© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

When it comes to campaigns, these voters don't see much to like

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 5, 2012 - Political campaigns are heating up all around us. To some voters, it's all about the good, the bad, and the just plain ugly.

What’s so bad about campaigns? Some voters dislike the bashing and negativity, the money candidates spend or the failure by some to discuss real solutions to real problems.

What’s ugly? That many elected officials seem to cater only to those who give the biggest donations.

What’s good? Well — to sources who responded to a query through the Beacon’s Public Insight Network — not too much.

Take for instance, Linda Jamerson of St. Louis. In the national campaigns, "I'm bugged about the mistruths, the bashing, and the amount of money it takes to run a campaign. We could really use this to help our deficit," Jamerson wrote, in response to the PIN query.  In local and state campaigns, "I'm bugged that we usually don't know much about the candidate or even hear of them until it's time for re-election."

To Jamerson, 50, who said she is a political independent, the one good thing about American political campaigns is that, even though there are many shortcomings, there is also an opportunity for free choice.

Still, she wrote that she would "like for all political candidates to just stick to the issues and talk about the country as a whole, instead of their self-interests for their areas. PACs (political action committees) are also too involved."

Robert Brown of St. Charles wrote: "I dislike negative campaigning, but I dislike even more the fact that it is used because it seems to work. For that reason I am disgusted with my fellow voters for being so shallow and so misinformed —  so easily swayed by negative campaigning."

Brown, 55, and a Democrat, added, "I am a former member of the media with 27 years in print journalism, so I think I earned the right to criticize the profession. Exercising that right, I hold the media responsible for the current state of affairs. The media have neglected their duty to hold candidates responsible for what they say, pointing out their lies and misrepresentations, and reporting the facts."

The media have been "irresponsible in focusing on trivial matters in the campaign, on running fluff instead of reporting of substance, of mistaking impartiality for balance and balance for objectivity. The country and its people have been poorly served by its news organizations. If the media find themselves becoming irrelevant, they need only look at how irrelevant they have made themselves in the current campaign."

Craig Workman of Des Peres dislikes the amount of money spent on advertising. “You just want to tune it all out. And all this advertising comes without any sort of 'truth detector' built in. 

"I am also not fond of the media's coverage of debates between candidates or of the national conventions of each party. There should be a mandatory blackout period immediately following such events during which the media cannot have commentators tell us what we just saw or heard. Nothing insults my average intelligence more than having a team of reporters, commentators and news anchors jumping in with their analyses and observations before I can even go to the bathroom after these events. Social media buzz around the clock is fine because I can choose not to participate."

Workman, 56, and a Republican, wrote that what he really likes is being able to meet candidates in person — "whether at a political event, a town hall meeting or in someone's home. You get an entirely different — and more positive — feel for candidates in person than you do in the media or via advertising. It is about the only exciting part of our campaigns anymore.

He blames the news media for much of the problem: "I do not feel that our nation's news media can cover campaigns in a truly unbiased manner. Under the cover of 'public service,' the media can't help getting actively involved in campaigns in ways that cross the line into activists.  

"As a conservative, I have been pleasantly surprised in the increased media coverage of conservative viewpoints in recent years, both in St. Louis and around the country. It took a dose of competition for the attention of conservatives to make this happen.

"If this trend continues, the day may come that conservatives actually get a little respect from the media. But as long as editorials are allowed in the media, we will always know that the respect of the media only goes so far. And that is a shame.”

Fritz Korte of Pacific dislikes what he called "stenographic churnalism," which he defines as "letting people say what ever they want to say, and letting the opposition say what they want to say, and leaving it up to the audience to decide their own truth. Somebody needs to say, 'this is not true.' I think the media should question more of what is said and not just take things down as a stenographer."

He criticized what he called "the wanton hypocrisy and pandering of candidates, the existence of the Electoral College and a lack of an informative debate structure and insightful results. Moderators should push candidates to answer the questions asked instead of letting them just respond with their own talking points."

Korte, 56, rejects being labeled with a particular political party, instead calling himself a progressive. He said he has no affinity for traditional Democrats because the party is too entrenched in the status quo. "I'm one of those people who thinks Barack Obama could have led us beyond a revolution, into an evolution. We could have left so much of this trash behind." Instead, he said,  he disagrees with such things as the the Affordable Care Act. "We’re giving insurance companies a blank check," he said.

Jack Hickman of Fairview Heights complained that "debates and other 'ops' aren't about actually discussing issues and philosophies. They're opportunities to regurgitate pre-approved ideologies and talking points in the hope of scoring 'points'. Politics used to be called 'the art of compromise.' With both parties' ideological intransigence, that's out the window in favor of 'my way or the highway.'

"Honesty and public service no longer have a place at the table. A politician is focused on I-Win-and-You-Lose, but a statesman's focus is on Win/Win. Too bad we have no statesmen in elected office today. But then, we get what we elect, and we elect what's selected and presented to us by our political party leadership — the best government that money can buy. I truly wish that there were a 'None Of The Above' on ballots. Even a constitutional crisis (if 'None Of The Above' got the most votes) would be preferable to a leadership more concerned with looking good than with doing good."

What good, if any, does Hickman, 62, another independent voter, see in the American political process? "The opportunity to choose our leadership, rather than have it chosen for us. Oops, I forgot; we can only vote for those candidates who're approved by our political party leadership. Rather like the 'democratic' process in the old USSR?

