The False Equivalency of the Clinton-Trump Unpopularity Contest
There’s an overarching narrative that’s been bugging me for months, and I’d like to unpack it here.
This whole election, we’ve been fed this story that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the most unpopular major-party candidates to ever run for President. Here are just some of the headlines to this effect:
Washington Post: “Whom do voters dislike more, Clinton or Trump?”
The New York Times: “Clinton and Trump Have Terrible Approval Ratings. Does It Matter?”
FiveThirtyEight: “Americans’ Distaste For Both Trump And Clinton Is Record-Breaking”
You get the point. And it’s not like there isn’t *some* truth to these stories. There absolutely is. But the problem is that these sentiments are presented as widely-held beliefs when, in fact, they aren’t shared by MOST demographic groups.
SurveyMonkey recently conducted a study with 91,000 voters, with some very telling results:
They found that yes, Clinton and Trump were both viewed unfavorably–but only by WHITE Americans. Black, Hispanic, and Asian voters all rated Hillary positively on the whole, while Trump received net-negative scores from EVERY SINGLE GROUP.
So why do we keep hearing about how everyone hates Hillary just as much as Trump, when in reality it’s only the reflection of how WHITE people feel?
I think there’s a fairly simple answer here that’s not particularly groundbreaking: The lack of diversity in newsrooms yields prevailing narratives that center around the perspectives of white people. On this issue, The Atlantic reported:
“In 2014, all minority groups accounted for 22.4 percent of television journalists, 13 percent of radio journalists, and 13.34 percent of journalists at daily newspapers. Pretty pathetic, considering the fact that minorities make up 37.4 percent of the U.S. population… Journalism certainly isn’t the only field that is notoriously and historically homogenous. But this is a big problem for an industry whose ambition is to serve and inform an increasingly diverse public.”
To be clear, I don’t believe that there’s any malice or ill intent to this end, or that all white media members are inherently problematic (of course not). There has been some truly outstanding reporting done this election, especially from The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold (Trump’s Foundation), Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald (Trump’s foreign business ties), and The New York Times’ Susanne Craig (Trump’s 1995 tax filings)
Rather, this erasure is representative of the larger biases that folks with privilege may carry, and it illustrates just how narrow our storytelling becomes when one group (white people) dominates the sphere.
So the next time you hear that “Both of these candidates are historically unpopular!!” make sure to caveat this statement appropriately. Because in all likelihood, the stories you read won’t do it for you.