How to cope with election overload

  • Article by: KIM ODE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 13, 2012 - 3:29 PM

As the political season nears the finish line, our lives are being invaded by a barrage of ads, phone polls, social media and door-knocking. Are there strategies to shut it out?

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Linda Warner disconnected the land-line phone in her Minneapolis home. In South St. Paul, Shirley Munz is avoiding local or network TV until after the election.

With less than four weeks before Election Day, only this much is certain: More ads, more phone polls, more fliers and more door-knockers will result in more interruptions, more shouting, more litter and more intrusions when all you want to do is sip a glass of wine and actually finish the last chapter before book club this month.

Is this how democracy is supposed to feel?

How a campaign enters our field of vision has moved far beyond bumper stickers and lawn signs. On Pinterest, dozens of boards are devoted to both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney -- this on a website more often about cool shoes and hot hors d'oeuvres.

If you play online video games, you might see Obama's face on a billboard. In 2008, he became the first presidential candidate to embed a political ad in an online video game, in states allowing early voting. This year, the president may be glimpsed on 18 online games purchased by players in swing states in an effort to target males between ages 18 and 34.

Granted, some folks are avid fans of the horse race. They yearn to be polled, and carefully parse each leaflet's claims. Their Facebook posts always mean to illuminate, even when they pontificate, denigrate or agitate.

For others, though, the horses can't cross the finish line soon enough.

One factor in the campaign fatigue simply may be how long the candidates have been on the stump. It can seem like they started running for re-election as soon as they were sworn into office.

Hillary Robertson of St. Paul wishes "we had a six-week election season instead of a two-year one."

"I mean, [an election] is important, but it doesn't need to be important for two years," she said, adding that she rather likes the British system that enables elections to be "called" when warranted by Parliament. "I just love that they say, 'Election in six weeks. Go!'

"I wish we could have a federal mandate that says no campaigning until a certain point," she said. "It would never fly, but it's a lovely pipe dream."

Drawing lines in the sand

How did elections come to feel so onerous to some? One reason is how easily campaigns can reach us, albeit with our invitation. We answer the phone, turn on the TV, log on to a computer, follow our Twitter peeps.

Therein lies the issue: It can feel as if our daily routines have been hijacked by "Vote for me." Or, as likely, "My opponent is an idiot." There's a great temptation to lash out -- or simply check out, which hardly feels like engaged citizenship.

The challenge is how to "culturally cope," said Mark Daniels, a counselor at Genesys Counseling Minneapolis who often sees clients stressed out by the modern world, The first step may be in recognizing how campaigns work.

"Everyone gets wrapped up in whether this is Republican or Democrat, and they don't realize that both parties really are about the same in what they're doing to us," Daniels said. "There's class warfare going on all over the place," with political parties having a vested interest in keeping voters at odds with one another.

"It's causing an enormous amount of stress among normal, everyday people who are just trying to live their lives in the midst of this constant anger over everything," he said.

Blocking and unblocking

A Facebook query asking how people cope with campaign overload provided some insight.

Avoiding network TV was a common response, but cable is hardly an oasis. There may not be candidate ads, but some story lines wear their politics quite plainly on their rolled-up sleeves. Some praised caller ID, enabling them to answer only familiar numbers and avoid pollsters.

Robertson, an event planner, clicked the "Hide" option on some Facebook friends whose incessant political posts became tiresome; she'll disinter them after the election.

"I've blocked a lot of the blogs that I usually follow when they've started getting political or they cross the line in their tone -- OK, you're outta here," she said, adding that she'll probably unblock them after Election Day.

Taking action, whether to distance yourself or to more fully engage, can help with feeling overwhelmed or aggravated, Daniels said.

"If you can step back, observe what's going on, stop listening to the rhetoric and read between the lines instead of just listening to what you agree with, you'll start to feel like you have a little more control over things," he said. "If you have something to say, figure out who it is you want to say it to, and have your say. Contact your representative. Write a letter. This is your opinion."

After the votes have been tallied, he said, life will start settling down -- at least until the next crisis comes along.

"The sad part about it is that it's not going to stop," he said of the potential for feeling barraged. "No matter which candidate wins, it's going to continue because a lot of people aren't going to be happy either way. You just want to understand what you can control and what you can't. And we'll get through it again."

Kim Ode • 612-673-7185

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