Voters Angry and Frustrated, but Thoughtful, Roadtripping Reporters Say

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from political conversations on WNYC. On this morning's Brian Lehrer Show, three political reporters recounted what they learned from voters on road trips around the country.

Joel Klein, political columnist for TIME Magazine, took a 6,000 mile trip criss-crossing the country to learn what voters are thinking this election season. Transportation Nation's Andrea Bernstein visited Michigan and Ohio, and Pop + Politics host Farai Chideya just returned from Florida.

They found voters angry at the state of the country and anxious about their own economic futures and those of their children, says Joel Klein.

There's a lot of frustrated anger. The first five minutes they start to vent but when you get past the first five minutes they start to express some real concerns and anxieties that are very reasonable and very logical. The biggest concern is that they don't think their kids are going to live as well as they have. That the country is sliding backward and they don't see a major recovery or where the next generation of new jobs are going to come from.

Andrea Bernstein says voters allowed themselves to be inspired in 2008 and now feel an emotional letdown. And while Michigan's economy may have been rescued from complete collapse by the auto company bailout, the Obama administration isn't getting a lot of gratitude, Bernstein says.

It hasn't gotten better, it's gotten worse in many cases. Unemployment has gone up in these areas. There was voter after voter who said to me, 'Where's the change?'. ...In Michigan I was talking about the GM bailout, where you would think that would be just a huge homerun. But no, people were sort of, 'why did the big company get something and I got nothing.'

Farai Chideya, who toured immigrant-heavy Florida and Arizona, says immigration policy is a major issue for many voters, and it is deeply linked to economic concerns.

Do you let more people into this country who you see as economic engines or do you bar people because they are economic deadweight? And that's a fundamental difference. We talked to this one guy from CondoVultures in Miami who said open the border, let people from other countries buy all of this property that is sitting here rotting, because Americans can't afford it. And that is completely different—needless to say—than a lot of other folks.

The reporters agreed that the changing face of the country, the extent of immigration to areas that did not previously experience it, and the perception of the president as somehow "other" has created an identity anxiety for a portion of the electorate. But the sentiment for many white people is significantly more nuanced, Bernstein says. Even in poor white counties that overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary, voters have put aside racially-tinged suspicion of Obama. According to Bernstein, they just want the economy to improve.

Chideya says people she spoke to are bereft of hope.

I think a lot of people are deadened. They are deadened to the possibility of a solutuion.

Bernstein says a voter she talked to in Ohio counseled doing nothing, a dramatic turnaround from 2008 when momentum and change was on so many lips.

This guy said...The best thing would be for nothing to happen, because whatever they do they could only make it worse.

Klein says while media have stuck to a narrative of an outraged and divided electorate, actual people are not so polarized. And they are sick of punditry replacing reporting.

I think there is more unanimity out there than we like to portray because contentiousness, we believe, gets an audience. But the audience is really getting a little tired of the contentiousness.

Listen to the entire conversation on The Brian Lehrer Show.