Las Vegas Sun

November 24, 2014

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Election 2008:

Taking it personally

Strong feelings about the election generate tension in relationships

After the bickering among stylists over John McCain and Barack Obama became so heated at a beauty salon, the shop was declared a politics-free zone.

At family gatherings, Jill Jasienki, 51, a mother of three, says, she’s had to put the kibosh on many a discussion between her teenage children (Go Obama!) and their grandparents (Go McCain!).

When a weekly gathering of Catholics in a Henderson home turned to how they would apply their Christian values on election day, backs stiffened and voices were raised when the members realized they were at odds with one another.

Debate over who should be our next president seems to have usurped the conversation in all areas of life: work, church, school, hockey practice, even couples counseling. And with the hot-button issues of race, gender and class warfare injected into the rhetoric, tensions surrounding this election may have eclipsed those of previous campaign seasons.

A New York Times poll this week found that opinions about the presidential candidates had hardened and a good number say it’s “extremely important” that their candidate win. Pollsters don’t measure intensity per se, but they do ask about “enthusiasm” and whether a voter is “paying close attention,” political consultant Dotty Lynch said, and on both of those measures 2008 rates historically high.

The yin to enthusiasm’s yang, though, is often exasperation and tense frustration — particularly when someone doesn’t share your view. It can get ugly.

At the Euphoria beauty salon in Henderson, politics might be off limits for employees, but the waiting area is still ripe for clients to go at it.

Assistant manager Priscilla Noble said a few weeks ago that one conversation about the election between two clients started friendly enough but soon turned hot.

“Luckily, one woman got called back for her appointment,” Noble said.

Some people are so passionate, they are eager to confront total strangers.

Bengy Gardner, 72. is such a dedicated Republican — he wears a worn McCain sticker on his shirt every day — that he campaigns on the 107 bus as it goes down Boulder Highway.

“I have conversations with everybody,” he said, leaning in real close and demonstrating a little of the forceful body language he presumably uses when talking politics.

His entreaties to people he thinks are Obama supporters often begin: “I’m voting for McCain. Who are you voting for?” He then launches into why it’s wrong to vote for anyone other than a Republican. Hostility normally ensues.

It’s one thing to disagree with a stranger on a bus about politics, quite another when you share a bed.

Jessica Cronin and her partner have acknowledged the political gap separating them is too wide to bridge, and have agreed to not talk politics, period. She said she also avoids the topic with her Democratic friends, lest someone throw something at her.

“All my friends are gay, so when I say I’m Republican, they all immediately go: ‘What’s wrong with you?’ ” Cronin said.

Even small church groups centered on sharing in a friendly environment aren’t immune to political bluster. Diane Hutton, 49, said the Catholic gathering she hosts weekly turned unusually edgy when the night’s program introduced politics.

The participants turned aggressive and assertive in taking their positions.

“This was the first time in our history, I believe, you could actually feel the tension,” she said, noting the group has known each other for years.

The session ran an hour longer than normal, and Hutton said people became stiff, their tone of voice changed and she could see in their fidgety body language they were uncomfortable. A couple of them sat back and didn’t say anything at all, with one telling Hutton she was just too intimidated to participate.

“We were only talking about politics because of the election,” she said. “Normally we steer clear of that.”

It’s enough to make one wonder: Is there a pill for this?

Jane Cisneros said she used to hate it when her fiance talked about politics, but now she can’t get enough information about what she calls “the most important election of my lifetime.” She said she practically mainlines conservative AM radio and is consumed with fear about what an Obama administration would mean for the country. Her anxiety sent her to the doctor.

“I’m not easily rattled. And I’m rattled,” she said. “I haven’t slept in three weeks.”

Michael DePriest, a psychiatrist with a private practice, said a good portion of his clients are using their therapy sessions to talk about the election.

“People feel helpless about a lot of issues, and the election is their one chance to have some kind of impact on their worries,” he said.

So people are taking opposing views personally — a vote against their candidate is like a vote against the solution they want for tangible woes, such as a home foreclosure.

He said one couple sought help coping with the friction of volunteering for opposing campaigns.

It’s easy to be sick of the whole thing.

On the comment board on the Sun Web site, one reader wrote about others turning every seemingly innocuous story into vitriolic political argument.

“Enough already,” user lvmachead wrote. “What are you going to do next Wednesday? Maybe get a life?”

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