Explaining Bernie Sanders—and Perhaps Donald Trump.

Two-thirds of Americans believe that there is at least one presidential candidate who would make a good president in the current crop. Most (75 percent) of Republicans believe that Donald Trump could win a general election—even though only about half of Republicans want him as their candidate. Virtually all (83 percent) Democrats believed that Hillary Clinton could win election–before Bernie Sanders ran even with Clinton in Iowa and then torched her in New Hampshire. Among the less-favored candidates are Ted Cruz (60 percent of Republican); Marco Rubio (55 percent of Republicans); and Bernie Sanders (54 percent of Democrats).[1]

In theory, Hillary Clinton wipes the floor with the leading Republican candidates when it comes to dealing with terrorism. Americans preferred her to Donald Trump (50-42), Marco Rubio (47-43), and even Jeb Bush (46-43).[2] On the other hand, that means that 43 percent of Americans want anyone-but-Hillary, no matter how clownish or inexperienced, to deal with terrorism. Is it the same for other issues? If it is, then she has remarkably high negatives for someone running for president. Still, so did Richard Nixon. Oh. Wait.

On the other hand, Independents fail to share this enthusiasm. Only 58 percent of them believe that there is anyone who would make a good president. (If Independents sit out in large numbers, then that might leave the November 2016 election in the hands of party regulars.)

Why are Americans so rabid for anti-establishment candidates?

In 2003, the net worth of the average American was $87,992. In 2013, the net worth of the average American was $56,335 in 2013. That amounts to a 36 percent fall in net worth, before allowing for nugatory inflation.[3] On the other hand (2003-2014), the net worth of the top five percent of earners increased by 14 percent over the same period.[4]

About one-third of Americans have no savings accounts at all.[5] Twenty percent of people aged 55 to 64 have no retirement savings. Almost half (45 percent) of people surveyed expected to live on whatever Social Security paid them.[6] Almost half (44 percent) of Americans don’t have an “emergency fund” to cover basic expenses for three months. Almost half (43 percent) of American workers would be willing to take a pay cut IF their employer would increase the contribution to the 401k retirement savings plan.[7] In August 2014, about 77 million Americans had a debt “in collection.” The median amount owed is $1,350.[8]   That’s not a lot of money. Unless you don’t have it.

If the “Great Recession” had not occurred, then college graduates entering the job market might have expected salaries 19 percent higher. The “normal” penalty for graduating in a recession is about 10 percent.[9] The recent unpleasantness has been unusually unpleasant. Also, state aid to public colleges has fallen during the recession. That means that students have been graduating with much larger debt loads than previously. They have to service those debts out of smaller starting salaries.

People hiring employees tend to favor those who are narcissistic over the humble.[10] Apparently, they are right to do so. “Narcissistic” CEOs make an average of $512 million more over their careers than do those who are not.[11] Will it be the same for voters? Hard to think of anyone more narcissistic than the Clintons. Unless it is Donald Trump.

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 5 February 2016, p. 19.

[2] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 4 December 2015, p. 19.

[3] “Noted,” The Week, 8 August 2014. P. 14.

[4] “Noted,” The Week, 8 August 2014. P. 14.

[5] “The bottom line,” The Week, 15 February 2013, p. 32.

[6] “Noted,” The Week, 22 August 2014, p. 16.

[7] “The bottom line,” The Week, 22 August, 2014, p. 32.

[8] “The bottom line.” The Week, 15 August, 2014, p. 31.

[9] “The bottom line,” The Week, 1 August 2014, p. 31.

[10] “The bottom line,” The Week, 27 June 2014, p. 32.

[11] “The bottom line,” The Week, 1 August 2014, p. 31.

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