How many people are upset with politics-as-usual?
How many people feel that it's a gotcha game played by self-serving folk who care more about how much copy they get than what they deliver for constituents?
Far too many. This is why voter turnout is down, political disengagement is high and the public mood is stewing.
It's a bit of a chicken and egg problem, really - the more disengaged citizens become, the harder candidates need to sell. The ones best able to cut through the data smog, unfortunately, are all-too-often the ones who abuse the system the most.
While I understand, begrudgingly, the need to message and sell to gain traction in politics, I am much less forgiving when it comes to candidates teaching their volunteers that this is the way the game should work. That it's okay to bend the truth, skirt the rules and put the individual win ahead of the health of our democratic process.
I can remember one of the first campaigns I worked on where I was told complete untruths about an opposition candidate as a motivation tactic. It got me upset to the point where I vented to friends about what I'd heard. When I'd calmed down and did some homework, I realized that the line I'd been fed had no validity, at all. But by then the damage had been done.
This is how escalation happens. Impressionable young minds are given the wrong marching orders, find themselves in bitter contests without end and strangle civic discourse that much more. It's why there's a reduced oxygen flow in our politics.
It's also why there's such demand for authenticity in our politicians these days. We've learned to see the rhetoric as a reflection of the character of the speaker, not of those they are targeting.
Leaders have a responsibility to put the people and their communities before their wins. It means teaching youth how the system is supposed to function and empowering them with the ideals to get it back on track. It means leading by example.
When I see young people spouting divisive, manipulative rhetoric and smiling to themselves at their cleverness, knowing it'll earn a pat on the head from their candidate, I cringe. That sort of damage is hard to undo.
We deserve better. We demand better.
And thankfully, there are authentic leaders out there bold enough to deliver.