What Happens When Two Historically Unpopular Candidates Face Off?


The presidential election of 2016 is considered by many to be the most important election in our lifetimes. I consider that sentiment nothing more than a cliche. We literally hear it every 4 years, and sometimes in between. Technically every election is the most important one yet.

But this election is the rare open contest with no incumbent, either directly or by succession (VP running after serving 8 years). The last one was just 8 years ago, but before that you have to go all the way back to 1952 to find an election without a sitting president or vice president running.

In all that time there has not been an election that could come down to two equally unpopular candidates. We won’t know for at least a month or two when primary votes are officially cast who each party’s nominee will be, but both current frontrunners are historically disliked.

Hillary Clinton’s favorability rating right now is bad and getting worse. It started dropping the moment she left office as President Obama’s first Secretary of State, and it’s been underwater nearly a year.


As pollster Adrian Gray has shown, such poor favorability ratings even this far out from the election are usually correlated with general election losses, at least since 1992.


Unless Clinton gets dramatically more likeable in the next 6 months, she could be doomed. But what if the Republican with the chance to beat her is even more unpopular?

It’s been a long time since the major parties have nominated someone as unpopular as Hillary Clinton. I’m not sure they’ve ever nominated someone as unpopular as Donald Trump.


Since at least 1992, no party’s nominee has had worse favorability ratings than Donald Trump has over the last 6 months. If he continues on this course, in a normal election year he would be headed for a historic landslide loss.


But as we’ve already covered, this isn’t a normal election year. Both parties had a unique opportunity to put forth bold, fresh candidates to take advantage of this open election. Democrats are choosing between a cafeteria of old, white Boomers. Republicans had the strongest, most diverse bench of candidates in their history and are threatening to elevate a literal hatemonger to represent them.

If Republicans nominate Donald Trump and Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton, someone will win the election, but purely by default. Turnout will be historically low, even by American standards.

Many Republicans who justifiably find Trump repugnant (moreso than their usual nominee of choice) will stay home, not cast a vote for president, or vote for the Libertarian or other third-party candidate. Republicans are giving Democrats their best shot at the White House. Their only saving grace is that many Democrats, and most independents, will give Clinton the same treatment.

We will have a new president this time next year, one way or another. But on the current trajectory, he or she will take office hated by most of the country and with no mandate to impose much of a platform. What a waste that would be.

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