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Voters’ moods reflect broad frustration with 'the establishment'

From left, Kathy Bernard, Lee Lyons, Jake Gray
Nathan Rubbelke |St. Louis Public Radio
From left, Kathy Bernard, Lee Lyons, Jake Gray

Gene Hutchins is agitated. Alison Lamothe is concerned.

Ahead of Tuesday's Primary Elections in Illinois and Missouri, they represent just two of the many moods voters are expressing when it comes to the choices for president.

Across party lines and among those who declare allegiance to no party in particular, the attitudes toward candidates vary widely, but many voters of all political stripes are expressing frustration. 

Lamothe is a Democrat from Edwardsville. She says she is “concerned that a person like Donald Trump is … the GOP front-runner."

But for her, the choice within her party is not an easy one.

“Honestly, I go back and forth between Clinton and Sanders,” she wrote, in response to a query from St. Louis Public Radio, referring to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt.

“They both have strengths and weaknesses, but I will support either candidate in the general election.”

On the other side, Hutchins, of Affton, is all for Trump, the Republican front-runner.  Hutchins’ agitated mood, however, is directed toward what he calls “the Republican establishment.”

That establishment “is upset that there is a real challenger to their rigged game,“ Hutchins wrote.

He favors Trump “because he’s a real independent. He is unbeholden to K Street lobbyists.”

Lamothe and Hutchins are among dozens of eligible voters who shared their political mood with St. Louis Public Radio. This report follows one in January, when talk show host Don Marsh and his guests discussed wide-ranging voter moods on St. Louis on the Air. Two months later, it's clear that collectively, many people are very unhappy.

Ken Warren, a political science professor at Saint Louis University, explains it this way:

Ken Warren is a political science professor at Saint Louis University.
Credit Nathan Rubbelke | St. Louis Public Radio
Ken Warren is a political science professor at Saint Louis University.

“People are upset. They are getting really angry. The middle class is getting squeezed.

“The income gap is getting worse, the rich are getting richer and the middle class are getting poorer. They are saying ‘enough is enough.’ ”

In addition to the widening income gap, Warren cited the Electoral College, superdelegates, and the relative futility of third-party candidates as reasons why breaking away from the establishment is so difficult.

But that’s also the reason Trump has been appealing to many middle-class voters, so far, Warren said.

Amused, anxious, apprehensive

Many Democrats expressed support for Clinton, citing her experience or the opportunity to elect a woman as president.

But for Brian Sullivan of St. Louis, Sanders is the most attractive candidate.

“He appeals to me because he is committed to taking on a body politic that has been thoroughly corrupted by special interests, primarily corporations, the wealthy and older Americans,” Sullivan wrote.  He described his mood as “stoic.”

“While I am in sight of retirement myself, I feel we need to invest more in the youth of America, even if that means limiting programs for the middle-aged and beyond.”

Sullivan “used to be a staunch Democrat,” he wrote. “But after the new Democrat policies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, I find myself to the left of the party. I am as likely to vote Green or some other minor party as Democrat.”

Kathy Bernard
Credit Nathan Rubbelke | St. Louis Public Radio
Kathy Bernard

Kathy Bernard, of Affton, is a Democrat who also favors Sanders. She says she's "scared," however, because she fears "his chances are slimmer now," because Clinton has gained so many delegates. "I'm less afraid of her though, than if Trump gets in office."

Republicans voters were fairly split among the four candidates still in the running. 

Kourtney Lamb, of Brentwood, is a Republican who wrote that she would vote for Marco Rubio if the presidential election were held now. Describing herself as “frustrated,” Lamb wrote that her political mood has worsened in recent months.

“I feel like the good candidates who can win the general election — (Ohio Gov. John) Kasich and (Florida Sen. Marco) Rubio  — are canceling each other out for the far right candidate — (Texas Sen. Ted) Cruz — who will struggle in a general election.”

However, Jake Gray, of Kirkwood, wrote that he would vote Cruz. 

Jake Gray
Credit Nathan Rubbelke | St. Louis Public Radio
Jake Gray

“Although I don’t care for him personally, and disagree on foreign policy, I’d be confident of his (Supreme Court) appointments and that he would uphold the Constitution and not overstep his executive boundaries.”

Gray is a member of the St. Louis County Young Republicans, but really considers himself a Libertarian, which contributes to his mood of being “frustrated.” Acknowledging that third-party candidates can’t win — at least right now — he previously supported Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

With Paul out of the race now, “Ted is the best of what’s left for me,” he wrote. For Gray, it’s “anyone but Trump.” And he believes Cruz has the best chance of defeating a Democrat in the general election.

Despondent, disappointed, disgusted

Yet for some voters, the remaining choices are all unsatisfactory.

Libertarian Dennis Bentley of Hillsboro, for example, said none of the candidates seems worth his vote.

“The debates, (and) the news accounts remind me very much of the blustering, melodramatic and embarrassingly child-like theatrics once employed by professional wrestling.

“I’ve left boxes on ballots blank before,” Bentley wrote. “I can do it again.” He described his mood as “sad.”

A few weeks ago, Lee Lyons, of University City, considered sitting out the November election. 

Lee Lyons
Credit Nathan Rubbelke | St. Louis Public Radio
Lee Lyons

“I have zero confidence that either front-runner would ever fulfill any of their campaign promises,” he said at the time.

Lyons considers himself independent of any party. At that point, he said his mood was “sour,” and “much worse” that it was a few months before.

“The candidates who reflected my views have dropped out or are doing poorly,” Lyons wrote.

But more recently, he said he has gotten a bit of optimism.

Among the remaining candidates, Lyons said he would consider writing in his preferred choice, if Trump and Clinton end up as their party’s nominees.

“I would probably pick Kasich or Carly Fiorina,” he said in an interview this week.

Lyons said he wants someone who wants to help all people, and not drive a wedge between classes. With Kasich, Lyons said, he has a sense of hope.


Inform our reporting

This report was prepared with contributions from our Public Insight Network. Learn more about the network and how you can become a source for St. Louis Public Radio here. See more PIN responses to this query here.

Outreach specialist Linda Lockhart has been telling stories for most of her life. A graduate of the University of Missouri's School of Journalism, she has worked at several newspapers around the Midwest, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, as a reporter, copy editor, make-up editor, night city editor, wire editor, Metro Section editor and editorial writer. She served the St. Louis Beacon as analyst for the Public Insight Network, a product of Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media that helps connect journalists with news sources. She continues using the PIN to help inform the news content of St. Louis Public Radio. She is a St. Louis native and lives in Kirkwood.

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