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11/2/2018 6:39:00 PM
COMMENTARY: Political attack ads shed little light on issues that matter

Mark Bennett, Tribune-Star

Imagine standing in a room, surrounded by televisions screens playing an endless stream of political attack ads 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

A curious, ghostly figure walks into the scene, kind of like an upside-down version of “Field of Dreams,” and asks, “Is this hell?”

“No, this is the 2018 midterm election,” answers the TV room’s host.

Of course, most of these slickly produced, 30-second exaggerations provide little detail or thoughtful information on problems that real people face daily.

A poll released this week by the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics in Fort Wayne illuminates the disconnection between the attack ads that play such a dominant role in campaign strategies and the needs of actual Hoosiers who wake up every morning, hoping that today will be better than yesterday.

The center was created in honor of the late Downs, who taught and analyzed politics for 34 years at IPFW, the college now known as Purdue University Fort Wayne. It’s nonpartisan and led by Downs’ son, Andrew, a political science professor at the university.

Andrew and colleague Michael Wolf compiled a summary of the poll, which involved interviews of 1,400 adults in Indiana from Oct. 12 to 16 by the independent
 polling firm, SurveyUSA. A total of 1,048 of those 1,400 Hoosiers were registered to vote, so the survey focused on their answers.

The Indiana residents were asked, “What is the most important issue facing Indiana?” as well as “What is the most important issue facing the United States?”

And the top answers?

Well, on the national question, the No. 1 issue wasn’t the confirmation of judges. (It ranked 11th, with just 2 percent of respondents citing it has a top priority.) Taxes and spending? Nope. (That was fourth, mentioned first by 9 percent of folks.) Immigration. No. (That was third at 13 percent.) Actually, Hoosiers’ pick as the most important issue facing the United States was health care at 22 percent, followed by the economy and job creation (17 percent).

As for the top issue facing the state, the overwhelming choice was — drumroll, please — the condition of Hoosier highways. Twenty- six percent of the Indiana voters answering the survey ranked the viability of highways first. It was followed by the economy and jobs (22 percent), health care (17 percent) and education (13 percent).

Reliable, secure, well-maintained and adequately funded highways, roads and bridges matter every single day for adults who drive or ride in vehicles to work, appointments or activities, and to children who run in buses to school. The Indiana Legislature approved a significant boost in infrastructure funding last year, using an increase in the state gasoline tax to add $1.2 billion a year for highways, roads and bridges. But the job of maintaining roads is perpetual, and the state has a lot of catching up to do after many years of neglect and under-funding.

The American Society of Civil Engineers’ annual Infrastructure Report Card pointed out that driving on roads in need of repair costs Hoosier motorists an average of $272 a year extra.

Yet, that doesn’t translate into a sensational attack ad, with grainy pictures of a targeted candidate, scary villains and a sinister sounding narrator. It’s probably best to keep all of these visual and audible forms of persuasion in perspective. The producers could, no doubt, create an attack ad about any of us.

A deeper, more reasoned study of candidates for elected office is available. Their stances on those issues of high priority may take a little digging to find — newspapers (such as last Sunday’s Tribune-Star 2018 Election Guide) and reliable news outlets’ archives are good starting points — but they’ll yield a fuller picture of the people seeking votes.

Afterward, pop in a DVD of “Field of Dreams.” It’s Iowa, not heaven, but the lack of political ads will make it seem that way.

#YYYY# Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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