'Angry Voters' are Nothing New: Check your History

The "Angry Voters" of 2016 are a fixture of electoral politics for the last half-century and more. The reasons for their anger are nothing new either.

/By Dave Piper/ On a recent night, I was watching one of the cable news networks do a segment on the rise of Donald Trump in the GOP nomination battle. According to the host, Trump’s ascendency is a reflection of 2016 being “the year of the angry voter”.

Newsflash, Cronkite: Americans have always been pretty angry.

Take a look at several of the elections in the last half century and it is easy to see that voter anger is nothing new:

In 1968, conservative Republicans and blue-collar Democrats fearful of the rise of Black Power and the antiwar movement joined forces to elect Richard Nixon by a razor-thin margin. The Democrats’ switching of allegiances to the GOP helped form what Nixon called the “Silent Majority” that remained intact for a generation.

Eight years later, a relatively unknown peanut farming-governor from Georgia named Jimmy Carter rode an anti-Washington wave stemming from the Watergate abuses and disenchantment from Vietnam to narrowly win the presidency.

In the next presidential election, Ronald Reagan, a former B-movie actor with extreme Right-wing views exploited Carter’s unpopularity, a sluggish economy and the Iranian hostage crisis to usher in the Reagan revolution — which we are still suffering from more than a quarter-century later.

A decade later, another southern Democrat, Bill Clinton, used frustration from the 1991-92 recession to beat George H.W. Bush. The incumbent, Bush actually showed great political courage in reversing his pledge of “no new taxes” in order to fuel an economic recovery.

In the off-year election of 1994, Republicans won huge Congressional gains based largely on the GOP campaigning against Bill Clinton’s failed healthcare reform, and the unpopularity among many Democrats of his support for the North American Free Trade (NAFTA) agreement. Clinton eventually capitulated to GOP demands and forged ahead with welfare reform.

By 2006, American voters were so upset with the Bush Administration’s launching of the Iraq war on faulty “evidence” that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons, and his handling of Hurricane Katrina that Democrats came to the polls fired-up and elected a Democratic majority to Congress.

Two years later, Barack Obama swept into office as the first African American president with the simple campaign slogan of “Change”. While the notion of “change” was something that was intentionally left up to interpretation in the minds of voters, a main theme was moving away from the destructive policies of George W. Bush.

The same type of anger and frustration that played a role in those previous elections is visible in the 2016 election season. In both major parties, establishment candidates like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are facing low or sinking poll numbers. On the Republican side, Bush trails Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson—each of whom has never held public office before. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has long been considered the presumptive Democratic nominee, until democratic socialist Bernie Sanders’ campaign began to catch fire. In fact, in some polls he even leads her in early battleground states like New Hampshire and Iowa.

And if we factor in the rage and disillusionment of people who were not always allowed to vote, like women, blacks, and poor people—along with the large segment of the population that doesn’t vote because they believe it will do little to change the system—it is easy to make the argument that there has always been anger with our elected “leaders” since the founding of our country.

What really needs to change is not who runs the government, but how the government is run. We need a political system that makes sure everyone has access to education, a job with a living wage and a robust healthcare system.

To meet these goals, a good first step would be to take Wall Street off welfare by ending all tax breaks and loopholes for the 1%. Then use the subsequent surplus to pay for investment in education, a jobs program that centers on updating our crumbling infrastructure, and healthcare for all.

The 99% will always be angry—election year or not—if we don’t make these changes.