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Does Voting Work Anymore?

Brexit's victory was a total shock to elite leaders of government and media around the world. Almost no one predicted Leave would defeat Remain.

Most leaders and experts in the United Kingdom and around the world misread the will of British citizens. They totally overlooked or dismissed British voters' deep economic anxieties and fears for their country's future.

Worse, elites reduced voters' anxieties simply to anti-immigrant sentiments or downright racism. They turned real people into racist cartoon characters.

If this all sounds familiar to Americans, it should. Establishment Republican and Democratic leaders have badly misread the will of their constituencies. Brexit is a major warning to the world.

Donald Trump is a spectacular surprise to elite leaders and media in the U.S. and worldwide. So is Bernie Sanders. Electing one of these extreme candidates would change the world, too.

Does voting work anymore?

Thomas Jefferson said we cannot expect to be ignorant and free. I always thought he meant citizens couldn't be too ignorant, or they'll screw up by electing the "wrong" candidate.

But now, I don't know.

Maybe Jefferson was referring to ignorant leaders who lose touch with the citizens. Maybe he meant we can't have ignorant leaders and free citizens.

I wonder if American leaders know that the percentage of Americans who say they are in the middle or upper-middle class has fallen 10 percentage points, from a 61% average between 2000 and 2008 to 51% today.

Ten percent of 250 million adults in the U.S. is 25 million people whose economic lives have crashed. Those 25 million people are invisible in the current 4.7% official unemployment rate.

Elite media tend to dismiss these invisible citizens' anger and fear as crude racism. But citizens tell Gallup that their top concern is the economy, followed by dissatisfaction with government and unemployment/jobs. All three concerns rank higher than immigration and race relations.

I wonder if American elites in both parties and the media know that a staggering 75% of Americans believe corruption is "widespread" in the U.S. government.

In the first quarter of 2016, the U.S. economy grew at a failing rate of 1.1%, according to the Commerce Department. We are very far from the 3.75% GDP growth required to boom the economy and create good, middle-class jobs.

The White House, Wall Street and elite media cheerleaders tell us almost daily, "The economy is recovering." American citizens know this isn't true.

Two presidential candidates have shocked leaders, media and experts. One says he wants to, "Make America great again," and is the presumptive Republican nominee. The other candidate, a 74-year-old self-described Democratic socialist from a small rural state, has called for a "political revolution" and won 22 states in primaries and caucuses.

Citizens want a revolution because of a failing economy, a crashing middle class and a perception of widespread government corruption. When elites dismiss public concerns as all about immigration and racism, they're making the same mistake in America that they did in Britain.

Leaders and citizens aren't on the same page.

If there is a revolution -- who are the good guys?


Jim Clifton is Chairman and CEO at Gallup.

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