As the Nov. 6 general election approaches, local residents are sifting through the political rhetoric, campaign television ads and weathered yard signs to determine what is most important to them during this campaign season and beyond. Many are trying to determine — if they haven’t already — which candidates line up with those determinations.
For Goshen resident Betty Martin, the biggest concern with the upcoming election season is Medicare.
Martin, who had lunch with friends in The Electric Brew downtown last week, said she was keeping her eye on which candidate’s positions were on cuts to the program.
“I’m the oldest out of the three of us,” she said, looking at her friends. “I’m concerned about Medicare cuts and what that means.”
Martin said she leans more liberally than others her age. Her friend Barbara Springer also said she leaned more liberal, citing world experience and moderation as the two issues most influential on her vote.
“I think (President) Barack Obama has experience with world view,” Springer said. “That’s important to me. I like my president and other leaders to have that experience.”
When it comes to moderation, Springer said she looks for a leader who is willing to work for all citizens.
“I think it’s important to care for all aspects of society,” Springer said. “Sometimes I think that (Republican presidential candidate) Mitt Romney’s views are black and white, when things are really gray. You have to make programs for the gray.”
Goshen resident Jerry Burt said he looks at economic policy and job creation as he looks at candidates.
“It’s a big thing,” Burt said while at the County Seat Cafe Friday. “I’m also looking at the health care plan (the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare). A lot of people are out of work, and I feel that if the health care plan goes through, that will be worse for people.”
He cited high prices, for everything, including gas, as evidence that the country needs economic help. Burt also said he wants to see Indiana governing stay the course.
“I’d like to see what (Indiana governor Mitch) Daniels had going continue,” he said. “It’s on the right track, state-wise.”
M.J. Hochstetler, also dining at the County Seat, said he’s also paid most attention to the economy and job creation.
“I’m concerned,” he said. “I hope we elect someone that can get jobs for the country, because more jobs will make the economy improve.”
Hochstetler said he will be voting on Election Day, and though he knows who he’ll be casting his ballot for, he said he hasn’t put as much thought into races outside the presidency.
“Economy and jobs,” Hochstetler said. “I’m trying to think of others, but those are the big ones for me.”
Other local residents are not so politically active. Local Chad Wooten said he doesn’t vote, and he has never registered to vote.
It’s not because of laziness, he said. It’s just because he’s “never been one of those people.”
“Everyone has a right to believe what they want to believe,” Wooten said.
Wooten doesn’t find politics to be beneficial to the general populace, mainly because it focuses too much on tearing down the opposition, rather than helping citizens.
“I’ve never found someone who said, ‘Hey, let’s all work together,’” Wooten said. “At the end of the day, that’s what’s missing. We spend so much time focusing on the weaknesses, when we should be focusing on our strengths.”
Wooten, who said he has worked and lived in many states and is now involved in a small business locally, said that politics is, sadly, a money game.
“If we would just focus on the problems, instead of the people,” he said, “we would have progress.”
A (bad) visual presence
Even with the differing opinions on policy, one thing many Goshen residents agreed on was how ineffective political campaign ads are.
“They just turn me off of everything,” Martin said. “Never in all of my years have I seen such bad-mouthing about other candidates.”
“They’re just not useful,” she said. “I don’t think they change votes and the spending for ads is a waste of money.”
Hochstetler said he has also seen enough of political ads.
“Right now, they’re annoying,” Hochstetler said of political ads. “For a while, they were useful, but now they’re just annoying. They’re plain untruthful. They make the person putting it on look good, but they’re not useful.”
Goshen College adjunct political science professor Gerald Shenk said that most negative political ads are coming from super PACs, not campaigns or candidates themselves.
“People are spending millions on ads,” Shenk said. “The worst ads are at the national level, coming from the super PACs that don’t have to answer for where their funding comes from.”
The biggest issues on a national stage can be divided into two categories: a sense of security versus a sense of fear, according to Shenk.
“People find a lot to be afraid of,” Shenk said about the political races. “Security means more than no terrorists — it means food on the table, good and meaningful work, a good education.”
The Goshen community feels the impact of the national and global concerns, Shenk said.
“We see immigration, jobs and the sluggishness of the economy,” Shenk said. “It’s a serious concern for Goshen, Elkhart County and the greater northern industrial area.”
Amid all of the topics being talked about is the absence of one of the most important things, according to Shenk. No one’s talking about the potential for the middle class tax hike as of Jan. 1, when President George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class expire — raising taxes on the middle class.
“We should be pressing candidates now about this,” Shenk said.
Shenk said he feels citizens today are not able to feel like their votes count as much anymore, especially in the larger stage of the presidential election. Citizens may also feel a similar way toward Congress and extreme partisanship.
“I believe we’ve all been made more aware of the national debt and the failure to balance the budget,” Shenk said. “The failure of both parties to come to an agreement is paralyzing to the recovery process. I don’t think we’re left with any ways to hold them accountable — it’s demonstrably worse in Congress now than in the past decades.”
Shenk said, however, voters may feel their votes count more in smaller races, such as those in local and state-level elections. He recommended looking hardest for unbiased information to vote on.
“It’s all in the diet of news you choose to intake,” he said. “... I suggest that voters try to find sites and sources providing an average of polls, rather than come from one side or another (to get a clear picture).”