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One Year Until Election Day 2016, Where The Candidates Stand


For more about the state of the country and the state of politics one year before the 2016 election, we're joined by NPR national political correspondent, Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.


MARTIN: OK, so when you listen to those voices of voters from around the country, what are you hearing?

LIASSON: Well, what I'm hearing when I listen to voters, read about polls and focus groups with voters, is anger and anxiety. You know, we've had 15 or more years of middle-class income stagnation. We've had a prolonged period of gridlock in Washington. And on the Republican side, people say they're fed up with politicians. They're fed up with Washington. That's why close to 50 percent of Republicans have, for months, chosen the two outsiders, Trump and Carson. Republicans are angry at Obama. They're angry at their leaders in Washington for not stopping Obama. And polls show that Republicans say they prefer someone who will stick to their principles instead of compromising to get things done. Now, Democrats, one year out, are angry at Wall Street. They're angry at Bernie Sanders' billionaires. They're angry at an economic system that seems rigged. But they tell pollsters they'd prefer a candidate who will compromise to get things done. So I think there's lots of overlap, but the voters' angst this year does come in two different flavors.

MARTIN: All right, so what does that mean for the brain trusts within both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party? How do those people try to win over these voters?

LIASSON: Well, on a tactical level, you see Republican candidates moving to the right and Hillary Clinton moving to the left to compete or co-opt with Bernie Sanders. But when political professionals look at the big picture and the fundamentals of this race, they say a few things. They say that historically, it's very hard to win a third term. Only George H. W. Bush has done it, followed a two-term president of his own party. Even President Obama said that after eight years, voters want that, quote, "new-car smell." And professionals say that what the fundamentals look like next year are going to matter a lot. What will the economy look like? What will Obama's approval rating look like? Historically, the two presidents who managed to get their successors after two terms to win the popular vote - that's Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton - were way up in the 50s in their approval rating. Obama is in the mid-40s. Bottom line, professionals expect this election to be extremely close based on the fundamentals.

MARTIN: As you know, elections end up, at the end of the day, being about something. Usually, a kind of theme emerges. We're 12 months out. Mara, what do you - what do you think this election will be about, will center around?

LIASSON: I think this election is going to be about middle-class incomes, middle-class income stagnation. Both parties seem to agree on that. The question is how to raise wages and incomes, how to solve the actual day-to-day economic struggles of ordinary Americans, jobs, wages, how to pay for college. You hear Democrats saying, let's raise the minimum wage. Let's have debt-free college. Let's invest in education and infrastructure. Let's expand on Obamacare. Republicans want to cut taxes and regulations. They want school choice. They want to replace Obamacare. But I think that big, substantive debate is yet to come. But both parties do seem to agree on the basic theme.

MARTIN: What about demographics? They were such a big part of the last presidential race. President Obama won huge support among blacks and Hispanics. Republicans have said they really want to focus on those groups. But is either side going into this with a real advantage when it comes to demographics?

LIASSON: Well, in the past 5 out of 6 elections, Democrats have won the popular vote because of their edge with young people and minorities. The electoral map did look more blue. But this year, Democrats say there is no blue wall. Their demographic edge is very small, especially if Republicans nominate a Hispanic or a ticket from Ohio and Florida. The big question is, can Democrats turn out the Obama coalition - young people, single women, minorities? And can Republicans make inroads with minorities and young people?

MARTIN: We'll leave it there. NPR national political correspondent, Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.