Program Note: Today I am once again turning my column space over to a regular commenter at my website, who wishes only to be identified by her login name "Paula."
Paula took it upon herself -- unasked, entirely on her own initiative -- to begin conducting "man/woman on the street" interviews with strangers she interacted with in her daily life (she lives in Akron, in the bellwether state of Ohio), to see what they thought about the election season. Such interviews are, of course, anecdotal -- they are in no way a scientific survey of public opinion writ large. But in a lot of ways, they are much more representative than most of what you hear in the media about how real people are actually reacting to the election process. The responses are a lot more authentic and genuine than anything you'll hear from inside the Beltway, in other words.
If you're reading this article, you are already quite likely within the Beltway-centric wonky political bubble. What I mean by this is that you are likely to be well-informed about national politics, about events going on in the political world, and about the current state of the presidential race (and maybe even all the down-ballot races as well -- depending on your own personal level of wonkiness). The problem with being inside this bubble is you start to think that everyone in the country shares the same degree of fascination with the process that all bubble-dwellers have (myself most definitely included).
The following anecdotes show -- much more clearly than any poll or op-ed piece -- the honest opinions of some mainstream Americans on the 2016 presidential race. This is why, after reading (with fascination) Paula's comments for weeks, I finally realized my own shame -- a commenter was doing a bang-up job of citizen journalism that I was too lazy to do myself!
So I thought she deserved a bigger platform. I asked her to compile all the stories she'd been telling in her comments on my site, and put them together so I could run them as a "guest author" article. She's certainly done all the legwork, and I thought her anecdotes deserved a wider audience. When she sent me the collection, it proved to be enough material for two columns, the first of which ran yesterday at my site. Please read at least the introduction section from yesterday, where Paula explains her project in full. In her own words, she was inspired by the thought: "I'm going to start asking random people what they think, just to get a feel from people who -- maybe -- aren't political junkies." To find out what people outside the bubble think of what's going on (to put it slightly differently), all you have to do is ask them.
A comment which appeared on yesterday's article prompted me to ask Paula to write the following summary of what she had learned after spending many weeks asking complete strangers the question: "What do you think of the election season to date?" Without further ado, here are Paula's thoughts, followed by all the responses she recorded in April (yesterday's article covers March, if you want to read more of them).
"Today's Anecdote" By Paula
So what do I think I've learned?
I got the (unsurprising) impression that Donald Trump was uppermost in people's minds and he was being greeted with the range of feelings you'd expect: curiosity, surprise, glee, interest, fear, horror.
I have a lot more sympathy for the pickle politicians find themselves in when trying to promote their positions or explain their actions. How do you deal with the range of knowledge people have, or, more often, don't have? And how do you deal with the vast amount of misinformation people have absorbed?
I was saddened by the people who felt they don't matter and was happily surprised, on occasion, by people who reacted differently than I expected!
Separate from the politics of it all, it was just fun to talk to people and to have (mostly) friendly interactions. I like my fellow-men more as a result of these encounters.
April 1, 2016
Today's Subjects: Could almost be April Fools, but isn't. But kinda is....
Three guys, white, ages 23, 23, and 24, re-siding a Cape house a few blocks away that has been repo'd. They were tearing off siding, but stopped to chat (very friendly).
What do they think of the election season to date?
First guy (24): "It's messed up."
Second guy: "It doesn't matter who they elect, people will still be squabbling. I don't want a woman for president though."
First guy: "I don't pay much attention to politics, but it looks messed up."
Second guy: "Maybe if it was someone besides Hillary Clinton I'd consider a woman for president. Why should she be president? Her husband was president, now her?"
First guy: "That was her husband? I thought that was her father."
Second guy: "No, they're married. You didn't study government in high-school did ya?"
First guy looks abashed.
Third guy: "I don't vote. I never vote. My vote won't make a difference -- they have the Electoral College for that. That's why Al Gore wasn't president instead of Bush. Because they [Bush's family] had money."
Second guy: "Yeah, its all about the money. Being president is good money."
