Election Day near, Americans weigh divide, look for healing
- With people increasingly ensconced in silos, many can't even agree on what constitutes basic facts.
The idea had never occurred to the Rev. Adam Hamilton at the conclusion of past presidential campaigns. But this Election Day, the megachurch he leads in the Kansas City suburbs will invite congregants, and anyone else who chooses, to stop in and pray for the nation to heal itself.
“There’s plenty of division in our country every year, but this year’s election is different,” said Hamilton, founding pastor of the 20,000-member United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, where two of four campuses will serve as polling stations. “Our families are divided. We’re divided sometimes from our friends. Even when we’re in church here our politics are different. And I think we have to be reminded that there’s a bigger picture here.”
As Hamilton’s congregants and millions of other Americans weather the final days of a campaign cycle filled with insults and anger, the nation indeed finds itself at a troubling crossroads.
Americans are split over immigration, the changes wrought by globalization, the treatment of minorities and the threat of terrorism. But partisanship, long rising, has veered beyond policy disagreement. Now, roughly half of Democrats and Republicans tell pollsters they fear those in the other party.
With people increasingly ensconced in media silos and social networks that surround them with like-minded views, many cannot even agree on what constitutes basic facts.
The economy, by almost any empirical measure, is healthy and gaining traction. Yet as Americans head to the polls, many talk about being left behind not just by the recovery, but the political system.
“The unemployment rate right now, regardless of what the numbers say, is horrendous…. I can look here and nobody’s working,” said Alan Halsey, who has a sign for Republican nominee Donald Trump in the window of the general store he runs in Campton, Kentucky. “If we continue on this road, this place is going to look like Iraq or Afghanistan. There’s going to be nothing here.”
Halsey’s viewpoint contrasts with figures showing that unemployment nationwide is down to 4.9 percent. Median household income jumped last year to $56,500, the highest it has been since before the bottom fell out of the economy in 2008. The share of Americans living in poverty declined sharply last year to 13.5 percent. Home prices are rising again, and millions more people have health insurance.
But the rebound has been slow to reach some Americans, particularly in manufacturing and mining communities that have lost many jobs, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.
“We dug ourselves into such a deep hole early on in 2008, 2009 that we’ve spent the last eight years really digging out of it,” Zandi said. “But if you’ve been struggling for more than a couple or three years, you begin to expect that that’s your world forever. You’re doomed and not only doomed, but your kids are doomed … and a lot of people are still stuck in that negative psychology.”
The divide was spotlighted in a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, asking voters to compare their lives with those of people like them 50 years ago. When Trump supporters were asked that question, 4 in 5 said life in the U.S. today is worse for people like them. A nearly equal number of voters backing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said life today is just as good or better.
“This is one of the core questions that speak to the current political environment,” said Jocelyn Kiley, associate director of research for Pew. “Political divisions are about more than just political issues, but about perceptions of the state of the country.”
Those disagreements don’t always fit old political pigeonholes. But people on both sides share a similar estrangement from traditional parties and politics.
Take Jerome Nichols, 68, a semi-retired accountant from Webster Groves, Missouri, who voted early for Clinton.
“I am a lifelong Republican, but I am sick to death of what has happened to my party,” Nichols said. “They’re just a bunch of haters.”
Meanwhile Terry Wright, 59, a disabled union painter in Louisville and a registered Democrat backing Trump, says he has given up on his old party. Democrats backed immigration policies that have filled limited jobs with foreigners, and pushed for welfare programs that have knocked the ambition out of younger workers, he said.
Clinton “will be the damnation of America,” he said.
With modern U.S. presidential campaigns now stretching over two years, it’s hardly surprising that Americans are tired of the candidates and their commercials.
“I’m ready for the election to be over because I’m sick of hearing about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and all the rhetoric,” said Natalie Blair Pounds, 52, an auto mechanic in Denver, whose state is a battleground. “But just to be on the record, I’m voting for Hillary because I don’t like the things Donald has said. I don’t like the things Donald has done.”
Voters’ intense negative feelings about Trump and Clinton may say as much about the times as the candidates, said David Greenberg, a professor of history at Rutgers University and author of “Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency.”
“There’s something about the polarized climate that we’re in that leads us to feel these things more strongly, to regard the opposition with such hostility, to talk in terms of threats to the Republic, to say ‘Lock her up,’ in ways we wouldn’t have 30 years ago.”
It’s a far cry from Ronald Reagan’s 1984 message that it was “morning in America.” Or Barack Obama’s 2008 call for “Change We Can Believe In.” Still, many voters continue to express faith that their voices can make a difference.
In Raleigh, North Carolina, Jaquelinne Murillo, a law student who entered the U.S. from Mexico with her mother when she was 10 and became a U.S. citizen in May, said she looked forward to rejecting Trump’s “very hurtful” portrayal of fellow immigrants as rapists and drug dealers.
“It really makes me really happy that this is going to be the first election that I can actually vote in. And I’m going to vote. There’s no way I won’t,” she said.
Others, though, are decidedly conflicted.
“This is really the only time that I can ever remember, in any voting that I’ve ever done, where I was at a loss as to who I was going to vote for,” said Diane Kekoolani Barrett, a self-declared Republican in Honolulu, Hawaii. As she exited the city hall last week after casting an early ballot, she couldn’t bring herself to name her choice for president. “I kept thinking about that and, well, I hate to say it, I went with the lesser of two evils.”
Associated Press writers Allen G. Breed in Raleigh, North Carolina, Claire Galofaro in Louisville and Campton, Kentucky, Jennifer Kelleher in Honolulu, Jim Salter in Maplewood, Missouri, and Kristen Wyatt in Denver contributed to this story. Adam Geller reported from New York.