The sense that political discussions between everyday people have become both more frequent and more contentious over the years was a common theme echoed by participants during the Southwestern Your Voice Ohio discussion group.
James Porter, 82, of Franklin, a small town between Dayton and Cincinnati, has the perspective of a voter who’s cast a ballot in 15 presidential elections.
“This is the most talked about, most vicious cycle of elections that I’ve ever seen or heard of,” he said. “I’ve never been through anything like this. You can just almost feel the hate … People are just more up in arms.”
Porter said the number one difference he sees between the past few presidential elections and those more distant is that voters are taking a “more visible” stance lately. He said his neighborhood is the perfect example. Porter lives on an approximately two-mile-long street with well-spaced houses and big yards. On Oct. 13, the street contained at least 32 pro-Donald Trump signs, flags or banners; two signs that said “just be kind,” a half-dozen local election signs and one pro-Joe Biden sign.
Porter installed his “Trump 2020” sign on Oct. 13. Porter was one of the last handful of residents to not take a public stance on the presidential election in their yard. Porter said he’d previously only put political signs in his yard for local elections.
In contrast, during the dialogue, Porter recalled a story from “many years ago” that illustrates how Americans were previously discouraged from talking about “politics, sex or religion.”
Porter said he’s concerned about polarization in the country today but he doesn’t know what the solution is, a common view among the dialogue participants. He said his social circles will make it through the election.
“My friends, my relatives, most of them gonna’ vote one way and some gonna’ vote another, but we’re all still going to go to church together,” he said. “And we’re going to go to that family reunion together and we don’t let (political differences) bog us down. And that’s going to happen this year.”
Porter prays there is a “clear-cut winner” in the presidential election “no matter which one it is” because he fears the fallout if the election is in doubt.
Jordan Laird was among seven journalists who participated with Ohioans in October in Your Voice Ohio online dialogues to gain understanding of concerns people have in the 2020 election. She is a reporter for the Dayton Daily News and can be emailed at [email protected].
About this project
This is one in a series of stories on issues Ohioans say are most important in this election year. More than 50 news outlets are collaborating in the project under the umbrella of Your Voice Ohio, the nation’s largest sustained, statewide news media collaborative. In five years, Your Voice Ohio has brought more than 100 journalists together with more than 1,300 Ohioans for discussions on addiction, the economy and elections. Your Voice Ohio is managed and coordinated by the Jefferson Center for New Democratic Processes, a nonpartisan, nonprofit civic engagement organization. The project is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund and Facebook. The Jefferson Center for New Democratic Processes designs and facilitates the dialogues and digital forums. Retired Akron Beacon Journal managing editor Doug Oplinger directs the media work and can be reached at [email protected].
For the Your Voice Ohio 2020 Election listening project, the state’s 88 counties were divided into five regions identified by John Green, emeritus director of the Bliss Institute for Applied Politics at the University of Akron, as having political and demographic similarities.
How participants were selected
Six people were recruited to participate with three journalists in each regional dialogue designed and facilitated by Kyle Bozentko and Sarah Atwood from the Jefferson Center for New Democratic Processes, a St. Paul-based non-partisan, non-profit research organization.
There was an attempt to make each dialogue demographically representative, though that was problematic in some regions, particularly in the Southeast where there were broadband challenges. Overall, the dialogues were representative of Ohio, based on Census data obtained by former Akron Beacon Journal data reporter David Knox.
A pool of about 1,000 volunteers was created through invitations published by Ohio news outlets and from advertisements on social media. To encourage a diverse group of volunteers, $125 was offered to those who answered basic demographic questions, participated in a test call, and then completed the two-hour online dialogue.
For the conversations, participants were granted anonymity with the understanding that what they said could be used in news stories without their names. They were asked afterward if they were willing to be quoted by name and participate in a follow-up conversation with a reporter. Most agreed.
Participating journalists were recruited from the more than 50 Your Voice Ohio news outlets. One reporter attended all five sessions and wrote the central narrative, a regional reporter in each helped identify themes and nuances. A third is guiding the Your Voice Ohio journalism and has attended all sessions since 2016.
Finding help with your ballot
There are organizations that attempt to provide fair representations of candidates and issues so that you can cast an informed ballot.
Below are some of those resources:
- Ballotpedia is a national organization that compiles information about federal and state candidates and some local races and issues The Ohio page is the place to begin.
- Public radio stations in Ohio, led by WKSU FM 89.7, and with the help of Eye on Ohio and Your Voice Ohio, attempted to ask federal and state legislative candidates questions on your behalf. The questions were formulated after asking Ohioans in a statewide poll to name their most important concerns, followed by dialogues to gain better understanding of those issues. Unfortunately, candidates have been slow to respond. Those who have answered the questions can be found at this site, and new answers are added as they arrive. Disappointed that your candidate isn’t represented? Tell them that you’d like answers to questions that come from the more than 50 Your Voice Ohio news outlets that are attempting to represent your concerns.
- As a part of its Civics Essential series, Issue Media Group news outlets in Ohio provided this primer on voting for judges. In the story are links to organizations offering appraisals of candidates for state and local judges. Outlets in the Issue Media Group are Soapbox Cincinnati, Freshwater Cleveland and The Hub Springfield.
- Also as a part of the Civics Essential series, Issue Media Group news outlets in Ohio provided a guide to casting an informed vote on local issues. This story contains links that may be helpful.