Thursday, November 10, 2016

The "None of the Above" Candidate

Americans love to joke about voting for "none of the above."  Sometimes, we even put it right on our ballots, as a write-in candidate.  Ha ha.  Take that, The Establishment!

But the Recent Unpleasantness has highlighted a variation on this theme: the major party protest candidate.  That is, a major party candidate who convinces a meaningful number of voters that "a vote for me is a vote for none-of-the-above."

Tuesday's exit polls yield some intriguing evidence that Donald Trump's ability to position himself as the none-of-the-above candidate in the minds of some voters played a material role in his success. Specifically, voters expressing dissatisfaction with both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump opted for Trump by huge margins.

According to exit polls reported by CNN:
  • 18% of voters held negative opinions of both Clinton and Trump. Those individuals voted for Trump by a margin of 20 points (49% to 29%).
  • 14% of voters said that neither Clinton nor Trump was "qualified" to be President. They voted for Trump by a 54 point margin (69% to 15%). 
  • 14% of voters said that neither Clinton nor Trump had the "temperament" to be President. They voted for Trump by a 59 point margin (71% to 12%).
This is an extremely clever piece of electoral judo: it turns thinking a candidate unfit for public office  into a reason to vote for them (rather than, say, flipping a coin or simply not voting at all).  A candidate who successfully positions themselves as the "to hell with all of you" option wins by stoking dissatisfaction with all of the candidates including themselves.

Of course, it's a con.  A vote for Donald Trump turns out to have been a vote for Donald Trump. Ha ha. Take that, America!

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