Ahead of Mid-Terms, Journalist Covers 'Pop And Politics'
JACKI LYDEN, host:
This is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Michel Martin returns tomorrow.
Midterm elections are now six days away, and as we hope you know, we've been following a number of topics that have turned into strongly divisive campaign issues. There's immigration, of course, education, jobs, the deficit, the rising economic power of foreign nations, the rise of the other. In a moment, we'll look at a profusion of ads that characterize China as a threat to American jobs.
But, first, a look at how these divisive issues are playing out with the voters and how they're affecting the way voters relate to each other. With us now is journalist Farai Chideya. She's the host of POP AND POLITICS, a three-part midterm election series that looks at what's motivating voters. This series premieres tomorrow on many member stations.
Welcome. Glad to have you back, Farai.
FARAI CHIDEYA: Thank you, Jacki.
LYDEN: So, tell us briefly what you're looking to accomplish with this series.
CHIDEYA: You know, it's time for a check-in. I mean, this country has been through a lot in the past couple years with a very, very taxing economy, where we are just pressed to the wall, many of us, in our communities. And it brings up anxieties. You know, there's a clear link between economic anxiety and xenophobia. And so one of the things we wanted to do was look at the different ways people were communicating or failing to communicate about issues that are hard to talk about, like immigration, like how do you deal with persistent joblessness.
LYDEN: So in the first installment, you went to Florida, and you explored how race and ethnicity have influenced the climate there. In part two, you went to Arizona, where you talked to new voters. And you met one young man, Pedro Lopez, who's a new voter. He's 18 years old. He's volunteering to register other new Latino voters. Let's listen to a clip.
Mr. PEDRO LOPEZ: She's not a registered(ph) citizen yet. And her husband, I think, she said she's not sure if he's registered before. I don't get discouraged, because there's thousands and thousands of doors, and I just keep going. You know, if they don't answer, go to the next door and next door, and try to find the people.
LYDEN: So in traveling with Pedro Lopez, what did you find out about young voters and Latino voters in Arizona?
CHIDEYA: Well, first of all, Pedro is incredibly charismatic. He's this baby-faced, tall 18-year-old who has grown up on both sides of the U.S. border -U.S.-Mexico border, although he's a U.S. citizen. And he just really decided that this was his mission. And he's been living in a church basement in Yuma, Arizona, going out during the day, registering people. He has this friend who's 18, who he convinced - he met him at a youth, you know, voter event, and was, like, hey, man. You got to come out with me and help me register voters. And so he even got another friend of his to come along with him.
So he's got this charisma and this, you know, this beautiful belief, like, he believes in voting, which is unfortunately not something that, you know, we found a lot of people who don't believe in voting - not because they don't believe in a better America, but just because they believe that voting won't accomplish that.
LYDEN: Well, of course, immigration is perhaps the issue in Arizona. We know that that is where the controversial bill, SB1070, the anti-illegal immigration bill, was introduced - a lot of it struck down in the courts. But you talked to the bill's sponsor, Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce. Now, we've heard a lot of national debate on this issue. So how's it playing out with other kinds of voters in Arizona?
CHIDEYA: In Arizona, it is a complete lightening rod. You know, there are people who are on both sides of the debate who say that they've been harassed, spit on, you know, for expressing their opinion. You know, people who are - and it's definitely something that has people up in arms, whether they're immigration rights activists - like, we met at a group called Puente in Phoenix - or whether they are people like Pearce himself, whose son was shot by an immigrant who was here in the country illegally. His son was a Maricopa County sheriff's deputy.
And so he has a political relationship to this. He's been working for tougher immigration laws for years, but he also has a personal relationship to this.
LYDEN: Another person you talked to was Lisa Replogle of the Colorado River Tea Party in Yuma. You asked her whether people needed to take the emotion out of politics. Let's here what she said.
Ms. LISA REPLOGLE (Colorado River Tea Party): We need to have emotion in the political process, I believe, because it is an emotional issue. We are losing our country. We are losing our country to incredible deficits, to a government that will not listen to us. It is emotional.
LYDEN: Did you find, Farai, that that was true of most of the people you talked to? Was there an emotional investment?
CHIDEYA: Absolutely. You know, and I think that what Lisa pointed out is really important, that emotion in and of itself is not bad. We are emotional creatures, human beings. But what happens is - what gets nasty is when people take emotion and then use it as a weapon against other people. But...
LYDEN: Well, in promoting this series, you said in the last two years, speaking of emotion, that it's gone in the country from a group hug to angry and disappointed.
CHIDEYA: It has. I mean, you know, some people are still energized, like Pedro. He was such a breath of fresh air. But I think that anger, anxiety, resentment, disappointment are the emotions we saw more of.
LYDEN: You think that'll be reflected at the polls next week?
CHIDEYA: Well, you know, one thing is gender differences. Apparently, men who are angry tend to vote more and women get more discouraged. So we'll see whether any of that - you know, we'll have to see what the exit polls tell us about behavior. But I do think that people who are angry are motivated.
LYDEN: And how many places did you travel to, Farai?
CHIDEYA: We did these two road trips through Florida and Arizona, and we did those two states - specifically, we drove for hundreds of miles in each state, going to everything from retirement communities, places where, you know, 80 percent of the population was Latino, places - you know, Native American reservations. We did them because they encapsulated some of the biggest issues in America.
CHIDEYA: Spoke with - you know, and just got a microcosm of American life.
LYDEN: Farai Chideya's New Voters, New Challenges premieres tomorrow on public radio stations. She joined us from New York. Thank you.
CHIDEYA: Thank you.