Frank Mensah is ready for the 2016 presidential election to be over.
“They drag the process on for a very long time with commercial ads, even when you go on the Internet to browse something and you get these popup ads and stuff,” Mensah, a 44-year-old respiratory therapist from Coralville, Iowa, said. “So it’ll be nice for it to be over.”
Other Iowans will give you the same lament in their swing state that helped kick off the presidential campaign with its first-in-the-nation presidential precinct caucuses the night of Feb. 1, 2016.
For them, the bombardment of news coverage and campaign ads has been in full gear since a little past the off-year elections of 2014. Even then presidential hopefuls were poking around the state on behalf of the top Republicans and Democrats seeking statewide office. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose presidential bid for the Republican nominated failed, went so far as to attend Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s January 2015 inauguration.
But whether or not Iowans, or most Americans for that matter, have had enough of this historic presidential campaign is not supported by some measurables of the 2010s: Twitter and Facebook posts, or the boosted ratings for nightly cable news and talk stations and presidential debates.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump had 12.4 million Twitter followers in mid October and a little less than 11.4 million Facebook likes while Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had 9.7 million Twitter followers and 7 million Facebook likes. Those numbers were growing daily, checks on their accounts showed.
“Emotions are running very high in this election,” said Caroline Tolbert, a University of Iowa professor of political science whose research topics include voting and elections. “I would not be surprised that voters, when they feel uncertain or anxious or angry, would want to have that uncomfortable condition of being emotionally activated over.”
Mensah said this presidential election has been especially hard to deal with because he doesn’t think his views are represented by either Clinton or Trump, although he’s leaning toward Clinton.
“It’s like, ‘choose a poison,’” he said during a series of IowaWatch interviews conducted in various parts of the state.
This is perhaps one of the most ironic twists of this presidential campaign: Despite the rift it has caused among the nation’s citizens, one thing ties many of these political opposites together – disgust for how the current election has played out in public.
Fifty-seven percent of 4,538 Americans polled by the Pew Research Center for a Sept. 21 report said they were frustrated with the election, while 55 percent said they were disgusted. Another 43 percent said they were scared while only 15 percent said they were optimistic. Of those polled, 3,941 were registered voters. The poll was conducted Aug. 16 through Sept. 12 with a sampling error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.
And here sits Iowa, in the middle of the campaign as a swing state once again, as it has been since the 2000 election that put Republican George W. Bush into office while Iowa barely went with Democrat Al Gore by a slim margin.
“I’m sick of watching this country rip itself apart while half of us applauds the destruction,” Chelsey Wentz, 28, who works at the Oskaloosa Public Library, said.
“You can’t trust anyone in this election.” Stephanie Hayes, 21, a bookstore worker in Des Moines, said.
“This election had brought a whole new meaning to choosing the lesser of two evils,” Hayes said. “The ads and media coverage are rather annoying in their ability to only further the mud slinging and constantly update us on the last crass thing said.”
The Pew study had a few other results that help explain negative feelings many have about the election. The number one reason respondents said they supported their candidate was because he or she is not the opponent. One of every three Trump supporters said they were voting for him because he is not Clinton while and one of three Clinton supporters gave as their reason: she is not Trump, the poll showed.
“I am tired of the fighting and rude behavior,” Deborah Rohloff, 54, a self-employed preschool provider in Oskaloosa, said. “I feel that this election is the nastiest one I have ever seen.”
The historical interest points in 2016 include that Clinton would be the nation’s first female president and Trump would be the first president who hasn’t held a high political office or been a military leader.
Moreover, the campaign has has the kind of drama that sustains a story, whether in fiction or nonfiction. Plus, Iowans have seen Clinton and Trump in the media for a long time, dating to long before the election campaign started.
Clinton has been in public life since her husband was Arkansas’ governor in 1979 to 1981 and 1983 to 1992, then president and through her time as a U.S. senator and secretary of state. Trump has been a business mogul and media celebrity whose profile became even better known especially during the reality television show, “The Apprentice.”
Nielsen reported that 84 million people watched the first of three televised presidential dates on Sept. 26 while 68.8 million people watched the second one on Oct. 9. People sent more than 17 million Twitter tweets during the second presidential debate on Sunday, Oct. 9. The final debate is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 19.
Tolbert said an important question to consider is whether or not Trump would have placed second to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in Iowa’s caucuses, won the New Hampshire primary and, eventually, won the Republican presidential nomination without modern-day media. That includes coverage of him by traditional news outlets because of his celebrity status but also outlets such as Twitter, she said.
