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The Statehouse News Bureau provides educational, comprehensive coverage of legislation, elections, issues and other activities surrounding the Statehouse to Ohio's public radio and television stations.

'Threat to democracy' among top concerns for voters but candidates don't talk about it much

 Voter enters Franklin County Early Voting Center in 2020. [Daniel Konik /  Statehouse News Bureau]
Voter enters Franklin County Early Voting Center in 2020.

Recent polls show a concern for democracy is among the top issues voters are thinking about as they go to cast their ballot this fall. However, candidates are not hammering the issue on the campaign trail.

Ohio Democratic Party Chair Liz Walters said there’s a reason why candidates in her party are not talking about it much.

“That’s a very broad term that means very different things to different people. And so when you dig in on those cross tabs or you lift up that issue in a focus group, it's not what you think it is," Walters said.

Walters said when Democrats talk about a threat to democracy, the discussion often comes down to former President Donald Trump. Last month, President Joe Biden touched on that issue in a speech about the future of democracy.

Walters said, for Democrats, this issue is not about Trump but about Ohio's races for governor, U.S. Senate, and other state offices.

David Niven, political science professor at the University of Cincinnati, agreed it is hard for candidates to talk about democracy on the campaign trail.

“To Democrats it means we aren’t going to have elections anymore. To an awful lot of Trump followers, it’s a worry that we are going to have free and fair elections and they’re not going to like the outcome," Niven said.

Niven said there are a couple of other factors to consider. He noted Ohio was not one of the states Trump lost in the most recent presidential election so there hasn't been the fervor, fight, and intensity over the state's election process.

Secondly, he said the issue tends to be somewhat abstract and makes it difficult for candidates to talk about.

"It's something that is important to everyone's well-being but it's hard to see and it's hard to focus on in the moment when there are so many other issues going on," Niven said.

Niven said the issue of democracy is in the background of many races in Ohio, especially since some of the incumbent Ohio congressional candidates on the ballot this November voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

He described the danger to democracy as the moral equivalent of campaigning on “eat your vegetables." So, he said many candidates choose to focus on other issues.

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