A list that seems to be everywhere on the Internet these days consists of tiny truth bombs designed to make you feel ancient — that MTV is almost 40, for example, or that most teenagers have never licked a stamp. Well, leave it to The Sentinel to make all of us feel young. As an institution that predated the Civil War by more than six decades, we’ve covered our fair share of elections. This year, we wanted to do something different — which, given how 2020 has played out, feels particularly apropos.
Our time-honored approach to elections is to get as much face time — now Zoom-time — as possible with the candidates and pepper them with your burning questions. And we ask a lot of questions — at campaign events, in race previews, during editorial board interviews and in the questionnaires candidates are wrapping up as we speak. All of this is designed to give you the answers you need to make informed decisions at the polls.
The missing element in this equation? You.
This year, rather than assume what you wanted the candidates to talk about as they compete for your vote, we asked you. We did this through a simple “Voter Values” survey posing that very question — advertised in print, online and in Facebook — and more than 90 of you answered.
We’ve already used your responses: They’ve guided the interviews by the editorial board and the reporters, and informed the questionnaires we sent out earlier this month.
But we wanted to take it a step further by presenting you with a rundown of the common themes that emerged, which are focusing our coverage.
This list isn’t comprehensive — we read plenty of questions about education, reproductive rights, guns and immigration, and we’re interested in knowing the candidates’ stances on these important issues, too.
But the topics below came up repeatedly, as you can see in the responses, available at sentinelsource.com/vote (several respondents asked that their question not be published). You can also go to that site to take the survey yourself.
Like people across the country, Monadnock Region residents want to hear candidates’ plans for addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. Many are concerned about the financial impact of the outbreak in their neighborhoods, and want leaders who can improve the local economy. Others want candidates with a roadmap for dealing with the health impacts — minimizing them as much as possible — and preparing for any pandemics or natural disasters going forward.
On the heels of a state unemployment rate that topped 17 percent in April and remained above 6 percent as of August, jobs were a common refrain here, as part of a broader set of questions about how to guide a post-pandemic economic rebound. Respondents also wanted to hear plans for helping small businesses, addressing wealth disparities and making housing more affordable.
Though there were nods to protecting endangered species and cleaning up pollution, respondents’ environmental concerns were squarely rooted in climate change. Some people specifically asked about candidates’ plans for reducing the reliance on fossil fuels in favor of green energy sources, and there was also interest in how individuals and businesses can be supported amid increasingly unpredictable weather.
Survey respondents are wary of empty promises, eager to know how candidates will hold themselves accountable in office. Campaign finance reform was a biggie, and there were some existential concerns about repairing the state of American democracy. As for intense partisanship? Whether describing it as “tribalism,” “party rhetoric” or good old-fashioned “feuding,” many of you just want it to stop.
Monadnock Region residents want to know what candidates would do to make health care more accessible and affordable, as well as their plans for mental health care, for funding peer support agencies and for lowering the cost of prescription drugs. Some people mentioned universal health care specifically, and want to know how candidates might help make it a reality.
In a year of massive protests against racism and police brutality, many people want to hear candidates speak about both. They used terms such as “fighting racism,” reducing “systemic racism” and promoting equality or “social justice.” Some connected that specifically with police reform.
“I want to hear about their perspectives on racial equity,” one wrote, noting that’s especially important because of the Monadnock Region’s relative lack of ethnic and racial diversity. “… I want to hear about the role of policing and how we can be looking toward the future while maintaining the positive values from the past.”
On taxes, Monadnock Region residents have two major questions: What is going to be done about property taxes and what is a candidate’s position on an income tax? The sentiment on the former was pretty consistent: They’re too high. One respondent asked what the state can do to lower that burden, especially for seniors at risk of losing their homes, and many wanted to know about more equitable approaches to funding education. Meanwhile, the income-tax issue drew interest on both sides.
Improving for the future
We also asked you as part of our survey to tell us what The Sentinel could do better. This was an optional question, so not everyone answered — but many did.
One answer that came up repeatedly was the need to keep bias out of reporting, report on “both sides” and keep opinions on the opinion page.
People also asked for candidates to be specific in their responses, and for us to print more in-depth answers to policy questions and how these issues affect people. This is key to being able to hold candidates accountable.
Others said they wanted us to write about the candidates sooner than we usually do, as they are voting by absentee ballot.
Here are some of the other things people told us:
“Focus on state issues and candidate positions that affect NH. All politics is local”
“Fact checking in writing. He said ‘xyz’ but actually ‘abc’”
“Be a gadfly about election security and accessibility; analysis of voting records if previously a legislator; if no history, then rundown of civic engagement”
“I think they’ve done a good job but would enjoy seeing more young voters’ opinions...I feel like everyone in the media is my dad’s age :)”
As for the notes on bias and representation, we hope people see themselves represented in our news stories. We know not everyone does, and this is something we’re working on. We aim to be fair and accurate in reporting the truth; if you see what you perceive as bias, let us know by emailing email@example.com
There’s much more we can improve on, to be sure. This will help, and we look forward to continuing our work to serve you better.