The only thing that’s amazing about Donald Trump’s success is that the mainstream media to date hasn’t figured it out. Sure, they talk a lot about it. They write articles about it. Mostly about the effects of Trump but not about the things that have caused the Donald Trump phenomenon. They just don’t get it.
Before Trump, a lot of Americans sat out each election season. They didn’t vote for the D or for the R. They stayed home – essentially casting a vote with their feet for none of the above.
Which shouldn’t be surprising. Left of center, Democratic Party rhetoric hasn’t changed much since Lyndon B Johnson’s Great Society. Right of center, Republicans have won when they’ve campaigned against the progressive tide but largely haven’t delivered after voters handed them the keys to public office. For a lot of voters, when they ask themselves “What’s in it for me?” there are no results they can point to as affirmation for their participation in the electoral process.
Based on data compiled by University of California Santa Barbara researchers John Woolley and Gerhard Peters, voter non-participation has been on the rise since the late 1960s:
Year Percentage of Voter Non-participation
U.S. Census Bureau figures reporting voter turnout during non-Presidential election years reveal even larger levels of non-participation. 1970 was the last election year in which more than 40% of eligible voters cast a ballot; voter participation that year was 43.6%. Every off-cycle election year since has featured an approximate 65% voter non-participation rate. To look at it another way, for every vote cast, two votes didn’t go to any candidate at all.
When “none of the above” is factored in, it’s effect on recent Presidential elections is profound. Remember Barack Obama’s so-called mandate following his win over Mitt Romney is 2012? Account for none of the above and Obama only received 28% of the vote, representing just under 66 million voters out of about 235 million who were eligible to vote in 2012. Mitt Romney received about 25.5% of the vote. If Obama and Romney’s numbers are added together, they barely surpass 50% (53.5%). Almost half of the electorate said no to both candidates.
The secret of Donald Trump’s success isn’t that the Republican Party has fallen down the rabbit hole. And it’s not just that a whole bunch of Democrats have shifted over to support Trump in states that allow for open primaries. (By contrast, in states that feature closed primaries Trump hasn’t performed as well; Ted Cruz has led in those states). Donald Trump is uniquely able to mobilize voters that have never been factored in as part of the political equation before. Trump voters represent an entirely new and rarely – if ever – heard constituency that doesn’t conform to traditional left or right definitions.
No wonder the political mainstream doesn’t know how to cope with the Trump phenomenon.