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Archive for Saturday, July 20, 2002

Politics as usual

July 20, 2002

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Negative campaigning and what voters see as 'politics as usual' may lessen voter loyalty to the two-party system.

Even though the Kansas primary election is just over two weeks away, many  perhaps most  state voters have little interest in the proceedings. Many probably aren't even aware what races are being contested and who the candidates are.

This is in spite of the fact that the primary will set the general election slate for such important state positions as governor and attorney general.

Why aren't people interested?

One theory that seems to have some validity is that many Kansans  and people across the nation, as well  are simply fed up with politics as usual. Various commentators are noting that voters are more interested in independent candidates than they once were, apparently having failed to be impressed with the activities of America's traditional two-party system.

In the closing days of the primary campaign, it probably will be apparent why some voters have become disenchanted. Already, the close Republican races for governor and attorney general are sliding into attack mode.

Trying to tip voters in their favor, candidates are becoming increasingly personal and petty in their attacks. Rather than depend on their own positive attributes to sway voters, candidates dig into their opponent's record and find tidbits that can be used against them. The opponent will claim the negative ads are misrepresenting his record and the voters, and around they go.

Is it any wonder voters are becoming discouraged and detached?

Whether or not it's fair, many voters attribute this kind of unseemly behavior to organized party politics  and they want no part of it. One governor's candidate who visited the Journal-World recently said he believed that the election was more about character than issues. Voters, he said, are more interested in voting for someone they see as trustworthy and competent than in trying to assess a candidate's stands on specific issues that may or may not be the most important issues he faces while in office.

Philosophical divisions between the two major parties have become harder to define; differences within the Kansas Republican Party are the deepest political chasm. If they can't count on a party to represent their point of view, it's no wonder voters are looking harder at individual candidates and proudly saying they "vote for the person, not the party."

It remains to be seen how that attitude will affect this year's elections in Kansas. Lack of interest already has resulted in almost 40 percent of the Kansas House being unopposed for re-election this year. We can hope for a strong voter turnout on Aug. 6, but history would predict otherwise.

Candidates for state office are eager to win their primary races and are willing to do pretty much whatever it takes to advance to the November voting, but when they are making those decisions, they might keep in mind the negative effect politics as usual seems to be having on Kansas voters.

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