As the ‘rise of the far-right‘ in politics is being mapped all over Europe, dismayed pundits are bemoaning the lack of seriousness with which we’ve taken the more extreme political views in continental party politics. But while Europeans have been concerned with results in Austria, Hungary and France, US polls are showing a similar error in judgement: suddenly, Donald Trump is polling as the frontrunner for the US Presidency.
We have all, of course, been quite aware of Trump’s popularity since he announced his candidacy in June 2015. But it has long been assumed that the ‘real politicians’ he faced would knock him out of the park once Americans got over the novelty of Trump’s ‘crazy’ stunt. And in particular, surely a former First Lady, Secretary of State, and twice Presidential nominee would be a shoe-in against a four-time bankrupt casino magnate and gaudy real estate developer.
However, Clinton has had the worst of press recently (and Trump has added his own powerful blow to her campaign – on Instagram, no less.) A particular combination of events has seen Clinton take a major nosedive in the polls, and Trump’s popularity has only increased alongside it. As the only remaining Republican nominee, Trump now surpasses Clinton as the favourite to win a contest between them by 0.2 points, at 43.4%.
The Senior Elections analyst at Real Clear Politics confirmed:
So it's probably time to panic.
— Sean T at RCP (@SeanTrende) May 22, 2016
Polling data, as we’ve explained before, can be misleading depending on when and how it’s collected. What Real Clear Politics does is take the aggregate data from the five most recent mainstream polls and combines it. So while ABC News/Washington Post put Trump 2 points ahead, the CBS News/New York Times poll put Clinton 6 points ahead. Other results vary, and overall this is the first time Trump has claimed the top spot, if not the first time he’s been near it.
He has edged frighteningly close twice before when measured against the Democratic frontrunner, not to mention sensationally bumping all other Republican candidates off the trail just months after his announcement to run was widely considered a joke. So the polls are only the latest reason to be scared, in a long line of underestimations of Trump’s relevance as a candidate and as the next potential President.
He has been abusing populist campaign tactics since his campaign began. The reasons for Trump’s popularity at this point are manifold: he has wrapped up his ‘inevitable’ nomination as the Republican candidate early (though US politics still allows for entry into the race at this point…see The West Wing.) This has given voters and Republican party members a degree of certainty and security to fall behind. But his appeal amongst white working class voters since the beginning remains strong. Voters across the country see his blunt, brash and bold rhetoric as not only a departure from the unconvincingly broad centrists, but also as an outlet for their political anger. It’s believed that long-term unemployment, racial tensions and perceived terrorist threats can only be ‘solved’ via the ‘tough stance’ Trump projects.
Now that his eventual run for the Presidency looks “inevitable“, according to The Guardian’s US data editor, he has moved from his primary tactic of race baiting to attacking his primary opponent. And unfortunately for Clinton, there is plenty of ammunition with which to do so.
For those unfamiliar with Clinton’s suddenly exhilarating FBI case file, it’s concerned with the mishandling of documents during her position as Secretary of State. Clinton was using her private email address to discuss and store top secret documents and even installed a server at home on which to host them. This amounts to stealing government documents and storing them off private and protected servers – similar crimes with which Edward Snowden is charged (up until he revealed them to journalists, of course.) While presuming the files would remain protected, Clinton put the government’s secrecy and security in jeopardy – and ultimately the server was infiltrated by Romanian hacker ‘Guccifer’.
Currently, the FBI are continuing their investigation, and working their way up to interviewing Clinton. The general feeling is that she will avoid any serious punishment, as the precedent for prosecution is slim.
Perhaps more damaging to Clinton’s campaign is the attack ad Trump recently released on Instagram, that features audio of Juanita Broaddrick and Kathleen Willey discussing historical accusations of sexual assault by Bill Clinton. Aside from the famous Lewinsky case in the ’90s for which President Clinton was almost impeached, he has been accused of rape and sexual harassment by a number of other women. None of these cases have come to trial and the Clintons have always remained silent about them, denying them only via their lawyer. However, Hillary has been accused by these women in the past of personally silencing them, and now Trump has utilised these troubling cases as fodder for his campaign. The ad finishes with audio of Hillary laughing. Trump tweeted the link with the caption “Is Hillary really protecting women?”
This may well be a legitimate question, and one that Americans have asked before now. However, Trump’s exploitation of Broaddrick and Willey, potentially without their consent, is a contemptible addition to the disturbing nature of the accusations.
The day after the Austrian far right-wing candidate was 0.4 points away from being President of Austria, the man no one believed had a chance looks ever closer to being ‘leader of the free world’. The symbolism of the Austrian Hofer’s ascendancy was frightening enough. But the reality of a Trump presidency, surely aided by the lack of seriousness by his opposition, could be devastating.
View a number of polls at Real Clear Politics.
Image via Jules Hynam
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