Independent voters are vitally important to the 2010 election in Ohio and are very unhappy with the political system, according to focus group research stemming from the latest Akron Buckeye Poll by The University of Akron's Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics.
This unhappiness has the potential to threaten incumbents of both political parties and raises questions about the legitimacy of the political process beyond the outcome of the election, says Dr. John Green, Bliss Institute director and distinguished professor of political science in UAs Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences.
Lack of trust remains an issue
Announced Wednesday, the focus group findings provide details on the frustrations of Ohios independent voters. Numerous polls already have demonstrated the frustration of independents, such as an Akron Buckeye Poll taken early in the 2010 campaign in which about 70 percent of respondents reported low satisfaction with Ohio politics and expressed a low level of trust. These figures were higher among independents than for Democrats or Republicans.
The new focus group research results released by the Bliss Institute indicate that job loss remains a crucial concern, but just as importantly, these independent voters thought the political system has been unresponsive to the public especially on the economy. As one participant put it, were not being heard.
This widely shared perception took many forms. Some participants thought politicians were self-serving careerists, while others saw them as arrogant and insulated from the problems of the public. There was strong agreement with the statement a politician, is a politician, is a politician. Corruption was a common allegation, symbolized by the large sums of money raised and spent in campaigns. One participant said that like NASCAR drivers, politicians should wear patches on their suits from their sponsors. Other participants were more alienated from the political process, arguing that public officials were puppets of special interest groups.
Most participants had a negative view of President Barack Obamas job performance, ranging from sharp disagreement with his policies to a critique of his management of the government. Participants said the Presidents agenda was different than that of the average American and that he had wasted the countrys money. Even those who felt that Obama meant well and we should let him keep trying expressed disappointment with the administration. This sentiment was especially strong among independents who had voted for Obama in 2008.
Congress on the wrong course
Views on Congress were uniformly negative. Several participants argued that the institution needed to be revamped, and one said that anything is better than the system we have now. The unresponsiveness of members of Congress to the participants and the public at large was a common complaint. One participant said we just need new people in government. Such negativity was echoed with regard to the major political parties. The parties were viewed as hell bent on their agenda, with the parties too far apart on every issue and thus it takes years to get anything done. Participants argued that the parties needed to put America first and stay more to the Constitution.
The idea of a third or fourth political party to keep the system honest appealed to the participants. Wide agreement was expressed for a common sense party, focused on reviving the economy and limiting the growth of government. But there was also skepticism about whether new political parties could be competitive and not just a forum for lunatics. There were mixed reactions to the tea parties, with some participants skeptical of their agenda and others more supportive.
Anger and distrust were strong motivations for political activity among the participants. Many agreed that such problems were in large part our fault for not being involved in politics. One participant that the people need to exercise their power and another said it is time for a revolution. The participants showed determination to have their voices heard in the upcoming election.
When asked what would engage them more in politics, several participants responded that there needed to be more free access to politicians, including more and regular town hall meetings, quick and thorough responses from contacted officeholders, and a greater presence of politicians in the community. One participant said being a politician should not be seen as a job choice but more as a service to the country. Such suggestions reflect the strong sense of being ignored by the government among independent voters.
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The full report may be viewed at www.uakron.edu/bliss/ .