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What’s with all the Hype?

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Photo credit: Chris Johnson

V46i6p6&7(color spread)
Written by: Communicator StaffNovember 13, 2015

Outsider Candidates’ Popularity Boosted by Media, Voter Frustration


Written by Zachary D. Elick

The 2016 Presidential primary race so far has been significantly dominated by “outsider” candidates: contenders who either spent most of their lives outside of politics or are at least perceived to be outside of the political mainstream.

This trend is most prevalent in the Republican primary race, as two “non-traditional” candidates, multimillionaire entrepreneur Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, have topped most opinion polls of potential Republican voters since August, according to RealClearPolitics.org.

Another “outsider,” former executive Carly Fiorina, briefly reached the second and third spots on a few of these polls after her impressive performance at the first two Republican primary debates.

“There seems to be an inverse relationship between political experience and popularity,” said Craig G. Ortsey, continuing lecturer of political science at IPFW.

Trump and Carson have lacked the same kind of Republican establishment support offered to more experienced politicians, such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush. Both candidates have relied heavily on small individual donations, according to their quarterly reports to the Federal Election Commision. Trump self- financed a large chunk of his own campaign as well.

Fueling this trend is a perception among the American electorate that many important issues are not being effectively handled by the federal government, Ortsey said.

Coupled with this impression is an overprevelance of media hype, Ortsey observed. Since the Presidential nomination ceremony in 2016 is so far away, the media is desperate to find something to talk about in the meantime, he said.

“The sense among the voters that things are messed up in Washington is not any worse in the 2016 race than it has ever been,” Ortsey said. “[The sense] seems worse this year, because the [2016 race] is happening right now.”

On the Democratic side, veteran politician and self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders is benefiting from this sentiment because he is perceived as a “purer candidate” than current Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, Ortsey said.

Sanders’ relative obscurity over the years, spending 16 years as Vermont’s only congressman, gives the impression that he has never had to “sell-out his principles for political gain,” Ortsey said.

Though Clinton has beaten Sanders in most national polls, Sanders has consistently surpassed her in that of the New Hampshire Democratic Primary.

And, similar to Carson, Sanders has also shown to have a considerable amount of grassrootsappealwhenitcomestofundraising. Sanders has raised more than $30 million in small individual donations — which are not allowed to exceed $200 — according to what his campaign reported to the FEC. On average, he received $30 a piece from almost 700,000 contributors, according to a press release from his campaign. In contrast, Hillary Clinton has raised only about a quarter of her campaign’s funds from small donations.

Sanders’ campaign has also been helped by his online presence, said Janelle Hall, general studies student and president of the student organization IPFW Students for Bernie.

Being the only official student organization focused on a 2016 presidential nominee, Hall’s group is indicative of Sanders’ widespread popularity among college students, said Nathan Fawley, economics major with a political science minor and Vice President of Finance for the IPFW student body.

“Bernie, in particular, has that college appeal,” Fawley said. “He has a more left-wing appeal that is appreciated by college students, or anyone else who is more non-traditional — more diverse.”

Associate Professor of political science Michael R. Wolf agrees the push for “non- traditional” candidates is nothing new and partly a result of media hype, though he believes a few factors are making this year a bit unique.

One is the Republicans’ unusual lack of an obvious front-runner in this year’s race: someone who has competed in this kind of nomination process before and has stood out.

Wolf also referred to an “underlying shift in American politics” toward an increased sense of polarization.

“We don’t have conservative Democrats anymore and we don’t have liberal Republicans anymore;theseusedtobethenorm,”Wolfsaid. “The parties at the leadership level are much more ideologically unified.”

This shift has come about largely from the voters themselves, according to Wolf. Voters on the extremes of the ideological spectrum have been doing most of “the heavy lifting” — the nominating and electing of candidates, while the moderate voters have become more frustrated.

Coupled with the politically-charged turbulence caused by two polarizing presidential administrations in a row, those of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, this shift may explain our country’s current distrust of “traditional” candidates and the compromises they are perceived to make, Wolf said.

The sense that the Washington establishment needs a change is represented on campus not only by supporters of Sanders.

Business major Phillip Litchfield, who usually votes Republican and is a fan of Presidential candidate Marco Rubio, described this year’s upsets as a sign of the establishment “turning in on itself.”

“Hopefully, this represents the fact that Washington is hearing what the people want; it’s kind of shaken things up, which is good,” Litchfield said.

Litchfield is a bit skeptical that this “shake- up” will last until the presidential nominees are selected next year.

“In the end, it’s probably going to be the more established politicians,” Litchfield said. “I think it is too early to tell if it’s the election of the ‘outsiders.’”