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According to one poll, about one in 10 voters say they are bored by a contest that has riveted millions on both sides of the 49th parallel.

DSK/AFP/Getty Images

Slow to anger and reluctant to rebel, the American people nonetheless have strong views on the November election, which increasingly they regard as a choice between poison ivy and poison sumac.

As former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Manhattan businessman Donald Trump prepare for their midsummer nominating conventions, the public is in an unusually agitated state. Three in five say they are "alarmed" about the choice they face, according to last week's Suffolk University poll conducted for USA Today. The most astonishing finding: About one in 10 say they are bored by a contest that has riveted millions on both sides of the 49th parallel.

In an age of political polarization, there is bipartisan agreement among Americans that the looming election presents an unusually distasteful choice. In the past week, in fact, bad turned to worse for both apparent nominees.

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Ms. Clinton may not have been indicted for her use of a private e-mail server, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation critique of her conduct could not have been more devastating. It provided the opening for Mr. Trump to Tweet: "Crooked Hillary Clinton is unfit to serve as President of the U.S. Her temperament is weak and her opponents are strong. BAD JUDGEMENT!"

For his part, Mr. Trump inexplicably fanned the flames of a controversy that had turned to embers over a six-cornered star that Jewish groups compared to the Star of David and that his camp said was so benign that it appeared without controversy on the cover of a Disney book about the movie Frozen.

The Republicans hold their convention first, beginning Monday in Cleveland, and many establishment figures are boycotting the conclave or, in some cases, leaving on Wednesday night so as not to be in the hall when Mr. Trump delivers his acceptance speech on Thursday night.

These Republican regulars, who were repudiated in the primaries but who remain fiercely opposed to Mr. Trump, are manoeuvring to produce what they call a "survivability strategy," which would protect the GOP majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate in the event of a Trump defeat in the fall.

So determined were some of them to create distance from Mr. Trump while preventing voters in key states to pull a lever for a Democrat that they concocted a bizarre scheme to have leading Republicans in key states – and those with close Senate races – get on the ballot as independent candidates for president.

This would have involved running former senator and governor George Voinovich for president in Ohio, former governor Tom Ridge for president in Pennsylvania, former senator and governor Judd Gregg in New Hampshire and former governor Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin. The result, these plotters hoped, would be to salvage the GOP Senate candidates and diminish Ms. Clinton's margin of victory, depriving her of a strong mandate for governing. Mr. Voinovich died in early June and the effort dissipated.

All of this speaks to the unease conventional political figures have as the November election approaches. But they are not alone. Mr. Trump's unfavourability ratings are at 61 per cent, according to the Real Clear Politics average, with Ms. Clinton's at 55.

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Ms. Clinton's nomination later this month has prompted worries among Democrats but no visible rebellion, only slight resistance. Most of the hesitation comes from those lined up behind Senator Bernie Sanders, who has not endorsed Ms. Clinton (but is set to do so today in an event in New Hampshire) and whose supporters still regard her as small beer.

Her plan announced last week to eliminate public-university tuition charges for students in families with incomes up to $125,000 softened Mr. Sanders's position, with the Vermonter calling the Clinton proposal "a very bold initiative."

By contrast, there has been real rebellion among Republicans to the apparent nomination of Mr. Trump. "When you have a candidate who across the board is painting us into a corner of the mid 20th century you have to say this is a real challenge," said former representative Vin Weber of Minnesota, himself once considered an outsider in the GOP. "For them to say that 'he won the nomination so fall in line' is not enough," he added.

In 1964, only three of the 16 Republican governors fell in line behind the nomination of Barry Goldwater of Arizona, who eventually lost in a landslide to Lyndon Johnson. Democrats should not take comfort from the high profile of the Trump resisters, however. Fourteen of the 31 Republican governors have endorsed him. That's well more than double the rate won by Mr. Goldwater.

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