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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Angry voters are always with us

It’s getting so a political junkie can’t watch cable news without some talking head proclaiming voters are angry.

Duh. When aren’t American voters angry? It’s their natural state.

In some 42 years of covering elections – yes, I’m that old – I have trouble remembering a campaign season when some voters weren’t angry about something. It’s simply that they have more things to fan their flames in 2016.

My first election as a reporter was 1974, and voters were angry about Watergate, rising gas prices and Gerald Ford pardoning Richard Nixon. In 1976, they were still mad about Watergate and the pardon, and inflation, which refused to be whipped. For a brief period, Ronald Reagan’s supporters were mad that he wasn’t the GOP nominee. Some strongly religious voters, later to be known as the Moral Majority or Christian conservatives, were mad about Roe v. Wade and legalized abortion. 

In 1980, they were mad that Americans were being held hostage in Iran; that gasoline was more expensive and less available; that their athletes didn’t get a chance to kick some Soviet butt in the Moscow Olympics; that inflation was galloping like a racehorse and interest rates were climbing.

Some people think the Reagan years were all sweetness, light and “Morning in America,” but early on plenty of people were mad about a recession. And while the economy was rebounding by 1984, some people were mad about the military buildup and nuclear proliferation. Later they were mad about Iran-Contra and savings and loans going broke, and by 1988 some Christian conservatives were mad enough about their issues getting only lip service that they backed a televangelist rather than the sitting vice president for the GOP nomination.

Then 1992 was a great year for people mad at the system, and Ross Perot mined that vein for all it was worth. Not enough to win, but enough for President George H.W. Bush to lose. By 1994, voters were mad at Bill Clinton for everything from not passing health care reform to actually passing an assault weapons ban, and tossed a passel of Democrats out of Congress. By 1996, they were mad enough at Republicans for shutting down the government that they kept Clinton in the White House, but too mad at Democrats to give them back control of Congress back.

Another banner year for mad was 2000 was also a banner year for mad. Enough people were mad at both parties for enough reasons that they voted for Ralph Nader, who, let’s face it, made a career of being angry about something the government is doing or not doing. That made the race so close that it had to be settled in the Supreme Court, which made a bunch of people mad. Four years later, some people were still mad about that, and others were angry about the Iraq War. It wasn’t enough to unelect George W. Bush, although voters kept getting madder at him so that by 2006 they gave control of the House back to the Democrats.

By 2008, voters were so mad at Bush and the likelihood that Wall Street was going to shatter like Humpty Dumpty that they went for Barack Obama, hope and change. But by 2010, they were mad at health care reform, deficits and various government programs that were fending off the recession without pulling them personally to a better economic reality. Some embraced the tea party, which isn’t so much a party as a gestalt, and turned the House Congress back over to the Republicans.

That might’ve led to happy days for the GOP in 2012, but the Republicans in Congress managed to peeve plenty of people, and their nominee Mitt Romney made things worse by dissing 47 percent of the public in a single speech. Plus the Occupy Movement was mad that Wall Street seemed to have “Get Out of Jail Free” cards. The electorate wasn’t mad enough to dump Obama but not happy enough to give him a Democratic Congress.

So for the last four years we’ve had the tea party angry with folks who got elected to change the system but can’t; Christian conservatives mad that not only is abortion no less legal but now gays can marry and make them cater the wedding; gun-rights advocates mad about threats to the Second Amendment and gun-control advocates mad that no one can do anything about mass shootings; people who have been mad about federal deficits and debt since voting for Barry Goldwater; people mad Obama didn’t do enough deficit spending to stimulate the economy more; business owners mad that after being required to provide health insurance they might also be required to pay a higher minimum wage and provide family leave; workers angry they haven’t had a raise since a year had two zeros in the middle; college grads mad they may collect Social Security before their student loans are repaid; some people mad that the government isn’t willing to call terrorists based in the Middle East “radical Muslims” and other people mad at those people for tarring an entire religion for the actions of a few.

The general public – about half of whom could’ve voted in the last election cycle but didn’t – is generally steamed about how little gets done to their liking in Washington, D.C., their state capitals and city halls. It’s a bit of irony that would be funny, if it weren’t so maddening.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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