Americans will elect the 45th president of the United States on Nov. 8. Regardless who wins, it will be a historical breakthrough.
If Hillary Clinton wins, we will have the first female president. If Donald Trump wins, we will have a businessman without any prior political experience.
Interestingly enough, both candidates have received high unfavorable ratings. Most voters are not happy with either candidate, but despite this, the political super bowl must go on.
American elections have always been exciting, colorful and expensive. During this year’s campaigns from the primaries to the general election, we have seen a lot of “mudslinging,” personal attacks and name calling (liar, con artist, racist, sex predator, etc.), especially on Republican side. This negative campaigning has reached to the lowest level in history, which, unfortunately, portrays our society as divided and disordered.
Once the election is over, the winner typically celebrates by giving an acceptance speech while the losing candidate gives a concession speech offering support and cooperation to the winner. The whole election process moves from chaos to order.
The peaceful transition of power is anything short of a miracle compared to many regions of the world. However, this may not be the case in this election. The current presidential campaign has created lots of unprecedented events which we have never seen before. The political storm may be soon to come.
Based on recent developments, the ordered transition may be broken this time. Negative campaign ads have always been a part of our election process but this election’s campaign ads and presidential debates have been much more negative than previous elections (liar vs. conman).
Americans are sick and tired of negative campaigns and sometimes this can turn against a candidate utilizing this technique. When both sides use this type of campaigning it seems to work effectively, which is not a healthy practice in our democracy. If this trend continues then we will only see the worst of our candidates and not the best, which is unfortunate, because we should elect our presidents based on favorable qualities.
With that background, the following column will focus on American voting behavior — what factors determine how we vote.
The most difficult aspect of politics is voting behavior as it deals with human psychology. Simply put, it is the mind that controls body. Your beliefs will control your actions.
Even though there have been many studies on voting behavior, there is more disagreement than consensus about what is going through a voter’s mind when he or she steps into the voting booth.
Based on several of these studies, the following factors commonly determine how we vote:
- Party affiliation: Identification as Republican or Democrat is largely based on our parents. However, as political parties have become weak over the years, party line voting is also getting weaker. One interesting development in this election is that many Republican Party leaders have not endorsed or have withdrawn their endorsement of the party candidate. Regardless, due to both candidates’ negative backgrounds, party line voting may still be a major factor.
- Policy oriented voters (party flipflopper): These are voters that focus on the platform and policies of the candidates. In this year’s election, there are several major issues, such as the economy, immigration, gun control, law and order and many more. Of course, there is also foreign policy issues as well. Due to the negative campaigns and derisiveness of the issues, the number of these types of voters will grow.
- Personality of the candidates: A candidate’s background, family values, charisma or lack thereof, trustworthiness and political background all play some role in the voters’ decision. This is very true in this election, but in the opposite direction. Typically, people vote for someone they like. In this election, Mrs. Clinton’s trustworthiness and truthfulness (the “liar”) have been questioned, while Mr. Trump’s temperament and personality have also been questioned (the “bully”). It seems that many voters will vote based on who they dislike the least.
- Performances at party national convention and presidential debates: It is a well known fact that Americans are not well informed in politics, and otherwise not interested in politics. Our No. 1 passion is sports. Based on this, many voters rely on the candidates’ performance at the national party convention and debates. Typically, the last opportunity to make a decision comes with the debates, however, with this campaign expect the unexpected.
There are few things, however, that are pretty certain after the election. First, there will likely be more people unhappy than happy with the results.
The simple fact is the voting turnout will be less than 60 percent which means 40 percent will not exercise their right to vote. In this close race, the winner will probably win by a small margin. Based on this, the president-elect will actually be voted in by a minority of the country’s population. This will obviously make it more difficult for the winner to lead this country.
Second, the next president is going to face many challenges, such as illegal immigration, racial tension, education reform, unemployment, gap between rich and poor etc. Internationally, there is the war against ISIS, cyber attacks, North Korea, Iran, Russia, China and India.
Third, no matter who wins, Congress will not cooperate and the political stalemate will continue.
Finally, after this long and damaging political exercise, the wounded president-elect will be look down upon by the whole world. This is the unfortunate price of the democratic process.
It does not matter whether you are a party loyalist, flipflopper or last-minute shopper, as a political scientist and American citizen, I implore you to exercise your right and privilege to vote on Nov. 8. Of course, if you do vote, you have to accept the consequences and if you don’t, you have no one to blame but yourself.