Local Columnists

Steve Kraske: The American voter is all worked up

The American voter is angry, which begins to explain why “outsiders” like Donald Trump continue to lead in the polls. But how long will it last?
The American voter is angry, which begins to explain why “outsiders” like Donald Trump continue to lead in the polls. But how long will it last? The Kansas City Star

Voters are mad.

Smokin’ mad. Burnin’ mad. The most conservative Republicans are mad. The most liberal Democrats are mad. And those in the middle are mad, mad, mad, too.

That’s nothing new. Voters have been mad for more than 11 years. To be precise, the last time they weren’t mad was January 2004, when, by a narrow 47-43 percent, voters proclaimed in polls that the country, for once, was on the right track.

That may have been because President George W. Bush had announced the capture of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein just weeks before.

“Eleven years without a break,” GOP pollster Neil Newhouse notes.

Newhouse last week laid out the mood of the country to the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. In a fast-paced slide presentation of recent polls, Newhouse showed why Republicans so far are picking outsider Donald Trump and Democrats are giving leftie Bernie Sanders the once-over.

Traditional pols can’t get the job done, voters are saying. So let’s try something different.

Voters in 1992 — when rip-roaring Ross Perot ran for the presidency — may top the anger of 2015. But what stuns Newhouse, who has Kansas City area roots and was Mitt Romney’s pollster in 2012, is the “ideological breadth of the anger and frustration” and the staying power of those emotions.

Fully 72 percent of Americans believe the country is “falling behind” or “failing.”

Obama’s job approval rating remains upside down, with more Americans disapproving of the job he’s doing than approving, even though he’s no longer the partisan target he once was.

Nearly nine in 10 primary voters from both sides of the aisle in Iowa and New Hampshire describe themselves as just plain angry or “dissatisfied but not angry.” In South Carolina, it’s 78 percent.

More than 80 percent of the country disapproves of the job Congress is doing.

The issue of the most importance remains “unemployment and jobs,” but just 20 percent of Americans rated it number one, down from 42 percent four years ago. The issue on the rise? The decline in real income for American workers, which clocked in at 14 percent.

The battle over the nation’s astonishing wage disparity looms.

So now you know why 2016 continues to shape up as the year of the outsider. Trump’s trajectory is slumping these days, but not by much. With the exception of one recent national survey, which had Ben Carson leading the GOP field by 7 points, Trump led by 10 points in one poll and then 10 in another and then nine, one, eight, five, eight and nine in other surveys.

That’s a remarkable performance in a jam-packed GOP field.

Newhouse doesn’t expect it to last. Outsiders such as Trump, Carson and Carly Fiorina, who have little political experience, often struggle to navigate the ups and downs of intense national campaigns. Because they haven’t been vetted in previous races, they tend to falter down the stretch as voters learn unflattering things about them.

These days, the smart money is sticking to Sen. Marco Rubio, whose youth may brand him as the fresh-start candidate of 2016.

But whoever emerges — and for all we know, it could continue to be Trump — must respond to all that unrelenting anger.

Steve Kraske: 816-234-4312, @stevekraske