As the race for the White House nears its conclusion, Chris Burn reports from Washington DC on one of history’s most divisive and shambolic presidential campaigns.
If there is one place where Hillary Clinton should be popular, it is Washington DC. Accusations of being an untrustworthy career politician should not find much sway in the seat of Government power and the Democratic stronghold where Barack Obama won more than 90 per cent of the vote in 2012.
But in the historic neighbourhood of Foggy Bottom, home to the main campus of George Washington University and within walking distance of the White House, the views of voters appear to be aligned far more closely with the rest of America.
As the finishing line comes into sight on one of the most shambolic, controversial and divisive Presidential campaigns anyone can remember, polls show both candidates are suffering from unprecedented levels of unpopularity. Almost 60 per cent of voters disapprove of both Clinton and Donald Trump and the disillusionment is leading many to consider not voting at all.
“It is a big mess, a big embarrassment. I’m not into the whole voting for a lesser evil, it doesn’t sit right with me,” says Thomas Sorensen, a 23-year-old education coordinator. “Trump is doing the conservative movement a disservice. His values in general don’t really align with traditional American conservatism. No matter what the outcome, Republicanism is going to be different after this election.”
However, like many he is also not convinced by Clinton following the continuing revelations about her use of a private email server and another FBI investigation.
“I think as a career politician and as a Clinton, there are bound to be lots of skeletons,” he adds. “I don’t even know if we know the half of it. I think that if it were Romney versus Hillary, it would be a landslide for him and if it were Obama versus Trump, it would be a landslide the other way. What we have is like the two least likeable people in the country going up against each other.”
Asian and European stock markets fell slightly yesterday after opinion polls showed the race was tightening and on the ground in Washington many admitted that they are still undecided about which way to swing.
Leigh Butler, an administration worker at George Washington University, is one of them and she will be watching the final days of the campaign carefully.
“I will be voting,” she says. “I thought Hillary was definitely better in the debates. I tend to be liberal on social topics and conservative financially so I’m kind of stuck between the two of them. I think a lot of people are just going to make up their minds on the day.
“There is a hardcore Trump following and a hardcore Hillary following. It is a bell curve with a certain percentage on both margins and a big percentage in the middle.
“I’m always interested in seeing women take on roles that haven’t normally been held by women. Some women will vote for her just because she is a woman. I think she is definitely very well-qualified. She has held leadership roles for a number of years and served our country for a number of years. But I also think a lot of people are tired of Government folks not getting the job done. So it helps her and it hurts her.”
There are fears in the Clinton camp about a reduced turnout among African-American voters who supported Barack Obama in battleground states hurting her campaign. In the key state of Florida, early voting figures appear to suggest that the number of African-Americans turning out has fallen from 25 per cent in 2012 to just 15 per cent by November 1. Numbers are also down in Ohio and North Carolina.
Kenny Peters, a 33-year-old African-American bus driver in Washington, is among those who will not be voting. He said that despite supporting Obama in 2012 and believing Trump would make a bad president, he could not bring himself to back Hillary.
He says: “I don’t feel like either of the candidates are qualified because I know their history and what they have done. Trump is arrogant, he doesn’t care about people. I think Hillary is doing what it takes to get the votes but I don’t think she is going to deliver what she says. Between the two of them, if anybody has to be president, it should be Hillary. But I don’t want to be responsible if she doesn’t follow through with what she has said.”
A new Washington Post/ABC News Poll this week showed while 73 per cent of non-white voters view Trump unfavourably, just 59 per cent say they have a positive view of Clinton. There is an even worse perception of her among white voters, with 67 per cent saying they have a negative opinion of the Democratic candidate compared to 53 per cent who think the same of Trump.
“I think the Clintons - he and she - are very dishonest,” says 74-year-old Joyce Hopkins from Maryland, who will be giving the billionaire tycoon her vote instead. “Although Trump may be a little outspoken, I agree with his policies and everything he talks about. Hillary is just scary. She is not liked at all, by young or old.”
Joyce’s daughter Lisa Fontaine agrees with her mother, but like many American citizens can’t help but wish that both parties were fielding different candidates.
“It is really hard. Since they are both kind of not great, I guess it would come down to Trump because I agree more with what he is saying,” says the 53-year-old. “I think Hillary is dirty to the core.”
While the prospect of Trump making it to the White House seemed unthinkable in the early days of the campaign, the odds have shortened considerably.
“I think it is 50/50. A lot of the press are saying what they want people to believe is going to happen [a Clinton victory],” adds Lisa. “I just really wish we could redo this whole thing over. I just want to reboot and start again.”
If Clinton is to become America’s first ever female president she will have to hope that enough people like Elexis Canady turn out on November 8.
“Hillary has a long history in politics. She is not a complete jerk compared to The Donald,” says the 37 year old, an administrator at Washington Georgetown Hospital and a registered Democrat for 16 years. “That he has gotten this far and people are going to vote for him is unbelievable.
“I never thought I would live to see the day. The US always prides itself on being so wonderful - I’m shocked he could actually be our representative. It is disgraceful. I might have to move to England if he is selected!”
While it may be too close to call, Elexis remains hopeful of a Clinton victory and said being likeable should not be a factor when people vote.
“She is the better candidate. It is not likability - she is more qualified. As Oprah Winfrey said, ‘I’m not going to be hanging out with her, she isn’t going to be sitting down and eating with me and my family’.”