That’s how my almost 90-year-old mother characterized her 2016 Presidential voting options. After attaining voting age in 1948, she cast her first vote for Harry S. Truman. Knowing that she might not live until the 2020 election, she laments this year’s choices, feeling that she really does not have a choice.
Her words came to mind as I read statements recently by two African-American women of the millennial generation, one who described her decision about the major party candidates for President as the process of choosing between a racist and a liar, and the other who described the prospect of casting a vote in the upcoming election as the choice between “being stabbed and being shot.”
Those comments, from an old white woman and two young black women, illustrate the cynicism and frustration of voters. Surveys reveal that close to two-thirds of potential voters do not “trust” either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.
Meanwhile, disenchantment among Americans about their government runs deep. A 2015 analysis of surveys of the United States public by the Pew Research Center showed that, “Currently, just 19% say they can trust the government always or most of the time, among the lowest levels in the past half-century. Only 20% would describe government programs as being well-run.”
Three ways to build
We owe it to ourselves and future generations to enable voters to feel that they have many good choices, and that they have sound information and understanding to make the best choice. To that end, three types of “building” seem worthwhile.
Build processes to inform the electorate. Provide individuals with the information and tools they need to make informed decisions. While the news media might like to focus on attention-grabbing topics such as Donald’s obsession with President Obama’s nativity, or Hillary’s characterization of her opponent’s supporters as “deplorables,” other issues of much more significance deserve intense consideration: child care; education; poverty; public safety; and the list goes on.
Voters deserve objective, understandable information on such issues. At Wilder Research we strive to provide this, by documenting and interpreting community trends through Minnesota Compass, for example, and by conducting research to shed light on which programs and policies actually work to improve the quality of life.
Build multi-partisan collaboration. Political parties serve a valuable purpose. However, if allegiance to a party (or to oneself) becomes overly rigid, partisanship becomes counterproductive. As one researcher who studies political polarization noted, problems arise not when political parties disagree, but when the disagreement devolves into “partisan warfare” in which “combatants question the motives, integrity, and patriotism of their opponents.” Unfortunately, we see a lot of that today – from both of the major parties.
We need leaders, from local to national levels, who have a commitment to fixing problems and to working with partners of all political persuasions, not just their own, to move our communities forward. At Wilder Research, we attempt to foster such collaboration by engaging people with varied perspectives in the design of our major initiatives. In that way, we build ownership across political lines to nurture jointly-crafted understanding and problem solving on significant community issues.
Build good leaders in all parties. Integrity and competence do not have just one party label. Regardless of our own political leanings, we should champion the development of skills among candidates in all parties and thus create a body of legislators who will engage in robust consideration of issues, just the way that the creators of our democracy intended, and then make decisions and move forward in a positive spirit of compromise. Many such elected public officials now sit in our executive and legislative branches; we need more of them.