When Republicans formally nominate Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan next week, the race against President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will be officially underway. Yet while the two teams represent different ideological views, different upbringings, different faith backgrounds and different experiences, neither of them has yet inspired any confidence among voters. Just 32 percent believe the economy will be stronger in a year if Obama is re-elected. Only 36 percent think it will be stronger if Romney wins.
This may be partly due to the length and depth of the current economic problems. Every single night for more than four years, a majority of Americans have believed the country is in a recession. The economists say that's not technically true, but it's what American consumers are experiencing. Only 14 percent now believe that today's children will be better off than their parents.
Another reason for the discouraging outlook may simply be distrust of all things political. By a three-to-one margin, voters believe that no matter how bad something is, Congress can always make it worse.
The candidates themselves are also part of the concern. Neither man at the top of the ticket has proven adept at connecting with working-class voters who hold the key to this election. In 2008, Obama consistently lost those voters to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries. In this year's Republican primaries, Mitt Romney typically lost those voters to the "I'm Not Romney" candidate of the moment. Both parties think their No. 2 guy can help with this, while both also see the other's running mate as vulnerable.
A big part of the problem is that neither ticket really reflects the tremendous populist frustration with the political status quo that exists in the nation today. That frustration has been expressed in a variety of ways by the tea party, Occupy Wall Street and a solid majority of Americans. People want the government to change its ways so that it can once again earn the consent of the governed.
The Wall Street bailouts were the catalyst that converted this frustration to political energy. Remarkably, at a time when most Americans still believe those bailouts were bad for the country, all four men on the national tickets are on record supporting them. Somehow, the political class managed to keep those they see as barbarians out of the final four. Just 25 percent of voters nationwide believe the bailouts were good for the country, but those 25 percent are very well represented.
The political class victory also can be seen in the careers of the four candidates. Three of the four -- Obama, Biden and Ryan -- have spent their entire careers in and around politics. The fourth, Romney, has private sector experience, but he's also been in politics for a long time. It's hard to envision any of the four shaking up the club in Washington.
And that's the rub. Voters don't want to pick a new president for the club; they want someone who will shut down the club. Sixty-nine percent of voters believe the federal government has become a special interest group that looks out primarily for itself. They want a president who will focus on making the government work for America rather than forcing America to work for the government.