If this election cycle has one overriding message from voters, it’s this: They want change from a political system they see as broken, and party leaders had better be listening.
The gloom is hard to escape. Nearly half of middle-class Americans say they could not lay their hands on $400 in an emergency. Most are far behind on retirement savings, if they have any at all. For all but the upper-class, wages are stagnating even as productivity rises. U.S. society is coming to resemble a stark pyramid, with a lucky cluster of wealthy at the apex, a slightly bigger middle and a vast underclass that sees too little hope of a better future.
Minnesotans are right in that mix, with a new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll showing deep fears over jobs, terrorism, government spending and a rising national debt. Those are big, foundational issues that require more than postcard rhetoric. It is scenarios like this that can give rise to authoritarian figures who offer up a few slogans and scapegoats to a desperate populace.
But resorting to conventional, tinker-at-the-edges tactics is not the answer, either. This electorate has been telegraphing for months its discontent with a status quo that has failed to deliver for too many of them. Even in Minnesota, with its low unemployment and better-than-U.S.-average wages, Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders thumped more conventional Democrat Hillary Clinton in this spring’s state caucus. In fact, the one improbable commonality that binds supporters of Sanders and Donald Trump, the billionaire businessman who’s raised verbal knife-fighting to new heights, is the yearning for a leader unafraid to kick over the table.
There is danger in that. The U.S. still has the world’s largest economy and is the country other nations look to for stability and leadership.
Candidates and parties should heed the messages coming from this electorate, because voters have been telegraphing them for months. The Minnesota Poll found that Minnesotans favor Clinton over Trump, though a majority consider her lacking in honesty. Trump is leading with men and independents and is only a half-step behind Clinton in the suburbs and outstate, even though a majority of Minnesotans find him lacking the temperament to be president.
A significant number of Minnesotans are undecided.
What might they hope for? Perhaps someone who will offer more than Post-it note ideas, who has the guts to tackle the status quo until it yields gains for more than the top tier, but the judgment to stop short of the chaos that might set us even further back.
Failing that, presumptive nominees Clinton and Trump have a moral obligation to put developed solutions in front of voters. For their part, voters must demand real ideas, while accepting the limitations of any one leader and resisting the siren song of easy answers.