Voter anxiety, angst causing unexpected results, expert says

Erika King
Erika King

Voters are anxious and angry about failures in Washington, D.C., the economy and with politicians in general, and it's being reflected by unexpected primary election results, according to Erika King, a professor of political science at Grand Valley.

"I think that people this election cycle are distressed about the economy, they're distressed about the status of America in the world," King said. "There's a lot of angst among the voters on both sides of the political aisle. I do not think this is simply a phenomenon related to (Donald) Trump." 

King said the voter anxiety is impacting both parties, citing Sanders' unexpected win in Michigan's primary.

"I think we're seeing, with the Sanders victory in Michigan, a significant percentage of Democratic voters saying that they are very worried about trade and what this has done in terms of job losses, so to dump all of the negative sentiment out there in the voter ether onto Trump's head is unfair. I certainly think he has done a very effective job of capturing that voter sentiment and turning it to his benefit, but I certainly don't think he's creating it."

King said Sanders' focus on free trade during speeches in the week before the vote may have been critical. 

"This was an enormous surprise, because the polls were predicting a Clinton win," King said. "Sanders eked out a small victory, but a small victory is still a victory that he will carry into the next set of contests."

The Sanders upset is particularly worrisome for Hillary Clinton's campaign, King said, because Michigan is representative of several high-population, large, diverse states in the Rust Belt. However, because all Democratic primaries use proportional allocation, a close loss still helps Clinton add to her lead in the delegate count.

"Sanders can say with all truthfulness that he is doing well among a wide variety of constituencies and his message is resonating with a large segment of the Democratic electorate," King said. "He's being very adept at raising funds and he will definitely continue his campaign."

The feelings of anger and fear from both parties will likely play a large part in the results of the major primaries taking place next week, King said. 

"I think we can count on voters still remaining somewhat anxiety-ridden, fearful, and for many voters, angry about the situation," King said. "There is, I think, very much a mood out there, that Sanders, interestingly enough, is capturing both the sentiment of hope, especially among young people, but also capturing the votes of people who feel disaffiliated and somehow disempowered. That latter sentiment of displacement, disempowerment and anger is also very prevalent among Trump voters.

"There's very much a set of feelings in the air that contribute to some of the difficulties of predicting this year." 

Results from Michigan's Republican primary were far more predictable, as frontrunner Donald Trump had been expected to take the state, King said, but his win further showed that he's doing a good job of capitalizing on voter anxiety to his advantage.

King said that the March 9 primaries around the country solidified Trump's position as the frontrunner and that a strong week on Super Tuesday was more than a fluke, and that his support isn't faltering. 

Trump's big win should be concerning for the part of the Republican party that was hoping to get behind Marco Rubio, who had a disappointing performance in the Michigan contest, King said. Sen. Ted Cruz's second place finish in Michigan shows that he's a viable alternative to Trump as well, King said. 

Listen to the full interview with Erika King here.