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Tim Burke: Negative campaigns losing their luster with voters

I recently had three separate conversations with friends about politics and how the voters feel about current events.

One of them is in the National Guard and he came home at the beginning of 2017 after serving our country for a year in the Middle East.

He told me that he when he first got back he would turn on the radio in his car on the way home from work and listen to talk shows to catch up on political events that had taken place in his absence. Even though his own political views were conservative he switched his radio around to all the different political talk radio shows, so he could try to get a more balanced, and what he hoped, objective feel for how things were going from the different perspectives.

He stated to me that eventually, he chose to quit listening to the radio talk shows. He said that by the time he arrived home each day he was so depressed by what he was hearing on his drive that he just had to stop listening completely, so it didn’t affect his mood the rest of the evening.

Similar stories like this have been expressed over and over recently. Political talk shows have become so “over the top” with their viewpoints and their rhetoric so filled with negativity that the listeners are choosing to tune them out.

My second conversation was about a political race in another state where the deputy mayor was running against the incumbent mayor for that office. The deputy mayor launched an aggressive campaign which focused on publishing negative comments about the mayor.

There were so many negative statements presented as factual by the deputy mayor, which were then disputed as false by the sitting mayor that a local resident started a non-partisan website with the exclusive goal of “fact-checking” the comments to verify if they were indeed fact or fiction.

Unfortunately for the deputy mayor, when the “fact-checking” website compared the statements made by the deputy mayor’s campaign against the facts, virtually all the statements being made were complete lies. That is when things then turned even uglier.

A phone and mail campaign from anonymous sources was begun that further tried to spread negative and false information about the mayor and the mayor’s office. It went as far as threatening businesses that they “would be boycotted and shut down” if they didn’t take down campaign signs supporting the mayor.

Complaints were filed with the election commission and police reports were made by those who were threatened. Those complaints are under investigation and could lead to criminal charges being filed. Adding to the deputy mayor’s woes, the campaign is also now being investigated for failing to report the campaign’s income and expenses correctly.

We see this same type of negative race being run again this year across the USA, most recently in Alabama. There seems to be a belief that slinging mud wins races, don’t let a silly thing like a candidate’s views and position on important items that actually affect voters get in the way of a character assassination.

To a certain extent it works. If it didn’t candidates wouldn’t keep running those kinds of campaigns. Voters seem to get caught up in the negativity and then a candidate must waste valuable time and resources trying to overcome the mud that was slung at them.

I then had a third conversation with a longtime Pahrump resident who was wondering what our local elections in 2018 were going to be like. I suggested to the resident that based on what we saw in 2016, they should expect to be prepared for lots of ugliness this next go-round.

Of course, whether it is ugliness or not depends on your perspective. Some view our local political campaigns as highly entertaining, even comical, and that was the resident’s primary concern, “This area has made such progress the last couple of years in improving our image and I am worried that we will once again become a laughingstock around the state.”

I guess in November 2018 we will know the answer to that resident’s concern but for the deputy mayor running in 2017, it didn’t go so well. That candidate was trounced in the general election by the sitting mayor.

I guess ugliness does have its limits, at least in some parts of our country. Perhaps we are starting to be fed up with the negative campaigns and moving back to elections based on comparing competing candidates’ positions that address genuine issues. One could always hope.

Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at timstakenv@gmail.com

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