(Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Opinion writer

It’s sometimes suggested that Donald Trump should perhaps be feared in this election because the American people ultimately will want some sort of vaguely articulated “disruption” of business as usual, the status quo, and Washington. And so, since Trump is basically vowing to break everything over his knee, people may roll the dice and opt for that, without worrying too much about the details.

But this week’s Pew poll offers up a new way of approaching this question: It finds that the American people do think Trump would shake things up far more than Clinton would. Yet nonetheless, it turns out that more Americans don’t want Trump’s brand of change than want it.

The Pew poll finds that Clinton leads Trump by nine points, 51-42, among registered voters nationally. That’s in spite of this, however:


As Pew explains it:

Fully 77% of voters say Trump would change the way things work in Washington, compared with just 45% who say the same about Clinton. But more voters say Trump would change things for the worse than for the better (44% vs. 33%). A quarter of voters say Clinton would change Washington for the worse, while 20% say she would change things for the better.

Huge majorities say Trump would change Washington, but more say he’d change things for the worse. Only one fifth of voters say Clinton would change things for the better. Yet Clinton still holds a nine point lead nationally.

One possible explanation for this is that Clinton is preferred on qualifications, judgment, and on a range of issues. The poll finds that Clinton leads Trump by 56-30 on who is “personally qualified to be president,” and by 53-36 on who “would use good judgment in a crisis.” Clinton is also favored on race relations, foreign policy, health care, immigration, managing the federal government, and even narrowly on trade, Trump’s big issue. Trump holds narrow edges on the economy and terrorism, and a larger one on reducing special interest influence.

Many pundits missed the Trump phenomenon in the GOP primaries, which has led them to perhaps overcompensate by presuming that his crudest qualities might have some sort of magical appeal, and, in the process, to presume that voters will gravitate towards vaguely defined promises of strength and disruption. Thus, it was presumed that a terror attack would help Trump, because Trump STRONG and CRUSH ENEMY, and when Americans are frightened, no one wants to hear niceties about pluralism, tolerance, and American values anymore. But that didn’t happen. It was also assumed that Brexit might signal similar dynamics here at home that could help Trump, because Trump opposes globalization and is a restrictionist on immigration — he’d manhandle China, build walls and forcibly deport millions — and such sentiments had broad appeal among Republican primary voters. That didn’t happen either.

It turns out the GOP primary electorate and the general electorate are not the same. Maybe, just maybe, the desire for disruption isn’t what has been advertised — after all, Obama’s approval rating is on the upswing — and maybe, just maybe, the broader public won’t mindlessly gravitate towards the candidate who plays on people’s dissatisfaction with the system by vowing to HULK SMASH everything to bits. Maybe.