Cincinnati Inquirer By Jessie Balmert
COLUMBUS — If you had to describe the 2016 presidential race in one word, you might pick "nasty," "vitriolic" or "hateful."
But "civil"? Probably not.
The Ohio Civility Consortium wants that to change. Nearly all Americans, 95 percent, agreed that the lack of civility in politics is a problem, according to a poll on Civility in America by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate. GOP front-runner Donald Trump was named the least civil candidate by 79 percent of those polled, followed by Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. And that's part of the problem, participants in a Friday forum said. How do you fight incivility when it appears to pay off in the polls and results?
Mikey Edwards, a former Republican Congressman from Oklahoma, said he's disturbed by what Trump says, but even more concerned by the crowds that cheer him.
"Does the 2016 election cycle become a harbinger of things to come?" asked Zack Space, a former Democratic U.S. Congressman from Dover. "Donald Trump could represent a grave threat to what we value in the democratic process."
But Trump and Clinton didn't invent incivility. A 2010 study from Allegheny College found nearly 50 percent of Americans said the tone of politics had declined since President Barack Obama took office. And that was 2010, six years before presidential candidates started comparing the size of their hands and other body parts.
How did we get here?
Space and Edwards had a few ideas: gerrymandered districts that ensure the most partisan candidates are elected; loosening restrictions on campaign contributions; and less rubbing elbows with colleagues on the other side of the aisle as fewer politicians move to Washington D.C.
They also blamed the power of the political parties, prevalence of social media and biased reporters whose ratings soar when a candidates make bombastic comments.
Space praised Ohio's recent effort to change the way lines are drawn for statehouse races. The proposal to create a bipartisan group to draw lines passed overwhelmingly last fall. But it doesn't address lines for U.S. Congress — something former Speaker John Boehner opposed and GOP leadership has been hesitant to add.
"I analogize it to taking a BB gun out to an elephant hunt," Space said. "I think it could be much stronger, but I think it is a step in the right direction."
The bipartisan bashing has been particularly discouraging to America's youngest voters. Millenials, broadly defined as those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s, are less likely to be affiliated with a political party, more likely to feel politics isn't working and less likely to vote because of that.
"Why would you want to engage when all you hear is how awful they are?" asked Michael Stinziano, a Democratic member of Columbus City Council and former state lawmaker. "But 90 percent of the time, what's being passed, what's being worked on, is bipartisan."
Working across the aisle and watching the hateful language are key to better discourse, said former Ohio Supreme Court justice Yvette McGee Brown.
"I frame it this way: Our children are watching," she said. "We should all be a little embarrassed."