Tweet-by-tweet news coverage of a lengthy and contentious presidential election campaign, where political norms have fallen like carnival show ducks, has left voters riled up and nervous.
They’re leery about sporting bumper stickers, reluctant to talk politics with folks they’re unsure of and fed up that the focus is about Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton’s personalities instead of their plans for the country.
“It’s a very, very sad day to see this as the main political discourse instead of talking about taxes and details of plans they have about the environment or schools,” said University of New Mexico Law School student Zakary Quintero, 25, president of the Young Democrats of New Mexico.
Quintero said this election seems different from those in the recent past because of the rhetoric.
“It’s very divisive and hateful on both sides, regardless of party,” Quintero said.
The fiery rhetoric that has characterized this campaign isn’t confined to the major party candidates. Comparing 2016 to the last presidential election in 2012, Ryan Ansloan, chairman of the University of New Mexico College Republicans, said discussions are much more heated.
“This election has become so much about character traits and personalities. Conversations are more emotionally charged, more contentious,” Ansloan said.
Brian Sanderoff of Research & Polling, who has studied campaigns for 35 years, said people he encounters seem “a little more standoffish” about sharing their opinions.
“What I’m hearing most is people saying they’re not pleased with either candidate but they’ll vote for the lesser of two evils,” said Sanderoff.
With Election Day just weeks away, he’s been struck by how few bumper stickers he’s seen.
“Some cycles, people proudly wear their loyalties on the bumper of their cars; it’s interesting that this year there’s very little of that,” Sanderoff said.
Albuquerque psychiatrist Dr. Jeff Mitchell put magnetic “Hillary” signs on his vehicles but removed them after someone scratched his wife’s car while it sat in his driveway.
Mitchell, 72, said attitudes this year are very different from the 2008 election campaign. At the time, Mitchell was living in Oklahoma and planned to vote for Republican John McCain but switched to Barack Obama after McCain picked Sarah Palin as a running mate. Back then, he said, people were able to talk about their candidate choices openly.
“There were no heated discussions. This year people are much more careful,” said Mitchell. “If I were in a social setting where I wasn’t sure who was where, I would just keep my mouth shut. I wouldn’t be sharing my opinion.”
Fear or apathy?
Trump supporter Mary Lombardo of Albuquerque, 78, put a sticker on her car but said she was nervous for fear someone would damage the vehicle.
“I think people are not even wanting to tell others who they’re voting for – maybe they’re afraid, like I was afraid to put up stickers. Maybe people are afraid that they’ll get into something that is too heated.”
The lack of bumper stickers struck her as odd compared to previous elections.
“When Obama and (Mitt) Romney were running, there were signs all over the place, and yard signs – I haven’t seen very many of them either,” she said. “Either people are afraid to show who they’re voting for, or they’re apathetic.”
In an unofficial survey of Northeast Heights and East Mountain neighborhoods, the Journal saw one or two main party candidate yard signs and several dozen signs for former two-term governor Gary Johnson, the Libartarian Party candidate.
Tijeras artist Len Estill, 62, plans to vote for Johnson. She estimated there was only one Hillary sign and one Trump sign among the 125 homes in her subdivision.
“I do think this is a weird, weird year – there’s no good examples from the main parties. People are looking for something that aligns with their view more,” Estill said.
She said her family is politically divided; with a brother who is a strong Trump supporter.
“(He) feels so strongly about the election that the rest of us have decided not to even bring it up,” she said. Before a family wedding this spring, she and her other siblings agreed not to talk politics for fear of his reaction. “This was a time to be pleasant and happy,” said Estill.
‘Agree to disagree’
Doug McVicker, 84, a self-described “liberal through and through,” said he’s found it difficult to talk about the election with some of the older male Trump supporters he encounters at the Presybterian Healthplex gym.
“Emotions are so high that they won’t listen to you. They won’t talk about it rationally. So I don’t even try. I just talk to my friends about it that I know are on the same side that I’m on,” McVicker said.
Michael Trujillo, an associate professor of American Studies at UNM, said most of his immediate and extended family members support Clinton, but a few are vocal Trump supporters. That led to “some rough conversations,” he said, but there are fewer arguments now than a few months ago.
“I think that people have probably learned that these arguments are not going to be worked out. That you’re not going to persuade people,” Trujillo said.
Ron Bjornstad of Rio Rancho sits on the central committee for the Libertarian Party of New Mexico. His wife, though not a Trump supporter, is “more conservative leaning.”
“We agree to disagree,” Bjornstad said.
Indian-born Sabiha Quraishi, a Muslim who has lived in Albuquerque for 27 years, is a Democrat but, she said, “I’m not someone who goes out throwing my opinion around.”
She and her husband run a jewelry-making business and she is primarily concerned about the economy.
As a businesswoman she appreciates some of the things Trump has said about supporting manufacturers. However, she said his comments about restricting Muslims from entering the U.S. have made her and her community nervous.
“When you talk about polarization, it’s more than that, it’s hatred, plus being polarized, so it can go beyond the election,” Quraishi said.