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Issues Matter After All

A Commentary by Fran Coombs

The media created a false narrative about the 2016 presidential campaign, and most polling reinforced it.

Controversy was the name of the media game, most of it focused on Republican Donald Trump, and many media outlets, most prominently the New York Times, and many pollsters were saying little over a month ago that Democrat Hillary Clinton had already won. But the three daily tracking polls – the Los Angeles Times, IBD/TIPP and Rasmussen Reports – consistently showed a much tighter race.

In a survey released just yesterday, most voters told us that the election would be decided on the controversies that surrounded the presidential candidates, not the issues.

Who created those controversies? Voters said the media, not the candidates, set the agenda in the presidential campaign and that the media was more interested in controversy than in the issues.

Yet last month, 62% of voters said a candidate’s specific policy proposals are more important than their character. Maybe that should have been the tip-off because when it comes to the issues, Trump has long had the advantage over Clinton, according to Rasmussen Reports polling.

Obamacare? Most voters have opposed it since Democrats in Congress passed it into law in March 2010. In a survey released just last week, voters overwhelmingly favor changes in the health care law, with more voters than ever calling for its outright repeal.

Illegal immigration? Clinton was a champion of amnesty and allowing even more illegal immigrants into the country, even though the majority of voters for years have said they want more secure borders and more deportations.

The economy? Only last month, 63% of voters said the U.S. economy is unfair to the middle class, a view most voters have held in surveys for the past several years. Yet Clinton’s plans were a continuation of current economic policies.

Taxes and spending? Most voters have long called for lower taxes and less government; Clinton proposed increasing both. Trump wants to cut taxes and government regulation.

Free trade? Voters are very skeptical, notably of the new Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that Clinton helped negotiate. She said in recent months that she’s against it, but her own running mate, Tim Kaine, was caught telling TPP supporters privately she would reverse course as soon as she was elected.

National security? Clinton wouldn’t use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” for fear of offending Muslims, but most voters continue to believe we’re at war with it. Meanwhile, confidence at home about America’s safety from terrorism remains near all-time lows.

War on police? Trump called for law and order; Clinton called for healing and rooting out racist police officers. When cities erupted in violence over police shootings, voters weren’t all that sympathetic: They thought Clinton was on the side of the protestors, while Trump was on the side of the police. But only 14% of Americans think most deaths that involve the police are the fault of the policeman. More than ever (72%) rate the performance of the police in the area where they live as good or excellent.

At the same time, only 30% of voters believe the country is headed in the right direction.

Seventy-two percent (72%) believe the United States is a more divided nation today than it was four years ago. Sixty percent (60%) think race relations have gotten worse since the election of the first black president eight years ago.

Yet when it comes to most major issues, voters expected Clinton to continue President Obama's policies and Trump to change them, for better or worse.

Trump, meanwhile, ran as a third-party candidate against the establishment leadership of both major parties, not just Democrats. Considering that Republicans have long been disappointed in GOP leaders in Washington, D.C., and are just as angry at the Republican-led do-nothing Congress as Democrats are, his anti-party stance put him right in line with most GOP voters. A lot of independents share those views.

Voters already knew the media was going to try to help Clinton, so given their concerns about the issues, it appears they were willing to take the Trump controversies in stride. As controversies go, in fact, they were more bothered by Clinton’s mishandling of classified information than they were by Trump’s alleged sexual harassment.

In short, following one of the biggest upsets in American political history, it’s hard not to conclude that in this election at least, issues really did matter.

Fran Coombs is the managing editor of Rasmussen Reports.

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See Other Commentaries by  Fran Coombs .

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports. Comments about this content should be directed to the author at  fran.coombs@rasmussenreports.com .

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