Every four years, since at least the 2000 presidential election, the people of the Buckeye State have braced themselves. They know that, as residents of a “battleground” state, they are going to be subjected to an onslaught of campaign ads and campaign appearances, questions from pollsters and reporters who will clog the streets, and the disruption of traffic and everyday life that naturally comes along with regular visits from presidential and vice presidential candidates and their surrogates.
And, as part of that process, every four years politics becomes a much larger part of the daily lives of Ohioans than it would be otherwise. People talk about the election with their friends, debate the choices, and post yard signs and maybe even attend a rally or volunteer for their candidate. It’s as if, with the pressure of “battleground” status, Ohioans feel a certain obligation to the rest of the country and think hard about how to cast their vote. And good-natured discussion with your friends, family, and colleagues about the choices was a big part of the whole decisional process.
This year, though, has a decidedly different feel to it. There’s not as much activity from the campaigns. One night last week both President Obama and Donald Trump were in Columbus for speeches, which resurrected some of the hectic feel to which we’ve become accustomed in presidential election years, but it also reinforced how things have changed since 2012, and 2008, and 2004: in those years, visits from the competing campaigns were virtually a daily occurrence. This year, not so much.
And this year the vibe of the people of Ohio is different, too. There are still some true-believer advocates for both candidates in Ohio (although in my neck of the woods you won’t see any pro-Trump signs), but for the most part the population seems to be sad and depressed. People don’t want to talk about the election, or the candidates, or anything having to do with politics. The only passion comes when people start talking about how deeply flawed the candidates are, and how rotten the choice is, and how the process really needs to be changed so we don’t end up with such a terrible choice, ever again. Sometimes this feeling comes out in strong words about what a disaster it would be if one candidate, or the other, were elected — but it is always strong words against a candidate, and never strong words for a candidate. The only real energy seems to be negative energy.
What does this mean? It means people talk about the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Cleveland Indians even more than they would otherwise. It means you try to avoid any mention of the election at lunch or at social gatherings, for fear of loosing another eruption of that terrible negative energy. It means you really don’t want to live in a battleground state anymore, and would rather just forget about the whole thing.
What does it mean about how Ohioans will vote come Election Day? I don’t know, but I do think I wouldn’t really trust the polls this year. I think we are dealing with an electorate that is deeply guarded about their feelings and trying to work through a bleak, deep reservoir of disappointment and bile about parties, processes, and candidates. I’m skeptical about how many Ohioans are sharing their real feelings with pollsters. Pollsters just remind us about how the system has let us down. Who really wants to share their true feelings with walking, talking reminders of a failed process?