I asked if they were under 30 and they gave me their ages.
We chatted about the house they were working on for a bit and I moved on. They gave me a cheery: "Have a good day!"
April 3, 2016
Today's Subject: middle-aged white man wearing a Post Office uniform exiting the library. What did he think of the election season to date?
"It's been a spectacle. It's like a reality show. I have friends in Germany who can't believe it. It's been like Last Man Standing... [or] Presidential Idol. The dumbing down of the public. Terrible."
April 6, 2016
Today's Subject: White male, mid-fifties, librarian. What does he think of the election season to date?
"Entertaining, and a little scary. I think something will happen at the convention in Cleveland and neither Trump or Cruz will be chosen. Then there will be a Democrat in the White House for the next four years." He added, "I don't get involved in politics other than to vote. I'll be here at 5:30 AM on election day."
I asked if it had been busy on primary day? He said it had been. He said, for the first time in his experience, people were waiting in the parking lot for the doors to be opened. My husband and I vote at this library branch, but we arrived mid-afternoon. It was busy, but not crazy at that point in the day.
April 7, 2016
Today's Subject: Late 50's white woman on walking/jogging trail.
What does she think of the election season to date?
She was very cheerful as she replied, "I don't watch cable-news. I am 100 percent for Hillary. My daughter got to shake her hand in Alabama and said Hillary was the first woman who shook her hand 'with no apologies.' She's not afraid of being a powerful woman. I want her in the White House. I support her fully, just as I did Obama."
April 8, 2016
Today's Subject: White man with long white hair in ponytail, late 60's. In grocery store.
What does he think of the election season to date?
He was delighted to be asked and spoke for awhile: "I am completely shocked and horrified that Donald Trump has gotten this far. He said all kinds of terrible things for months, but the Democrats didn't take him seriously and didn't push back. My wife and kids and I are scared and unhappy. What is this country coming to that so many people would support someone like him?
"I like Hillary and Bernie. I lean towards Hillary because of her experience and because we'll get two for one. I didn't like some of the things Bill did, but he's smart. I love what Bernie stands for, especially socialized medicine. I just don't think he can pull if off. But I'll vote for either one.
"I have friends in England who say socialized medicine is a dream come true. They tell me the U.S. is a laughingstock around the world right now because of Donald Trump. Have you noticed that if you ask someone about Trump they drop their voices when they reply? Like they're afraid you might like him? It's very Hitler-like. It's all very Hitler-like."
April 13, 2016
Today's Subject: Mid-forties black woman power-walking in the neighborhood. What does she think of the election season to date?
"One word: a joke. It has been insane. I normally don't pay much attention this early, but it's on TV. I can't take it seriously -- it's so crazy."
I asked if she normally votes.
"Oh yes! I vote."
April 14, 2016
Today's Subject: 50-ish black man riding bicycle, with several missing teeth.
The election season to date?
"I suppose you mean Trump? I don't like him. He might be a good businessman, but I don't think he knows about government. Now Kasich, I would favor him. A few years ago he did this thing where it made it easier for ex-cons to get jobs. He said we can support them or they can support themselves. If they weren't that bad they should be able to get work. So on the Republican side I favor Kasich. But I'm a Democrat. I haven't done my homework yet. You have to do the research. You can't just believe what people say. People come out of the woodwork to run for office and they can say anything. I haven't decided yet who I support."
April 15, 2016
Today's Subject: Young white couple walking in park with baby in carriage. What do they think of the election season so far?
Both smiled, and thought for a minute.
Young man gave me words: "Polarizing. Chaotic. Hostile."
Young Woman: "Yeah. Although I don't follow politics closely, but I can tell."
Young man: "They don't seem serious."
April 18, 2016
I was out picking up sticks in my front yard prior to our first mowing of the season. 30-ish black man approaches me and asks for $2 for bus fare so he could go visit his kids. I took him at his word and gave him the money, then asked for his opinion of the election season to date.
