John L. Micek, 3/29/2016 [Archive]

Presidential Race Taking a Toll on Voters

By John L. Micek

So this is one of those good news/bad news kind of stories.

First, the good news: Often justly mocked for their apathy and lack of engagement in public affairs, Americans are paying intensely close attention to this year's presidential election.

Now the bad news: The more they hear about the election, the less they like it.

Seventy-one percent of respondents to a nationwide Gallup poll are "giving quite a lot of thought" to the 2016 campaign, up from 63 percent in January. But those who are "extremely" or "very enthusiastic" about voting dipped by 5 percentage points, from 48 percent in January to 43 percent in March.

The enthusiasm gap is more pronounced among Republicans -- who saw their edge slip by 5 percentage points since January, the Gallup poll found.

That left Democrats and the GOP deadlocked at 46 percent apiece in their eagerness to cast a ballot.

And who can blame them? There's plenty of depressing news for both parties.

During the run-up to last week's Utah caucuses, an anti-Trump super PAC circulated a social media ad featuring a near-nude Melania Trump, the candidate's wife, that had been published in an overseas edition of GQ magazine more than a decade ago.

The ad was intended to sway voters to Trump's GOP rival, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, by slut-shaming Mrs. Trump in the eyes of Utah's conservative Mormon women (who didn't like Trump anyway).

Cruz went on to win - big. Trump finished third, behind Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

The ad was appalling and Cruz disavowed any involvement.

A furious Trump hopped on Twitter, where, in one of his customary late-night blasts, he told Cruz to back off or he'd "spill the beans" on the Texas senator's wife, Heidi Cruz.

What Trump meant was entirely unclear. But some took it as a reference to Mrs. Cruz's struggles with depression.

As beans go, there was not much to spill. Buzzfeed's McKay Coppins and Megan Apper broke the story last March about a 2005 collision with depression which Mrs. Cruz came through with "the love and support of her husband and family," the campaign said.

And if that indeed was the case, then shaming Mrs. Cruz for her fight with a disease that annually afflicts nearly 15 million Americans every year is disgusting and unbecoming of a presidential candidate.

The week ended with Trump retweeting an unflattering picture of Mrs. Cruz next to what appeared to be an airbrushed photo of his wife.

And Cruz, shortly after telling Trump to leave his wife "the hell alone," got hit with allegations of multiple affairs in a National Enquirer story where the only on-the-record source was a former Trump adviser.

Trump, of course, denied any involvement. Still, during an interview Sunday on ABC's "This Week," Trump couldn't help himself.

"There are things about Heidi that I don't want to talk about," he said, according to Slate.

On the Democratic side of the ledger, front-runner Hillary Clinton last this month was justifiably hammered for resorting to the most contorted syntax known to man when a reporter asked her if she'd ever lied to the public.

She faces an FBI investigation over what can charitably be described as her emailing habits. And she has high-handedly threatened not to participate in any more Democratic debates unless Sanders minds his manners.

Speaking of Sanders, if he has skeletons lurking in his closet, they have mercifully yet to shake.

That's the race - and it's measurably taking a toll on the electorate.

So what's all this mean?

Let's return to Gallup: "Americans are clearly paying attention to the election, and given that thought is a good predictor of turnout in November, this year could see a rebound from the 2012 turnout levels."

So, y'know, we have that going for us.

Now all we have to do is survive until November...

——

©Copyright 2016 John L. Micek, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

An award-winning political journalist, Micek is the Opinion Editor and Political Columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at jmicek@pennlive.com.

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