Bill Cotterell: Campaign is just starting, and we’re already tired of it

The message from much of America is, 'wake me when it’s over,' our Capitol Columnist writes.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media after exiting the courtroom for a lunch recess during the first day of his civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court on Oct. 2, 2023 in New York City.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media after exiting the courtroom for a lunch recess during the first day of his civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court on Oct. 2, 2023 in New York City. Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

It appears that a large majority of Americans view voting next year with the breathless anticipation and tingling excitement that we feel when the doctor snaps on that rubber glove behind us in a physical exam.

We tell ourselves it’s good for us. Everybody needs it now and then. Only takes a minute, so let’s get it over with.

You’d think electing a president, a bunch of U.S. Senators and House members, governors and a whole slew of state and local policymakers would be an exciting enterprise, like every year’s college football Game of the Century or the premier of a new Star Wars flick. 

Previous columns by Bill Cotterell

There must be something to grab everyone’s interest in a cast of characters running from President Biden and ex-President Trump through with a whole host of Republicans debating on TV, and down through a long slate – from Congress to your city council – competing for fame, power and glory in 2024.

To which much of America says, “Wake me when it’s over.”

A survey last month by the Pew Research Center found that 65% of those polled are fairly well turned off by not just the players, but the game itself.

“Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they always or often feel exhausted when thinking about politics, while 55% feel angry,” said the Pew report. “By contrast, just 10% say they always or often feel hopeful about politics and even fewer (4%) are excited.”

Well, why shouldn’t they? With the candidates and parties calling each other crooks, liars, thieves, stupid or just incompetent – sometimes all of the above – what’s to like?

Sometimes, the most sophisticated and respected political scientists and culture commentators will muster all their expertise to point out the obvious. Pew has carefully documented, with precision, what most of us can surmise by looking around the political landscape.

The news in the Pew study is not that two out of three Americans are exhausted by the parties and their candidates, or that well over half of the public gets angry about politics. What raises eyebrows is that a third of us are not weary of it all, 14 months before we’re asked to cast our ballots.

And that 4% who say they are excited? How weird are they? Maybe those are the candidates themselves, their spouses and families, their paid campaign staffers and … no, all of them wouldn’t add up to 4 percent of the population. 

Really, why would anyone be excited? 

How many of your friends and associates are going around saying, “Oh, wow, that Asa Hutchinson! Where do I get my ballot?”

The 55% “angry” statistic in the Pew poll is easier to understand. The core of campaign strategy for the past 50 years or more has been not to get you to like me, but to persuade you that my opponent is stupid, corrupt and – worst of all – liberal.

All three Trump campaigns have been rooted in a careful cultivation of public anger over illegal immigration, crime, the cost of living and societal change from the good old days. And the Democrats are angry at the MAGA Republicans for stirring up such a backlash.

Some of Pew’s other poll results were interesting, if not startling. 

A growing segment of the population, for instance, dislikes both political parties, which Pew said is the highest discontent percentage in 30 years of surveys. One quarter of those siding with a party feel it doesn’t represent them well.

A record low of 16% voiced trust in public institutions all or most of the time, another nadir extending back seven decades. For the first time in 30 years, more Americans had an unfavorable view of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Nearly two-thirds told Pew they’re dissatisfied with the presidential field so far. Aside from the top of the ticket, only 26% rated the overall quality  of candidates for all offices as good or very good. That’s down about 20 percentage points since the 2018 elections.

And by the same percentage, 63%, survey respondents indicated little or no confidence in the future of the American political system.

Despite public disillusionment, the Pew Center noted that the past three national elections have had some of the highest voter turnout in history. It will be challenging for the parties, candidates and campaign consultants to get people to the polls next year, when so many of them are fed up.

Bill Cotterell is a retired capitol reporter for United Press International and the Tallahassee Democrat. He can be reached at bcotterell@cityandstatefl.com

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