"I think it's a fiasco. I don't trust none of the politicians. I just want a strong America. We don't want no [couldn't make out the word] being shipped out. We just want jobs. We want to be able to go on vacation with our kids and have fun. We want financial freedom just like you guys want. We want our borders protected and terrorists out of the country. I don't know if Republicans or Democrats -- which are the best ones to get this done. They all say the same stuff. I just want one leader that's strong that will handle this business. Or her business! God bless!"
April 19, 2016
Today's Subject: White man (looked like Popeye, but with a buzz cut), short, muscular, blonde, square chin, wearing tank top, arms covered in tattoos (age: 55?) working on a neighborhood house.
What do you think about the season to date? He was happy to be asked!
"I think it's ridiculous. I think it's the biggest mess this country's ever seen. And I really do not -- just my personal opinion -- believe there's one person anywhere on that stage that can fix it all. You need a unit. Everybody attack their strong points. It's like if you have, say Sanders, put him on healthcare and education. Donald Trump, put him on turning these finances around. Hillary Clinton, put her on dealing with other foreign countries." At that point a car came zooming by so fast this guy pulled me out of the way. After we regrouped, he went on.
"For instance, Donald Trump. I really believe he could fix things financially, but with him we'd be at war with everyone from Barberton [a city near Akron] to Korea!"
We laughed, then I moved on.
April 20, 2016
Today's Subject: Woman, black, 30's, mail carrier. She's very friendly, usually smiling. When I asked my usual question (What do you think of the election season to date?) she stopped smiling. She became very listless and said: "Actually, I'm getting tired of it. All the lying. People sayin' what they're going to do... I don't believe them. And it doesn't matter what people like me think anyway. It never matters what we think."
She didn't want to say any more.
April 21, 2016
Today's Subject: Elderly white man, well-dressed, looking at shaving cream in the grocery store. What does he think of the election season to date?
He was a bit hard of hearing, then he had to muse for some seconds, then said, "A roller coaster." Then he just looked at me.
I asked if he wanted to add anything. He smiled and said, "May the best woman win!"
April 22, 2016
Today's Subject: 60-ish white woman, visiting from Las Vegas (grew up here in Ohio). What does she think of the election season to date?
"Well, in my opinion, on the Republican side it's been a complete fiasco with everybody just putting each other down. It's been totally atrocious. I've been a Democrat all my life. I love what they have to say -- what WE have to say, about women's health, gay rights, anybody's rights -- people have the right to be who they are. I feel strongly about that.
"I think it's become a totally abhorrent political scene, worse than it's ever been, as we know it, in our lifetime. And so... I'm a firm Hillary supporter and I hope she wins."
April 25, 2016
Today's Subject: White man, mid-40's, weeding the grass growing up between the bricks in his front yard walkway. What do you think of the election season so far?
"I think its been crazy. I'm not a Trump person -- I think he's a bonehead. Now the other guys... the other guys...."
I prompted: "Sanders? Cruz? Kasich?"
"Sanders. I like Sanders. I think I like what he stands for."
April 26, 2016
Today's Subject: White, 40-ish man with his family (early-teen boy and two younger kids and wife) in line at Subway. What does he think of the election season so far? (At that point teenaged son pipes in: "He's a political guy! He likes to talk about politics!")
"A mess. Everything seems crooked. I don't know who I'm going to vote for. I don't really like anyone from either side. I've never felt like that before. The stuff that's going on with the Republican convention, that it might be contested, it just seems like they're trying to take the vote out of people's hands... I don't know... it seems like things are getting out of hand."
April 28, 2016
Today's Subject: Well-dressed, mid-40s man from China, store parking lot. What does he think of the election season so far?
"I don't know, I don't know." (Heavy sigh.)
"I don't think one person can do very much. Obama seemed so revolutionary, but seven years later what has changed? He appointed someone from Goldman Sachs as [Treasury?] Secretary... Donald Trump is an outsider, but I doubt even he will make much difference. I come from China -- we didn't have elections. But the election of one politician here, not enough. It is a process."
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