Presidential election outcome 'undecipherable'

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Lois A. Bowers
Lois A. Bowers

If the informal poll taken by a taxi driver I met during the recent Argentum Senior Living Executive Conference in Denver is accurate, Donald Trump will not be the next president. The driver asked more than 200 Republican riders whether they planned to vote for him, he told me, and only two said yes. Most of the rest told him they would not cast a vote, and a few — gasp — said they would vote for the Democratic nominee.

Ann Compton, speaking at the Argentum meeting, isn't quite ready to make a prediction. “Hollywood could not have written this,” she said about the primary season to date. “For 41 years, as an ABC network correspondent, I covered 10 presidential campaigns, covered in the White House seven presidents, and I've never seen a year like this,” Compton said.

By the time the primaries and caucuses are over on June 7, Trump will have received about 12 million votes, more than any other Republican nominee since records have been kept, she said, adding that he and Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders are driving the narratives for their respective parties.

“Why is it that in 2015 and 2016, the pundits have been wrong every step of the way?” Compton asked. “Why is it that the party leaders, the elected officials in governors' chairs, in Congress, in party positions, have been tone deaf on both sides of the political spectrum, and why have voters — real voters — said, ‘To hell with all of you?' ”

Compton (pictured) said she disagrees with those who say that voter anger or fear is the reason.

“I'll tell you the word that I've kind of settled on for 2016, and the word is disdain,” she said. “Voters disdain the government leadership they've got now, and the political candidates seem to disdain each other. There is an appalling lack of respect in American politics these days.”

The roots of that disdain affect the senior living industry, Compton said.

For one, they can be found in the state of the economy, she said. “Whenever the country is in economic distress, there's hell to pay for that,” Compton said. “Voters really do hold leaders accountable when the economy is bad.”

An increasingly divided country means that “certainly, Congress cannot brag that it does anything big anymore, and even presidents are pretty hamstrung on what they can get accomplished,” she said.

And despite the country coming through the recession and realizing a lower unemployment rate, average middle American incomes are growing in only 39 of 229 major metropolitan areas, according to new Pew Research Center findings, Compton said. “In most of the country, incomes are shrinking,” she said, “and I think some of what we're seeing in 2016 is the cumulative frustration over that.”

The evolving digital age also is to blame for the political climate, Compton said. Social media platforms such as Twitter and YouTube are such a big factor in campaigns, campaign coverage and political dialogue that “I really wonder whether American voters are getting the richness and the fullness of the backstory of the kind of issues — the pocketbook issues — that make a difference to every American family,” she said.

For the past dozen years or more, Compton said, 66% or so of respondents to polls have said that the country is not headed in the right direction. “If that sustains in 2016, you could see small voter turnout. You could see voters express exasperation at everybody,” she said. “I think it makes the outcome even more undecipherable than it is now.”

A Trump presidency would be “chaotic,” Compton said. “Simply because that's his modus operandi. Chaos rules. Do it my way. Fly by the seat of your pants. He changes his position daily, sometimes hourly. ...Who knows what he is going to do. He doesn't know what he's going to do.”

If Trump is elected and surrounds himself with qualified advisers and does not micromanage them, however, then the United States “will have one of the biggest cabinet government administrations I've ever seen,” she said. “Congress would feel no hesitation to pass its own litany of legislation and, if it gets through Congress, hope he wouldn't veto it,” Compton added, and power would be more dispersed at the federal level.

Or not. “Every prediction we've made this year has been so wrong,” she said.

Regardless of the election's outcome, Compton said, she holds hope for the future. “For how down I sound about the digital impact and the dysfunction in Washington, I really, in my heart, am a total optimist about the country,” she said.

Whether my Denver taxi driver was on to something and, whomever is in the Oval Office come January, how the senior living industry will be affected in 2017 and beyond remains to be seen. If a journalist who has covered politics for more than 40 years won't venture a guess, I won't either.

Lois A. Bowers is senior editor of McKnight's Senior Living. Contact her at lois.bowers@mcknights.com. Follow her on Twitter @Lois_Bowers.

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