Finley: ‘None of above’ gaining momentum

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Philadelphia — Ward Wilcox has looked at the choices for president, and he’s made his decision: None of the above.

“I don’t really trust Clinton, and Trump looks like a loose cannon,” says Wilcox, a 43-year-old house painter from Garden City who leans Democratic. “I wish there was someone else to choose from.”

That may be one of the most common wishes being made this election season, as voters across the political spectrum find the 2016 major party presidential options of Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton unpalatable.

It’s of particular concern at the Democratic National Convention here this week out of fear that disillusioned supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will either skip the presidential contest in November, or vote for a third party candidate.

“The only way Donald Trump can win is by Democrats staying home on Election Day,” former Michigan Sen. Carl Levin told the state delegation at a breakfast meeting this week. His brother, Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Royal Oak, gave the same audience a history lesson, blaming disaffected Democratic Eugene McCarthy voters for handing the presidential election to Richard Nixon in 1968, and warning that scenario could play out again this year.

But many voters are stubbornly staying uncommitted this year, finding the candidates either unlikable, untrustworthy or unstable, or all three. The Real Clear Politics polling average pegs Hillary Clinton’s unfavorability rating at 55 percent, and Trump’s at 57 percent. The intense negative reaction by many voters to both candidates makes it hard for some to hold their noses and vote for whom they consider the lesser of two evils. And in many cases it can’t be overcome by partisan loyalty.

“I've heard from so many people that to not vote for Trump is to vote for Hillary,” says Patty Hinton of Franklin, who usually votes Republican. “But my responsibility is to vote for an individual, not a party. I’d like to vote for someone who is conservative, not just someone who has a ‘R’ next to their name.”

“There is a significant chunk of people who have visceral hatred of their party’s candidate,” says pollster Richard Czuba of the Glenn Garif group.. “A lot of people are considering a third party candidate, and weighing whether they can abandon their traditional party identification.”

Third party candidates could enjoy their best performance in decades if voters are able to make the partisan break. In Cleveland, Republicans fretted that the Libertarian ticket of former governors Gary Johnson of New Mexico and William Weld of Massachusetts could peel away traditional conservatives appalled at Trump’s lack of any detectable political principle. And Democrats are taking seriously threats by Sanders’ voters to defect to Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

Greg McNeilly, a west Michigan Republican political consultants, believes it’s possible that Johnson, currently polling at about 10 percent, could draw 20 percent of the vote or more if Republicans bail on Trump. Combined with a stronger than normal showing by the Green Party, that could throw voter turnout modeling to the wind and make it impossible to predict the outcome of the election.

The wild card is whether as Election Day approaches, voters will find their disdain for the home team’s candidate more powerful than their distaste for the other side’s nominee.

“People will come to grips with the reality that this is a binary choice,” McNeilly says. “Who will leave us more safe and more free? When Republicans ask themselves that question, I think they’ll come home.”

Both parties are pushing the narrative to their reluctant members that by not voting or choosing a third party, they are throwing their vote away and helping elect a candidate who would appoint the wrong sort of judges to the Supreme Court or undo legislation important to them.

That pitch isn’t swaying Steve Frank, a retired autoworker and independent voter from Livonia who now works for a mortgage firm.

“Neither candidate is worth voting for,” he says. “One is a liar and the other is an ego-maniac. Folks at work are saying they are gong to write someone in. This election sucks.”

Nolan Finley’s book “A Little Red Hen: A Collection of Columns from Detroit’s Conservative Voice” is available from Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble Nook.