}

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Is this election worse?

Is this US election worse than previous ones? Are our interactions over it worse than before? Is the climate this year more toxic that in the past? Apparently quite a few people think so.

A new poll from Monmouth University has found that “More than 2-in-3 voters say that this year's presidential race has brought out the worst in people and most disapprove of the campaign's harsh rhetoric.” Specifically:
Fully 70% of American voters say that this year's presidential campaign has brought out the worst in people. Only 4% say it has brought out the best in people. Another 5% say it has done a little of both and 20% say it has done neither. Democrats (78%), Republicans (65%), and independents (66%) agree that the 2016 campaign has brought out the worst in people.
One of the things respondents complained about the most was harsh language:
Only 30% of voters say that the harsh language used in politics today is justified given the current state of the country. Nearly 2-in-3 (65%) say it is unjustified. These results have changed little since August. There are some differences in opinion, though, depending on which candidate these voters support. Nearly half of Trump voters (47%) say that the campaign's harsh language is justified, compared to only 17% of Clinton voters and 21% of voters who are either undecided or are supporting a third party candidate.
I’ve personally seen the harshest rhetoric coming from Donald’s supporters, or those who claim not to be, but who nevertheless use vitriol and worse when talking about Hillary Clinton. Much of that harsh rhetoric is directed at those who support Clinton, too.

The poll also found that “7% of voters report having lost or ended a friendship because of this year's presidential race. This includes 9% of Clinton supporters, 6% of Trump backers, and 3% of other voters.” However, they also add: “This is not that unusual though – 7% of voters say they have lost friendships over political campaigns in the past.”

It’s sad that people lose friendships over mere political campaigns, but I’ve seen it happen. It’s never happened to me, fortunately, though I believe someone I know about in real life unfriended me on Facebook (apparently) over my support for President Obama in 2012. This year, I unfriended someone I don’t even know because he supported Donald and frequently posted really vile things against Democrats generally as well as Hillary Clinton specifically. Had I actually known him, I’d have just hidden all his posts (I have to do that from time to time). I also frequently hide specific political posts from Facebook friends, as I wrote about last month.

But all of this is nothing new even for this campaign. During the primaries, there was quite a bit of ugliness between supporters of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton (and, sometimes, there still is…). During the primary season, I saw numerous friends commenting (often privately) that they felt they couldn’t post anything positive about Hillary Clinton or Sanders’ supporters would pile on and abuse them. I never saw a Sanders supporter say the same thing about Clinton supporters. Whether anyone, regardless of who they supported, would have been justified in thinking that is irrelevant: They did, and it’s something I’ve never seen before.

Still, there was some positive and more hopeful news in the poll, too: “Despite the verbal grenades being thrown on TV and social media, the overwhelming sentiment about the nation's politics is one of disappointment rather than rage.” That suggests that the harsh rhetoric is being spread by a small minority, which may very well be the case: Very often Internet trolls, for example, are small in number, though loud in voice (in fact, it’s not uncommon for trolls to have several accounts to leave multiple harsh comments).

Even more promising: “While 20% say they are ‘angry’ with Washington, about two-thirds (66%) say ‘dissatisfied’ is a better description of how they feel.” We’ve been told over and over again that the mood of the electorate is “angry” and that this will help Donald win. But if the clear majority of voters are merely “dissatisfied”, that suggests that they’re not automatically Donald’s for the picking. Put another way, if most voters aren’t actually angry, Donald’s message won’t be motivating them as much as pundits seem to think it is.

This election is not over yet.

In any case, this election campaign is definitely one for the history books. It’ll be studied for decades to come. I’m sure most of us hope we never see another one like it.

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