Last week, I looked at the results from the most recent Ohio poll by Quinnipiac University. They showed a dead heat between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in this swing state, each major party candidate with 40 percent support. Not surprisingly, the poll exposed deep divisions among voters on how the candidates would deal with a range of issues and on their character traits.
Sunday, this newspaper and other media outlets from around the state published the results of another statewide poll, conducted by the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. The survey also indicated that Ohioans are divided and frustrated. Sixty-three percent said the nation is on the wrong track; 58 percent said the presidential candidates are doing a “poor” or “very poor” job of addressing issues.
And what issues are those?
Once again, deep splits were evident. In broad groupings, Ohioans ranked the top issues as the economy (26 percent), public policy (22 percent), political process (19 percent), public order (15 percent) and foreign policy (13 percent). Within each grouping, there were wide variations.
For years, statewide polls in Ohio have shown the economy as the top issue. Republican Gov. Jim Rhodes was famous for pulling out his wallet when giving advice to candidates, among them Ronald Reagan. Talk about what goes in and what goes out, Rhodes would lecture.
That’s still good advice, but these days “the economy” can mean different things to different people. Among the concerns noted in the Bliss Institute’s poll were jobs, prices, poverty, inequality and trade. More, the survey showed economic concerns shifting with age groups, concerns about poverty and inequality falling off with age.
We are, it appears from the recent polling in Ohio, the source of much of our own frustrations because, as noted by John Green, director of the Bliss Institute, our ideas about what the most important problem is and how to fix it are so different.
So, the notion that politicians aren’t really listening to voters, who are speaking out loudly and clearly, may not be so true, despite the widespread belief in folk wisdom.
Those seeking and holding public office may, instead, be listening to their constituents. Yet the politicians have a broader responsibility to take into account what those in other states and U.S. House districts across the country are thinking.
That means taking responsibility to show leadership by coming up with specific proposals that seek to drive the debate to the middle, where compromise and action are possible.
But given sharp differences among voters, candidates and officeholders are usually wary of getting too specific, risking sharp attacks from those who think attention should be focused on another issue or disagree with the particular approach being advocated.
Reforming the way U.S. House districts are drawn to make them more representative would help steer the political debate toward pragmatic solutions by forcing those running for and holding office to pay attention to a more diverse group of voters. Districts in Ohio, and across the country, are drawn to favor one party, in effect limiting the issues and approaches that can be taken up by candidates and officeholders.
Still, redistricting reform could accomplish only so much. The trouble is, there are signs we’re sorting ourselves out by geography, in states red and blue, in blue cities and red suburbs.
In a similar way, there are signs we’re sorting ourselves electronically, too, seeking cable channels and websites that reinforce rather than challenge our views on issues and solutions.
All of which makes finding the center, and solutions to complex, divisive issues, such a challenge. In such an atmosphere, listening attentively and responding to constituents’ concerns are not sufficient. What is required are the skill and courage to bring people together on specific proposals.
Hoffman is a Beacon Journal editorial writer. He can be reached at 330-996-3740 or emailed at email@example.com.