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Have your say: Economy helped shape election climate

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After today voters will be given a reprieve from political ads, polls and forecasting.

No longer will they have to filter through mailboxes regularly filled with candidates’ fliers to get to their magazines, bills and letters. No more five-minute commercial blocks from candidates demonizing each other while praising themselves.

Television viewers won’t find any more contentious presidential debates or detailed analyses on which candidate has the best chance at being elected to the White House.

At the end of today, it’s all over.

At least until the next congressional election in 2014 and presidential election in 2016. Then it’s all going to start again.

Years from now people most likely will remember this year’s election as the one that was shaped by the global financial crisis. The economy crashing caused people to panic, and when that happens people become more entrenched in their political beliefs, Purdue political science professor Jay McCann and Indiana State University assistant political science professor Matthew Bergbower said.

Still, while tension has seemingly been on the rise during the state and national campaigns, political science professors in Indiana said this year’s election climate is no worse other years.

“We’ve not been without negative campaigning,” longtime political science observer Brian Vargus said.

The rhetoric in this year’s election may seem worse than usual because the country’s economic recovery and people’s livelihoods have been tied to the results. Voters believe the economic policies the winner drafts will either help or hurt their ability to earn a living, McCann and Bergbower said.

When Barack Obama was elected president four years ago the country was on the verge of an economic disaster, with some anticipating a second Great Depression. Since then people who have been worrying about how well the economy was recovering have reverted to whatever innate political beliefs they held, McCann said.

McCann equates the polarized political climate to a driver’s reaction when an oncoming car crosses the center line — drivers don’t think, they react with the action they believe will save their life.

The same principle applies to voters, who see potential economic collapse as the oncoming car, McCann said.

For example, if someone believes that bailouts helped save the economy, they’re going to support the candidates who voted for them or who said they were essential to the nation’s economic recovery. And someone who believes the bailouts were unnecessary will support candidates who say they never should have happened in the first place, McCann said.

This is also the first election in which super political action committees had the ability to raise and spend hundreds of millions of dollars in support or opposition of candidates.

But it’s unknown whether any of the money spent or ads aired is making any difference, McCann and Bergbower said.

Advertisements are effective at energizing Republican and Democratic bases, but beyond that it’s difficult to tell how persuasive they are, McCann and Bergbower said.

Voters are more likely to change their minds when they get information from a relative, friend or someone they trust, McCann said.

But while Indiana airwaves regularly carry political ads, swing states including Ohio, Colorado and Florida are seeing even more, they said.

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