“He’s really the first presidential candidate ever to Tweet his way to being a major party candidate,” Tolbert said. “He’s also a master, though, at town halls, at public events, the Trump airplane making the local stops in Iowa here in January.”
The airplane stops were like the whistle-stop presidential campaign stops of the 1800s, Tolbert said.
Tolbert said she has vowed to stop using the word unprecedented when describing the campaign because it has been used so frequently.
Still, she said, “I don’t think we have had a case where a presidential candidate, in a debate, threatened to put behind bars his or her opponent, to lock up their opponent if elected. That is something that has happened in non-democratic countries.”
The election attention is fine with some Iowans. At the Better Day Café in Storm Lake Topiz Martinez said he will not be glad when the campaign ends.
“I like that these issues are being brought up,” Martinez, 27, the restaurant’s owner and manager, said. “I feel like a lot of these things are just brushed under the rug until it’s election season.”
He said he has been able to learn what Clinton and Trump think about the economy, wages and taxes although he’d like to hear more about global warming. He’d like the next president to figure out the next step the United States should take to deal with all of these matters, he said.
But Michael Olson, 23, a welder from Davenport at John Deere, wants to move on. “I will be happy when the presidential campaign is over so we’d stop hearing about emails, stop hearing about Trump being a racist,” he said, referring to thorny accusations plaguing the candidacies of Clinton and Trump, respectively.
Carl Tipton, 85, of Ames said he is tired of what he calls “all the trash” on television, a reference to the glut of advertising while Kimberly Penning, 34, of Ankeny, took that thought a step further. “There’s a lot of, a lot of stuff you know, that you hear on TV or that come to light that I’m like I don’t want my kids to hear,” Penning, an insurance underwriter, said.
Pew Research Center report:
Most Americans already feel election coverage fatigue
Steve Hirsch, a retired hospital administrator living in Solon, gets back to how much time the campaign has taken in Iowa and his personal time.
“I’m tired of it,” Hirsch, 69, said about the campaign. “I don’t like either candidate and there’s just too much media involvement as far as I’m concerned. Plus I’ve already voted.”
So have more than 133,560 Iowans, Iowa Secretary of State figures show. Twice as many Democrats and Republicans had turned in early ballots at the end of Thursday, Oct. 13. More than 325,740 absentee ballots had been sent to Iowa voters requesting them by mid-October, the Secretary of State figures, which get updated regularly, showed.
HISTORY OF WONDERING ABOUT IOWA VOTER FATIGUE
This is not the first time a story about voter fatigue has been written. An IowaWatch story in late January contained several comments from Iowans who wanted the caucus campaign end. Then, Iowans went out in record numbers the night of Feb. 1 to participate in the Democratic and Republican caucuses.
The Pew Research Center looked into the topic in 2007, asking whether or not voter fatigue was settling into Iowa then. Seven in 10 Iowans answering the poll said they found the election campaign then to be interesting despite its intensity in the state, Pew reported. The poll of 2,111 registered Iowa voters was conducted Nov. 7 through Nov. 25 in 2007 leading up to the Jan. 3, 2008, caucuses and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
As it was a year ago at this time, Iowa is one of the states where attention is focused in this campaign. The most recent Des Moines Register Mediacom Iowa Poll showed Trump leading Clinton in Iowa 43 percent to 39 percent.
The poll of 800 Iowans, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, was taken Oct. 3 through Oct. 6. That was before a 2005 recording of Trump making lewd comments about women was made public and leaks of several emails by Clinton or members of her campaign that Republicans say show an elite, hypocritical candidate out of touch with Americans.
Noted statistician Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight election forecast site, which get attention because of a good track record in analyzing and predicting elections, recently shifted Iowa from leaning slightly toward Trump to leaning slightly toward Clinton. The prediction is based on polls Silver analyzes and assumes reflect, admittedly with uncertainty, the best forecast for the November election.
Contributing reporting for this story were Jasmine Bautista at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Krista Johnson of IowaWatch and the University of Iowa and Alex Connor of the Iowa State Daily and Iowa State University.
Other student journalists involved in a fall IowaWatch/College Media reporting project that is producing multimedia stories are, from Buena Vista University, Kiley Wellendorf, Tiffany Brauckman and Mackenzie Rappe; from William Penn University: Alyssa Kerry, Markesha Yarbrough and Helene Larsen; and from IowaWatch and the University of Iowa, Noelle Ahlkawaja.
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This IowaWatch story was republished by The Hawk Eye (Burlington, IA), Mason City Globe Gazette, Storm Lake Pilot-Tribune, SouthernMinn.com and KMALand.com under IowaWatch’s mission of sharing stories with media partners.