seated problems that developed long before the recession and stayed with us through the recovery.

I’ve gone around the country talking to working families. And I’ve heard from many who feel like the economy sure isn’t working for them.

Some of you are frustrated – even furious. And you know what? You’re right. It’s not yet working the way it should.

Americans are willing to work and work hard. But right now, an awful lot of people feel there is less and less respect for the work they do. And less respect for them, period.

Democrats, we are the party of working people. But we haven’t done a good enough job showing we get what you’re going through, and we’re going to do something to help.

In that quote, Clinton is rejecting the idea that this is a “change” election as well as rejecting the idea of maintaining the “status quo.” She is instead promising to build on the progress that has been underway for the last 8 years. That is precisely why President Obama was confident in passing the baton on to her for the next portion of this relay. And it’s also why this isn’t the kind of “normal” election we’ve seen in the recent past.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.