Primarily, both candidates are viewed negatively by large segments of the American public. The U.S. economy has also experienced a relatively anemic recovery (in terms of wages and wealth) from the Great Recession of the George W. Bush years.While this information gets garbled in the sensationalism and "horse race" obsessions over polling in typical mainstream reporting, those observations are not out of the range of conventional wisdom. Elections actually do take place, and the results can be counted. So there is an anchor in reality that political coverage has to acknowledge, however reluctantly.
Furthermore, the American electorate is highly partisan and polarized. As Election Day in November approaches — and despite whatever misgivings voters may feel — it is much more likely than not that a given individual will solidify their support for their political party’s chosen candidate.
These foundational factors have combined to create a close presidential race.
The American news media, much of it owned and controlled by large corporations, has also played a significant role in keeping Hillary Clinton within reach of Donald Trump.
Also well understood by Democratic voters and activists is the following, though for obvious reasons the corporate media and our Pod Pundits are reluctant to acknowledge it, is the following:
The American news media, much of it owned and controlled by large corporations, has also played a significant role in keeping Hillary Clinton within reach of Donald Trump.This observation, however, is one that's inconvenient for the mainstream press and it's Both Sides Do It convention. It's also inconvenient for corporate Democrats who like to make "bipartisan" pitches:
Donald Trump is an atypical presidential candidate who has utter disregard for the standing norms of American politics and even less respect for the Fourth Estate. This has allowed him to outmaneuver and manipulate many journalists and pundits. They feel beholden, or perhaps enslaved, to norms of “objectivity,” “fairness” and “balance.” Trump feels no such limitations.
Moreover, despite the media’s discussion of the so-called alt-right, which is little more than an ideological smoke screen, Trump and his supporters are not outliers or aberrations in the Republican Party. They are its unapologetic base and its political id. Right-wing elites may be turned off by Trump’s lack of polish, but his core message, attitudes and values resonate among mainstream Republicans. This gives Trump a deep reservoir of preexisting support. [my emphasis]I agree with his reading of the probabilities here, "This will get Trump close to the finish line but not over it."
He also does a good job of describing how the "populist" factor interacts with the white racism and xenophobic elements:
Trump is the beneficiary of a populist moment of discontent in American and global politics. While Bernie Sanders’ progressive version of populism was inclusive, cosmopolitan and forward-thinking, Trump’s populism appeals to racism, tribalism and reactionary thinking. Trump is also a political necromancer, deftly skilled in manipulating white conservatives’ anxieties and fears of both generational and cultural obsolescence.Parsing the role economic discontent plays in interaction with racial/ethnic/nationalistic sentiments is always a challenge because it's a complex relationship and practically impossible to measure in a clear-cut manner.
Charlie Pierce also picks up the granding-on-a-curve metaphor Chauncey uses in The Truth About This Alleged 'Basket of Deplorables' Esquire Politics Blog 09/11/2016:
Hell, we've been grading Republicans on a curve for decades. We graded Reagan on a curve when he burbled about trees and air pollution. We graded him on a curve during Iran Contra on the grounds that he was too dim to know what was going on around him. We graded W on a curve for the whole 2000 campaign when he didn't know Utah from Uzbekistan, but Al Gore knew too much stuff and what fun was he, anyway? We graded Republicans on a curve when they attached themselves to the remnants of American apartheid, when they played footsie with the militias out west and with the heirs to the White Citizens Councils in the South. We graded them on a curve every time they won a campaign behind Karl Rove or Lee Atwater or the late Terry Dolan back in the 1970s. We talked about how they were "reaching out" to disillusioned white voters who'd suffered in the changing economy, as though African-American workers didn't get slugged harder than anyone else by deindustrialization. We pretended not to notice how racial animus was the accelerant for the fire of discontent in the "Reagan Democrats." That was, and is, grading on a moral curve.He also quotes Hillary's "deplorables" statement more fully than the one sentence the Pod Pundits seized on:
You know, just to be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. They're racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people – now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric. Now some of these folks, they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America. But the other basket–and I know this because I see friends from all over America here – I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas–as well as, you know, New York and California–but that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they're just desperate for change. It doesn't really even matter where it comes from. They don't buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won't wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they're in a dead end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.It's hardly roaring populism. But it does define the Republican coalition as well as any politician running for election is likely to these days. Charlie describes it this way:
It is timidity now that grades this ridiculous man [Trump] running this ridiculous campaign on the biggest curve of all - the timidity of a people who have declined the responsibilities of serious citizenship and the abdication of its duty under the Constitution of a putatively free press too timid to call them on it. That is the political correctness that truly is hurting the country and may yet hurt it beyond all repair. There's only one candidate now running however gingerly against that.But Hillary's statement does a decent job of defining Republican popular support, as distinguished from plutocratic support.
The formulation I've been using this year is that white racism and xenophobia have a psychological and political life of their own and can't be related immediately and clearly to economic distress. Factors like authoritarian inclinations play a large role in the political alignments. But it's also obvious to me that good economic prospects for ordinary people make it less likely on average that voters will be looking for racial or foreign scapegoats.