Is the anger of the electorate justified?

This article appears in the Election 2016 feature series. View the full series.

The consensus of those people who have looked at the upcoming election is that the electorate is very angry on both the right and the left. This is why candidates who are seen as non establishment candidates such as Donald Trump are doing well, while establishment candidates like Jeb Bush are failing to gain traction.

The real question is, does this anger make sense? Bloomberg Business Week takes a look at just one area of discontent -- the stand-off on federal lands in Oregon. Bill Donahue's article makes some interesting points.

Government regulation of public lands began in 1934, and, even 32 later, in 1983, ranchers were only charged monthly grazing fees of $1.40 per cow. Today, that fee stands at $1.69 per cow. If ranchers were leasing the land at current prevailing market rates, the grazing fees would be 15 times higher. The government currently spends $144 million a year on grazing programs, while collecting only $21 million from grazing fees.

Also, the government spends tens of millions of dollars to assist ranchers by suppressing fires and killing off hostile weeds like cheat grass. Without this assistance ranchers would have to pay for these services. Perhaps here we have an example where government isn't the bad guy. Actually, according to Bill Donahue's article, the problem for ranchers is the falling price of beef, rising feed prices and recent droughts.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that seven out of 10 Americans are angry about how the political system works.

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An excellent NPR piece explains where the anger and anxiety are coming from.

National Public Radio mentions five concerns that are driving the electorate today, particularly on the Republican side. These issues include a lack of broadly shared economic growth and the anxiety over the likelihood of another terrorist attack in this country. A total of 79 percent of Americans believe such an attack is likely or somewhat likely in the next few months.

Then, there are the demographics, which now show that for the first time in 2014 the majority of kindergartners were minorities. This fuels concern about a fourth issue, immigration. Immigration links together issues of jobs, terrorism, and the failure of government to successfully perform basic functions. Thus, the fifth issue of concern is our dysfunctional government.

What is interesting is that Republicans and Democrats are both angry at elite groups, but not the same groups. Republicans are angry at government and professional experts of all kinds (think climate change), while Democrats are angry primarily at economic and financial elites.

There are, of course, plenty of reasons to be angry in America today. However, is the current anger productive, and are the real problems clearly understood? It is difficult to create positive change without careful consideration of the issues and the options. It is nearly impossible to thoughtfully choose a sensible direction for the country given the current political climate.

Jobs and wages need to grow, but we do have an economy that has weathered the great recession. The threat of terrorism is real, yet the evidence suggests that we are at greater risk of violence from domestic groups and individuals.

It is true that traditional minorities will soon be the majority demographic in our country, but that doesn't have to be a cause for fear. This country has always been able to become stronger by including people rather than excluding them. We now see Irish, Italian, Jewish, and other groups as essentially part of majority America, but it was not always that way. We need to address immigration issues with care and compassion, but also with a recognition that we can benefit from a generous American approach to immigration.

Finally, dysfunctional government has plagued us now for decades and particularly during the Obama presidency. I may be naïve but I believe the worst of that may be behind us, regardless of what happens in the 2016 election. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was able to pass a budget and worked to do so in a bipartisan fashion. I believe he has made clear that we will no longer govern with government shutdowns and refuse to work on anything the other side wants.

We will, of course, have to see what the future will bring, but perhaps things are not as bad as so many voters believe. Perhaps we can tone down some of the anger and anxiety and instead work toward solutions to the many challenges that remain.

The Iowa caucuses had some interesting results. Perhaps they are telling us that voters are not quite as angry as some candidates may believe.


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