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RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.: Both parties offer terrible choices, but voters have options

When you write about politics, an unavoidable part of the job is looking at polls.

That includes the folly of obsessing over national polls and trying to predict the outcome of a presidential election that probably will be decided by a half-dozen battleground states: Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia.

It also involves checking the polls daily to see which candidates are up, down, or exactly where they were the day before. You might even detect trend lines that help you predict where the numbers will be tomorrow.

These are a few of my least favorite things.

Recently, a television news anchor asked me to analyze the presidential horse race. She acknowledged that polls “go up and down” and suggested they might not matter at all.

Consider a couple of recent surveys. Looking at registered voters, a Morning Consult poll showed Donald Trump up by 1 percentage point, 44 percent to 43 percent. But a survey by ABC News/Ipsos found Joe Biden up by 1 point, 46 percent to 45 percent.

Indeed, several national polls seem to indicate that the race between Biden and Trump is “neck and neck.”

I corrected her. “Actually this race is neck and neck — and neck,” I said. “There are three necks on the line.”

The third “candidate” isn’t on the ballot. It’s the amorphous, nameless, faceless, but increasingly appealing “none of the above.” In addition to those voters who support Trump or Biden, there is also a sizable chunk of the electorate — possibly as much as a quarter — that is still holding out for more choices. At least, these voters don’t like the choices they have.

In March, the headline on a Business Insider article said it all: “A Trump vs. Biden rematch is on, and it’s a showdown most Americans didn’t want.”

Those “none of the above” voters could ultimately choose to cast their lots for an alternative, such as independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. It’s unknown exactly how much of a factor Kennedy will turn out to be.

On the one hand, the renegade is officially on the ballot in only five states at this point.

But, on the other hand, it’s worth noting that those states include the all-important battleground state of Michigan, where every vote counts, and the most dark blue, dependably Democratic state of California, where he could draw votes from Biden.

In addition, the past six months have been good for Kennedy. He’s talking about issues, while Biden and Trump attack one another. And recently, three polls suggested that he draws votes from both.

According to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight.com, more voters now view Kennedy favorably than unfavorably, albeit by a slight margin — 38.4 percent to 36.5 percent.

And a recent NBC News poll found that — in a five-way race with Biden, Trump, Kennedy, Jill Stein and Cornel West — Kennedy would still pull down as much as 13 percent. That’s more than enough to have a decisive impact in a race that is as close as this one.

Of course, there are also those Americans who might be so disgusted with their choices that they simply stay home and don’t vote at all.

In April, an NBC News poll found that only 64 percent of voters said they were “very interested” in this election. That figure represents a 20-year low.

The constituency of the uninterested and the uninspired could also influence the final vote count — especially in those six highly competitive states. If voters who normally might be inclined to vote for a certain candidate decide to stay home, it hurts that candidate.

In short, the 2024 presidential election is a hot mess. For that, we can blame the front-runners: Biden and Trump. They got us here, along with the political parties that offered them up to the American people.

The consensus of political observers is that each of the candidates is weighed down by his negatives. Biden is seen by many Americans as indecisive, incompetent, weak, past his prime and out of ideas. Meanwhile, Trump is viewed by many voters as extreme, divisive, driven by chaos, enveloped in drama and out only for himself.

That’s where we are, America. It’s a dark and depressing place. And given the state of the world, it’s also a dangerous one. Of course, we didn’t need a poll to tell us that.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is crimscribe@icloud.com. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.

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