Only 17 percent of Americans approve of the overall performance of Congress, according to one recent Gallup survey. In another Gallup poll, other than the economy and jobs, dissatisfaction with government and politicians is seen as the most important problem facing the country today. In general, voters aren't happy with politics and politicians.
Those feelings were echoed by central Nebraska voters brought together recently at the Broken Bow Public Library by NET News for a roundtable discussion on election-year issues. The discussion was part of the NET News project "Campaign Connection 2012: Voter Voices." The six participants talked a lot about hot-button issues like health care and immigration (listen to an earlier story on this portion of the discussion). But without prompting, the conversation turned to something all agreed on: overall dissatisfaction with government, politics, politicians and elections.
"I think the public is just very upset," said Don Lydic, a retired University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension agent who lives in Gothenburg, Nebraska. Lydic was the only registered Democrat in the discussion, although he considers himself more of an independent.
"I think things are brewing with the young people that might bring us back to the '60s," he added. "Because they see that that might be the only way things will change."
"Another thing that disturbs me," said Connie Hansen, who lives in Broken Bow and is a microbiologist at a medical clinic, "is that if a falsehood or statements are made on television, because I think that's where most people get the news, if it's wrong in the first place and it gets repeated, over and over and over again, people begin to think that it's true. And no one calls them on that and says, Hey, wait a minute, this is not the way it really is.'"
Mike Steckler, a Broken Bow hospital administrator, said Congress needs to learn to reach across the aisle.
"I think there has to be some bipartisan solutions to things, rather than having everybody draw a line in the sand," he said. "Our solutions don't match the problems. It's kind of like we've got a solution, now we've got to go find a problem. I think we're going at it all backwards. Sit down with people who have an opinion and deal with that, rather than getting so polarized on everything."
Andra White agreed.
"When it comes down to it, I would say 90 percent of the population wants those discussions that you identify the problem and you come to the solution not based on your party and who's encouraging you to vote which way," she said. White lives on a farm near Broken Bow and works for a state contractor that provides services to foster children.
"You're not sure that your elected official, the person you vote for, is going to represent necessarily what you think, or what you had in mind, or what they ran on, or maybe even what their main platform was," she continued. "I think that uncertainty is there."
The group nodded in agreement when White wondered why it's so hard for politicians to work together. One answer came from the youngest voice at the table.
"I think it's probably because they all have deals with each other, and they all have agreements that they've made to kind of get to where they are," said Patrick Wright, a senior at Broken Bow High School and editor of the school paper. "Deals that they said they would try to do once they made office."
"The far left and the far right are where the big money's at," said Mike Evans, owner of a feed store in Broken Bow. "They're very polarizing. All the stuff in the middle you'd think you could get done, they don't care about common ground. And there's big money at stake. There's lots of money."
Our panel also had concerns that the way we elect our leaders may keep some of the best people from running.
"That vetting process that they go through, the ridiculous attacks on the families and the people, you know, no tougher job," Steckler said. "And it's going to get worse. It's going to get worse as we go into the season. You pull those people apart, and who wants to go through that? So if you're a good person, who wants to subject himself and his family to that?"
What would improve the political process? Our roundtable suggested stronger third parties, ending Super PACs and reducing campaign spending. They also suggested things might be better if Americans on the East and West Coasts would think and act more like Midwesterners.
We'd like you to also participate in the "Campaign Connection 2012: Voter Voices" project. Throughout the year we'll have locations at libraries throughout the state where you can record Voter Voices videos with your thoughts on election issues. You can also record and send a video from home. Learn more at the web site for the project, netNebraska.org/votervoices.