Maybe the country should just hold the presidential election tomorrow, because it seems everyone has pretty much decided on their preferred candidate.

Such is the polarization among Democrat and Republican voters, who refuse to be swayed by the actual campaign performances of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton - and a conclusion of a select panel of political consultants, journalists and good-government activists who met Saturday at Haverford College.

The moderated discussion sought to answer the 2016 election question: What's at stake?

The short answer: plenty. About 120 people traveled to Roberts Hall on a rainy Saturday to listen, ask questions, and try to make sense of an unusual presidential campaign.

Juan Williams, a former White House correspondent for the Washington Post and now a political analyst at Fox News, told listeners that he closely watched the first presidential debate.

"To my surprise," he said, "there were people saying to me,'Donald Trump won.' And I'm like,'I just saw that debate. Tell me why you think Trump won.'"

When challenged, he said, these voters would say that, well, maybe it was a tie.

Meanwhile, Democratic supporters saw Clinton's debate performance as a total victory, "a demolition job," he noted.

And subsequent polls showed no movement of Trump backers toward Clinton.

Why?

"Politics as usual is broken," said Ron Christie, a political strategist who is founder and president of Christie Strategies LLC.

Twenty-five years ago, he said, Democrats and Republicans got along, even if they disagreed, and attempted to conduct the nation's business. Now they barely speak. That has driven the electorate to turn to outsiders, like Trump for the Republicans and Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary.

Many of those in the auditorium on Saturday were students or teachers, others parents or businesspeople interested in the future and fate of the nation. Four of the five panelists and moderator Samantha Phillips Beers graduated from Haverford, meeting to discuss an election that pits an America-first candidate against a globalist for the first time since 1964, when Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater in a landslide.

One thing that's certain among voters?

"Nobody is happy," Beers said. "The American people aren't happy. . . . Nobody is happy that things aren't working."

At the same time, panelists noted, partisans don't want cooperation and concession. Each party believes that it must win, and the other side must lose, in all aspects of legislation and governing.

Talk to GOP voters, Williams said, and you'll hear that the last thing they want is a candidate who'll negotiate with Democrats.

"They don't want compromise," he said, because they so vehemently disagree with Democratic policies. "They want obstruction."

That's right, said conservative strategist Zachary Werrell, best known for managing Dave Brat's stunning, successful Virginia congressional primary campaign to defeat House majority leader Eric Cantor.

"We're sick and tired of seeing the government grow," he said. The federal government has become a huge locomotive, barreling down the tracks, and while one party is standing there, trying to figure out what to do, the other is shoveling coal into the furnace, making the train go faster, he said.

"People are frustrated," Werrell said. "America is not working as it should, and the federal government is doing way too much."

Partisan politics didn't get all the blame on Saturday. The media got its share, criticized as seeking ratings by confirming opinions that people already hold. The big cable TV stations don't broadcast - they niche-cast. Audiences - and voters - are split. People may be fans of conservative Rush Limbaugh or liberal Rachel Maddow, but not both. They want to hear someone who agrees with them, and when they don't, they get mad.

"People tell me not only what they think, but what I should think," Williams said.

Pennsylvania is a battleground state. With about five weeks before the election, recent polls show Clinton ahead - by up to 8 percentage points in one tally, and by as little as 1 point in others. The importance of Pennsylvania didn't come up on Saturday, as panelists and questioners tended to focus on larger and longer-term concerns.

Junior Josh Fried, a political-science major, wondered how the racism and sexism displayed during the campaign would continue to play out after Election Day. Bryn Mawr College senior Abby Hoyt, editor of the Bi-College News, said she was surprised that when asked what was different about this election, none of the panelists noted the fact that a woman was running. A businesswoman who gave her name as C. Maier asked, "Who is served by obstructionist strategy? Who is served when government doesn't work?"

She didn't think she got much of an answer.

"It is really weird, guys," said Elaine Kamarck, director the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institute in Washington.

Everyone could agree on that. But why such discord around these two presidential candidates?

"Because they appeal to the worst elements of their respective base," Christie said. "The day after the election, nobody is going to be happy with what we have."

jgammage@phillynews.com

@JeffGammage

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