The 2016 election cycle is one that is already destined for the history books. When future political scientists and historians look back on this time, which aspect will be focused on the most? It won’t be the who or what of the cycle that will be scrutinized, but rather the why.
Context is crucial when analyzing any political landscape, so what makes the 2016 election cycle different from previous ones? In similar fashion to the 1896 and 1960s elections, political anti-establishment has risen once again.
So what has caused anti-establishment feelings to flare up in this election cycle? How is it that people like Donald Trump or Ben Carson are leading the Republican polls along with Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, sitting with a solid third of the Democratic polls? As much as I like seeing political outsiders shake up the process to an extent, I feel it needs some explaining.
The road to why this electoral cycle is the way it is cannot, however, be confined to a single opinion piece.
Therefore, three factors will be discussed as to why I think anti-establishment sentiment has come up again. If we want to go back far enough, we could look at several decades to see why the political climate is the way it is, but I think an overview of a 15-year long process will suffice.
Through government action, sensationalist media and the rise of a new voting generation, I believe 2016’s election cycle will be remembered and studied for decades to come.
The first major instance in this process is the disillusionment many feel toward the government. A Gallup poll shows that as of September, 61 percent of those that participated had little to no trust in the federal government to handle domestic issues, with only 4 percent believing the government is completely trustworthy in this regard.
Why do these numbers reflect such a poor opinion Americans have toward their government? This problem lies in recent history. The government, under the Bush and Obama administrations, has not sown goodwill among many Americans, myself included to a degree.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan under Bush, the former being of more suspicious causes, have become the present-day equivalent to the Vietnam War in that we got entangled in centuries-old conflicts and just can’t seem to completely detach from the region.
As for the Obama administration, the government has seemed less and less trustworthy by the year. Between TSA surveillance, spying on allies, increased usage of drones, the Edward Snowden kerfuffle and America’s shrinking influence in places like East Asia and Eastern Europe, many are questioning the reliability of government efforts. With the government and those working within it proving themselves less trustworthy, the media has always been quick to jump aboard the government hate-train.
When one thinks of political news outlets, the usual suspects are brought in. Fox, MSNBC, CBS and the rest of the news acronym party gets invited for their political input. When it comes to political discussion, however, all those stations crave ratings generated from political outrage.
The government shutdown in October 2013 over the national debt ceiling was a prime example of the media trashing government workers in Congress. A CNN broadcast from Oct. 16, 2013 states that “ … it’s not that the United States can’t pay its bills … But the government is not capable of making a decision that allows it to pay its bills.”
Such was the narrative from all news stations, with each one pointing fingers at what they thought was to blame for the shutdown. Fox News pointed the finger to Obama and the Democrats in Congress while MSNBC blamed the Republicans. If you ask me, so much mud was thrown that no one came out clean.
So, after trumpeting that the government was useless and gridlocked by stubborn politicians for so long, doubt became instilled in the American public as to the government’s effectiveness. In no demographic is this more the case than in the youngest voting generation that is just beginning to be roused: the millennials.
As a fellow member of this generation, I take pride in the political activism millennials have become engaged in so far. Being in the Information Age certainly has its benefits like mindlessly watching hours of YouTube videos and gaining endless amounts of knowledge from the likes of Google and Wikipedia.
With politics, though, it also opens some unusual doors. Social media and online news outlets like Buzzfeed, Vice, FiveThirtyEight and all other political branches of the Internet tree have fed this generation with all kinds of political fruit to taste.
I think the yield of this electoral year has left a sour taste in many peoples’ mouths. According to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2014, 50 percent of millennials consider themselves independent with 27 percent aligning with the Democrats and 17 percent with Republicans.
Why is that?
From what I’ve seen, it’s the tiredness of same-old same-old politics. The most eligible candidates come up, give their memorized lines, promise “hope and change,” and so on. In come a few political outsiders that don’t have to toe the party line, don’t mind a few gaffes and suddenly it’s no longer boring. So in combination with a government-bashing media and the untrustworthy dealings of the government, a large portion of the up-and-coming millennial vote wants no part in partisan politics and would rather search for an alternative. Enter the political outsiders of the 2016 electoral cycle.
When looking at the anti-establishment runners in the electoral race, it is easy to see how one can hope for a nomination to go to any of these candidates. On the Republican side leads Donald Trump, the casino-owning multibillionaire and TV show host. Instead of telling people they’re fired, he’s the one applying for the job with the American people, though in his familiar position of boss (minus the obscenely manicured hair. Or is it a toupee?).
Second for the Republicans is Ben Carson, a man with a mind for neurosurgery and a heart for God.
Then there is Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Together, these three political outsiders have accrued an average 52.2 percent of Republican votes, according to RealClearPolitics.com. In the Democratic polls, Hillary Clinton is currently ahead of the competition, but this does not dismiss the anti-establishment wave the Democrats are experiencing too.
Bernie Sanders, a lifelong politician from Vermont, challenges Clinton with 32.6 percent of Democratic polls, also according to RealClearPolitics. While he’s nothing new to politics in Washington, D.C., it’s his unique message that makes him stand out. His energetic messages of European ideals, democratic socialism and anti-Wall Street populism differs from the usual Democrat message. Because of this, he has given something new for both the politically jaded and the younger voters to stand behind.
With so much support for political outsiders in the polls, it is without question that there is an anti-establishment wave washing through this electoral cycle.
As stated before, I believe 2016’s election season will be one to be remembered and analyzed for decades. While the factors listed haven’t been the sole causes, they carry much of the weight as to why the political landscape is the way it is. Having this in mind, I will sit back and watch to see what happens, preferably with some popcorn in one hand and crossing my fingers with the other.
Austin McCampbell is a senior in history.