Far too often, political coverage is based on the thinking of consultants and donors, and doesn't pay enough attention to what the voters are actually thinking. It's why we focus on presidential horse-race numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire, which couldn't be less predictive, and are often slow to pick up on the issues driving grassroots anger, like Common Core. It's why immigration reform rates as a top legislative priority in the minds of strategists over proposing an economic agenda to assuage voter anxieties.
And it's why pundits and donors alike are vastly overrating the prospects of two brand-name candidates for 2016 — Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush — and undervaluing the reality that the current political environment is as toxic as it's ever been for lifelong politicians. At the most fundamental level, the next presidential election is shaping up to be a battle of which party can best conquer its demons — whether Republicans can improve their beaten brand, and whether Clinton (or any other Democrat) can present herself as the candidate of change, given the high level of voter dissatisfaction.
A new Pew Research Center survey, released Monday, underscored the malaise suffusing the American public, and the difficulty Clinton would face overcoming these realities as the nominee. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of respondents said they would like the next president to "offer different policies and programs" than the Obama administration — a rate close to the 70 percent dissatisfaction level against George W. Bush at a comparable time. Even with relatively stronger numbers — only 50 percent wanted new policies in 1999 — Al Gore was unable to capitalize, in part because of the public's inherent desire for change. Since World War II, there's been only one stretch where one party has won three straight elections (Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush from 1980-1992).