Mary Huss of Warson Woods is also independent of any political party.

"My profile: Female, over 50 years old, swing voter, socially tend to be liberal, fiscally tend to be conservative.

"What bugs me is in the past few days we have proved what an inherent weakness is in the American political campaign process: we allow ourselves to be distracted and thrown off track from staying the course and doing the hard work required to help our economy grow stronger, to recover, and to revive our global reputation and status amongst our allies.

"Mr. President, here is my personal story. I wanted to vote for you in the 2008 election, but I didn't feel like I knew you, knew what you wanted to accomplish for our country, what specifically you would have legislated to repair the economy and the mess you blamed George Bush and the Republicans for throughout your campaign. You did not earn my vote. I couldn't grasp a sense of your character, and whether there was a person of substance behind the cool, serene, mystique of Barack Obama.

"I want you to tell me during your campaign why I should re-consider voting for you in this election year. What irritates me is that you won’t. I am a part of a demographic that changes election results on a dime: the moderate, swing voter. And you are not showing me, after an entire term, why you deserve to be re-elected. Mr. President, I invite you to ... address the real issues of this election: our depressed economy, our cancerous state of under-employment and unemployment, record numbers of single mothers supporting families on food stamps, and abject poverty amongst minorities.

"No, you're chasing down the rogue Republican who made some idiotic remarks about abortion as it relates to rape. When you own your record and the economy, then maybe I will consider casting a vote your way, because then I know you will have the experience of accountability, and the humility to admit to your mistakes, something which can be part of a good presidency."

Does Huss see anything good about American politics and campaigns? "I love our freedom to speak and debate, to assemble, and to work through the process as individuals as we try to place an educated vote on who we think will help our country the most in the highest office of the land."

Mike Pomatto of St. Louis is a Libertarian who says, “The most irritating aspect is the assumption, perpetuated by both parties, that voters fall into one of two categories: Republican or Democrat. Any other opinion is simply labeled independent. While libertarianism is probably better defined as an ideology, it should not be dismissed as a viable political party.

"Republicans and Democrats do their best seemingly to eliminate any competition rather than engage in dialogue regarding alternative viewpoints. Because of the false dichotomy, moreover, the dialogue moves from an academic discussion about real issues to inane mud slinging about a candidate's personal life."

Pomatto, 45, believes political campaigns can be positive “when there can be a real debate. This happens so infrequently, though, that there is not much to like about American political campaigns. Too often, sentiment and emotion trump logic and reasoning. This precludes changes that should happen in society.”

Michael Berger of Imperial, 47, is another political independent who believes campaigns are "too lengthy, cost too much money and don't discuss real solutions or positions of the candidates. Campaigns are about sound bites and misleading voters by appealing to perceived voter's biases rather than substantive issues.

"Our representatives do not represent the interests of their constituents but rather those of monied interests. Every time I have called Rep. (Russ) Carnahan's office to find out how he will vote on pending legislation, I was told they would find out and get back to me or they would offer to send me a letter after the vote. When I have followed up, I have been given the runaround.

"When I asked to meet with Carnahan to discuss why his staff can never provide an answer to my inquiries, I was told I have to take off work to have a 'pre' meeting with his office manager before I can meet with my representative. So I need to lose two days of work to meet my representative. If I wrote him a big contribution check, I would get the meeting. This is one example of how our system does not work."

For Stephanie DeChambeau of St. Louis, the answers are clear: 

"How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways:

"1. I hate how people, in the media and the general public, will dissect every word that's said and attach the worst possible motivations. For example, Akin's comment about 'legitimate rape.' He did not mean "legitimate" to indicate that rape was ever OK, and I can't believe that anyone ever really thought he did. That's not to say that I agree with his entire perspective (though I'm a pro-life Democrat), but it seemed to me that the media and the public jumped all over him because it would make the story more sensational. 

"2. I can't trust anything that comes out of any candidate's mouth. Every candidate twists his/her opponent's views/record as well as his/her own to fit their needs. 

"3. Candidates' pie-crust promises: Just as President Obama discovered, regarding shutting down the Guantanamo Bay detention, the reality is often much more complicated. 

"4. Money, money, money. The Citizens United decision made me incredibly angry. I believe it violates the 'one person, one vote' principle. 

"5. I hate that it's virtually impossible for a moderate candidate to win anything any more. George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney had to swing hard right to win their nominations, and President Obama has had to swing further left. To 'rally the base,' candidates have to become more hard-line. Factor in the electoral college and redistricting processes and you have a perfect recipe for voter apathy. I'm not particularly motivated to vote when I'm just picking the 'lesser of two evils.'"

Does DeChambeau, 41, and a Democrat, see anything good in the political process?

"Ultimately, I'm thankful for the freedom to vote for whomever I choose. I just wish I had better options."

Outreach specialist Linda Lockhart has been telling stories for most of her life. A graduate of the University of Missouri's School of Journalism, she has worked at several newspapers around the Midwest, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, as a reporter, copy editor, make-up editor, night city editor, wire editor, Metro Section editor and editorial writer. She served the St. Louis Beacon as analyst for the Public Insight Network, a product of Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media that helps connect journalists with news sources. She continues using the PIN to help inform the news content of St. Louis Public Radio. She is a St. Louis native and lives in Kirkwood.