Incivility Continues As Campaign Season Drags On

Oct 22, 2012

Ohio has been a key swing state in the last three presidential races. But it likely has never been as polarized and bitter as it is right now.

Ohio Public Radio’s Karen Kasler reports, it probably won’t get better anytime soon.

Ohio has two of the most expensive races in the country. The second most expensive House race in the nation is the race between Republican Jim Renacci and Democrat Betty Sutton in northeast Ohio - one of only two in the nation pitting two incumbents against one another. The ads in that race have been described as “brutal” – so brutal that Renacci recently took to the airwaves with an ad that starts this way:
“If you’ve watched TV much, you probably think Betty Sutton and I both hate puppies and grandmothers too. It’s ridiculous.”

Then there’s the other big money contest in Ohio – the US Senate race. Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown and Republican treasurer Josh Mandel have been sparring on the TV and radio airwaves for months, and the rancor in that race is apparently trickling down to their supporters. Their first debate was before a sell-out crowd of 1,300 at the normally staid City Club of Cleveland. And while watching the candidates trade barbs, the audience made known their support….
Brown: “To be against the auto rescue just boggles my mind. (applause and cheers)”
Mandel: “You’ve been named the most liberal Senator in the United States of America, to the left of Bernie Sanders from Vermont. (applause and cheers)”
And their anger.
Mandel: “The folks we’ve hired into our office are qualified professionals, and I believe their record speaks for themselves. (boos) Let’s talk about the record.”
Brown: “He has the nerve and encouraging his friends to ask questions about term limits when he clearly has no regard for any of that. (boos, cheers and applause)”

There have been other bursts of nastiness in Ohio – yard signs stolen and defaced, clashes at rallies, an offensive t-shirt at a Mitt Romney rally in southeast Ohio and the angry reactions to it, and the furious calls that came in from donors after Republican Vice President candidate Paul Ryan stopped by a soup kitchen in Youngstown for a photo op. One expert says this was to be expected - since civility in politics has been gradually declining for a couple of decades. John Green at the Bliss Institute for Applied Politics at the University of Akron has been compiling data on the subject for the Ohio Civility Project. It seeks to “return civility to public discourse” by applying standards of civility and then holding candidates, campaigns the media and the public to them.
“Civility is not the goal – the goal is to solve problems. Civility is the means to get there by getting people to have a construction conversation.”

Green says the current political campaigns in Ohio and across the country are not the most uncivil campaigns in history, but civility is – in his words – “at a pretty low ebb.” But Green says researchers are finding that the lack of respectful disagreement isn’t just happening in politics….
“And many of the people we’ve interviewed and surveyed and talked to are actually a bit more concerned about incivility in everyday life than they are about political incivility, because everyday life happens every day.”

The Ohio Civility Project includes the University of Akron, Cleveland State, and the University of Mount Union, the Akron Beacon Journal, members of the Akron Faith Community and the Civic Commons, a northeast Ohio policy discussion organization.
The project hopes to take its goals of bringing back civility to politics to the Akron community and then beyond.