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How do you think that the presidential election has gotten to where it is, with two candidates who have such vehement opposition?
—Matthew Wade ’11, Tacoma, Washington

We ended up with two deeply unpopular general election presidential candidates for a myriad of reasons. On the Republican side, the party has been gripped by a variety of factions (Libertarians, Tea Party) over the past few cycles that have weakened the party establishment.

This fissure was exploited by a unique populist candidate, Donald Trump, who had celebrity status, instant name recognition, and a talent for harnessing social media. His party has been out of power and angry about President Obama’s policies, including health care, immigration, and gay rights. Trump has been able to tap into this vein of anger at a weak moment for the establishment.

Professor Erik Rankin (far left) took 10 ISU students to the Democratic National Convention.
Professor Erik Rankin (far left) took 10 ISU students to the Democratic National Convention. (Photo courtesy of Erik Rankin)

On the Democratic side, the situation is radically different. The GOP has been successful electorally for the past few cycles at all levels of government. This has weakened the Democratic bench and placed few strong candidates at the top of the field.

Hillary Clinton is unique due to her strong resume and family history. She excels at raising money and has strong name recognition. Her candidacy froze a weak field and had most other potential candidates waiting out this cycle. Ironically, her weakness as a candidate was exploited by a relatively unknown national candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The Sanders ascension was due in part to the high rate of untrustworthiness that the average voter, including Democrats, feels for Clinton. Sanders used that mistrust to his advantage by being authentic. This authenticity allowed him to tap into a younger, more left-wing audience, and he raised money like no other.

It will take a large effort on the part of both candidates to repair parts of their constituencies to win in November. Trump needs to prove that he is a conservative Republican and that he can win without groups he has strongly maligned with his rhetoric, such as immigrants and women. Trump also needs to pull the establishment to his side. Clinton needs to woo the disaffected Sanders voters to have a shot.

Erik Rankin, assistant to the chair and undergraduate advisor, Department of Politics and Government

To submit a question for our “Ask a Redbird Scholar” section, email it to Kevin Bersett at kberse@IllinoisState.edu or tweet it to @ISUResearch. Chosen questions and answers appear in each issue of Illinois State’s new research magazine, the Redbird Scholar. To read other “Ask a Redbird Scholar” posts, visit IllinoisState.edu/RedbirdScholar.