The 2016 US Presidential Election is certainly the strangest one that I can remember and probably the strangest one that anyone living can remember.
On the Republican side, the primaries began with 17 contestants, the most of any major party in US history. It ultimately was won by a former reality TV star who has never held elected office nor been in the US military, but has declared bankruptcy four times. He boosted his popularity by saying rude things that all the experts agreed would cripple his candidacy.
For the Democrats, the runner-up from the 2004 election, one of the most famous people in the US, a former First Lady, senator and Secretary of State, was challenged by an elderly man, senator from a small state, who had never even been a member of that political party. He drew much of his support from people young enough to be his grandchildren and received more individual donations than any previous candidate. Meanwhile, the favored candidate went from being one of the most popular women in America to being someone that the public has a net unfavorable opinion of.
Now where to? The two sides are in some ways mirror images of each other. On the Republican side, Donald Trump clinched the nomination with only a plurality (44%) of the vote in the primaries and remains deeply unpopular with the party establishment (and indeed many traditional Republican voters as well). Hillary Clinton on the other hand was the favored candidate of the party establishment, but remains deeply unpopular with many of the party’s core voters (albeit more popular than her opponent – after all, she did win a majority of the votes during the nomination process).
The decision seems to be a straightforward one: conservative vs liberal, outsider vs insider, shaker-upper vs establishment, businessman vs professional politician. Yet both candidates share one factor: unusually high net unfavorability measures (that is, the percent of voters who view them positively minus the percent who view them negatively). To some degree, the election will be a question of which candidate the voters dislike less.
Truly, this has so far been a “black swan” election, as one political scientist said.