In the 2016 U.S. Elections, money reigns
Enormous contributions in the millions feed the electoral campaigns of of top U.S. presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. Yet both are losing popularity among voters.
July 21, 2015
With a total of $47.5 million, Hillary Clinton’s campaign committee has raised more money than any other candidate in the running thus far. With the addition of super PAC contributions, the sum jumps to $63.1 million. Not to be outdone, Jeb Bush’s camp out-distances Clinton’s when it comes to campaign contributions by so-called “outside groups,” bringing his grand total to $114.4 million.
Despite this exorbitant cash flow, Clinton’s favorability has dropped from 46 percent in April to 39 percent, according to the latest AP poll. Meanwhile the percentage of the respondents with an unfavorable opinion has grown from 41 percent to 49 percent. This makes her less popular than the now falling star, Barack Obama. Her image has suffered some erosion in other aspects too. According to the same poll, the percentage of people who think she is “honest” or “compassionate” has also dropped.
Clinton’s falling popularity may be in response to her deepening, unmistakeable ties to the ruling political and economic establishment. The fact that she’s Wall Street’s favorite doesn’t help, and her millions in personal wealth places her firmly among the hated 1%. It’s also no small thing that she has side-stepped a commitment to increasing the minimum wage, going against the labor unions and Fight for 15 organizers that she so passionately applauded during speaking events and phone conferences for the last few months.
Foreign policy is not her strength either: she has supported all the wars the US has been involved in during the last few decades. Some Democratic pundits, perhaps expecting further drop in popularity, have started pointing to Al Gore as the best possible candidate for the Democratic Party.
On the other hand, almost all Republican candidates are viewed more negatively than positively, with Donald Trump in the lead, with a 58 percent negative rating. However, he is certainly the most popular among Republicans candidates: his positive/negative view among GOP voters soared from 20/53 a month ago to a tight 41/40 now. Trump gained nationwide visibility after spewing unfettered racism and hatred against immigrants. Talking about Mexican immigrants, he vomited: "They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists." His popularity is expected to be short-lived.
While Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Florida Senator Marco Rubio are viable contenders, the strongest GOP candidate so far is Jeb Bush. Shifting from his initial efforts to avoid being associated with his brother, former president George W. Bush, Jeb recently turned to embracing his brother’s adventure in Iraq. Meanwhile, his “doubts” on whether racism motivated Dylan Roof’s mass murder in Charleston can only mean further institutionalized racism and segregation. As with Clinton, Bush in the president’s seat promises the continuation of the status quo, war-mongering, and anti-immigrant policies.
Despite Democrats’ friendly discourse towards immigrants, the truth remains that 165 thousand immigrants have been deported between October 1st 2014 and June 15th 2015.
Bernie Sanders: Democrats’ nod to the masses
There has been a great stir around Bernie Sanders’ candidacy. A few days ago, ten thousand people gathered in Madison, Wisconsin to hear him speak. With many in the U.S. facing the continuing effects of the economic crisis and rising inequalities, it is no wonder that Sanders has captured people’s attention, as he shakes an admonishing finger at the Wall Street tycoons and the money-driven electoral system. He even calls himself a socialist, something that may catch the attention of certain youth and progressives, and he has successfully raised $13.7 million, of which 80 percent were small donations (less than $200). His supporters claim that, without serious chances of winning elections, his aim is to denounce the million-dollar campaigns of his opponents and to bring up social issues that otherwise would not been discussed. He has declared, however, that he will call his supporters to vote for Clinton when he is (sure to be) defeated by her. This is why great part of the U.S. far-left has regretted his decision to run on a ticket by the Democratic Party. In addition, his socialist speech becomes social-chauvinism when foreign policies are considered. His lack of popularity among blacks and Latinos reflects his refusal to address the experiences of people of color and social problems affected by systemic racism. In a previous article I have pointed out a number of reasons to be skeptical of Sanders’ one-man “political revolution.”
Is this what democracy looks like?
These candidates’ modest popularity is a measure of the U.S. electoral spectacle’s lack of legitimacy. Only 55 percent of eligible citizens turned out to vote in the 2012 presidential elections. On top of this, there is an overwhelming chunk of the population that is altogether disenfranchised. The number of people denied the right to vote due to a felony conviction has steadily increased with the expansion of the incarceration industry; in the late 1970s, there were slightly over 1 million people unable to vote., This figure has risen to almost 6 million in 2010. This anti-democratic mechanism especially affects the working-class, predominantly black and Latino population. For example, in Maryland, blacks make up two thirds of the population that cannot vote due to a criminal record. But the population most deprived of suffrage rights is the undocumented immigrants: this figure has been well over 11 million since 2005.
Another anti-democratic aspect of the U.S. electoral system is the way campaigns are funded. In 2010 the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that corporations may make unlimited expenditures for or against specific candidates, overturning a 100+ year-old restriction of the FEC. The Citizens United ruling enabled the formation of super PACs, as well as a mushrooming of ‘501(c) nonprofits’, channels of the so-called "dark money", which do not need to disclose their donors.
More money was spent in the 2012 elections than in any other election in U.S. history. The final amount thrown into the presidential campaigns totaled upwards of $6 billion, of which $300 million was “dark money” siphoned from 501(c) groups.
But there’s more. In 2012, mega-donor Shaun McCutcheon challenged the legal two-year cap for single-donor contributions ($123 thousand in 2013). In April 2015, the SCOTUS sided with McCutcheon and tore down the restriction. Now there’s no limit to individual donations, and expenditures in 2016 are expected to break historical records. This is what U.S. Freedom and Democracy look like: free reign for millionaires, who may funnel as much money as necessary to twist elections, buy politicians and secure their businesses.