As director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll and the Center for Politics and Public Affairs, Terry Madonna is attending the national Republican and Democratic conventions in July, providing analysis on the candidates and their issues.
Before Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump take the stage at their respective party’s conventions, Madonna discussed the candidates, the historic significance of the 2016 election, and why the race in Pennsylvania has tightened.
Q: Hillary Clinton's nomination by a major political party is historic. What are the impacts of her nomination?
A: Clinton’s nomination has historic impact, just as we saw with [Barack] Obama in 2008. These are barriers that we all eventually expected would be broken down. Clinton’s long career in politics [including eight years in the 1990s as First Lady to her husband President Bill Clinton] is an advantage and disadvantage. The Clintons have built up a network of supporters among the “establishment Democrats.” But with her 30 years in public service, the country can examine many of her choices and controversies. Clinton is, to say the least, controversial. Given scandals linked to her email server and the Clinton Foundation, she is receiving intense scrutiny from voters and government officials. The most recent problem with the FBI investigation of her use of emails has caused the election to narrow considerably.
Q: Donald Trump is also an unconventional political candidate. What are the impacts of his nomination?
A: Trump’s candidacy is unlike any we have ever seen. He is beyond provocative and has received massive amounts of press coverage because of his outrageous statements. Trump is a master showman, representing the angst, anger and degree to which many Americans feel they have been left behind. Trump secured about one-third of Republican voters early in the campaign. As 16 other candidates dropped out over time, experts thought that their voters would galvanize around other “establishment” candidates like [Florida U.S. Sen. Marco] Rubio or [Ohio Gov. John] Kasich, but that never happened. Of late he has toned down the rhetoric, and we can only surmise that we will see a different tone for the rest of the campaign, but Trump is very unpredictable.
Q: Neither candidate is overwhelmingly popular. What does this mean for their campaigns over the next few months?
A: For the first time in modern history, the country has two presidential candidates who are more unpopular than popular with the voters. Clinton holds only a four-point lead over Trump. In the battleground states, the differences are mostly within five points. In fact, more than half of the voters in either party are claiming that they are voting for their candidate because they do not support the opposing candidate. We have not seen this kind of unpopularity in modern times. Only 13-17 percent of voters say they haven’t chosen their candidate. This is extremely low, especially without an incumbent. With so few undecided voters, this means campaigning efforts will be focused heavily on getting core voters to the polls.
Q: Why is the race in Pennsylvania so tight?
A: In the primaries, Clinton beat [Democratic rival for the nomination Bernie] Sanders by 12 points. Trump beat [Texas U.S. Sen. Ted] Cruz and Kasich by 35 points. He won all 67 counties. Trump has appeal with working class voters in southwestern and northeastern Pennsylvania and in Philadelphia suburbs that often determine who wins statewide. In presidential elections, more young people and minority populations vote than in other election cycles, and they vote Democratic. The state appears to be once again competitive, likely to see the candidates and considerable television advertising.
Q: What sets this election apart from previous elections in American history?
A: Many elections are about the future. This election is about the past. It’s about Clinton’s emails; it’s about Trump’s business dealings. And it’s about the personalities at the podium. Successful presidential candidates always give Americans hope. But as a country we are facing stagnant wages, mass shootings, acts of terrorism, and serious debates about human rights. With Democrats and Republicans more divided than ever, only one in five voters will split their ticket and vote across party lines. Americans do not have a strong sense of optimism, which is affecting an already unconventional election.