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Politically Speaking is WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson's column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us.

Analysis: Many believe Ohio is a "ruby red" state. New poll shows they're wrong

signs on a lawn in medina ohio that read "hate has no home here" and "vote for integrity"
Tony Dejak
/
AP
Political signs are displayed, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, in Medina, Ohio.

Are you one of those who feel out of place in Ohio these days?

Uncomfortable with all the MAGA/QAnon jibber-jabber in a state that voted for Donald Trump for president not once, but twice?

Feeling like you don’t belong in a state with a legislature run by right-wing Republicans that constantly churn out far-out, extremist legislation on everything from abortion to gun rights to butting into classrooms to go after the straw man of "critical race theory?"

Well, I have some good news for you.

You're not the problem. They are.

You're not out of step with the majority of Ohioans on most of these hot-button issues. The Republican legislature is.

I give you Exhibit A: a new Baldwin Wallace University poll of 856 registered voters in Ohio, which shows that Ohio voters' views on issues such as abortion rights, same-sex marriage, recreational marijuana and gun control are actually very much more progressive than conservative.

And the poll shows that most Ohio voters say that even the elected officials they like do only a "fair" or "poor" job of representing their views.

This poll makes a very strong case that Ohioans are not the knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing dimwits they are often portrayed to be in the national news media.

"The portrayal of Ohio in the national media is that we are like some northern version of Mississippi or Alabama," said David B. Cohen, professor of political science at the University of Akron. "That's just not true. That's not even close."

I wish I had a nickel for every story I have read in the national media that states, as a matter of fact, that Ohio is a "red state." It is nothing of the kind. Ohio is a purple state.

"The portrayal of Ohio in the national media is that we are like some northern version of Mississippi or Alabama. That's just not true. That's not even close."
David B. Cohen, professor of political science at the University of Akron

Here are some of the major findings from the poll, many of which surprised even the researchers at the Berea, Ohio, university:

  • Abortion: 59% of voters say they would amend Ohio’s constitution to make access to abortion a fundamental right.    
  • Recreational marijuana: 58% believe recreational use of marijuana should be legalized.   
  • Same-sex marriage: 60% say Congress should pass a law to legalize same-sex marriage throughout the U.S.
  • Gun restrictions: Majorities of all demographic groups, including conservatives and gun owners, support a number of steps often referred to as "common sense" gun restrictions. A whopping 85% favor expanding background checks for gun purchasers aged 18 to 21, 79% support raising the minimum age to buy an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21, and 75% approve of "red flag" laws that allow police to temporarily remove guns from owners deemed to pose a danger. Those are rather emphatic numbers.
  • Teaching racism and sexual orientation: Three quarters of Ohioans surveyed support teaching both the history and impact of racism in public schools, while 57% support teaching middle and high schoolers about sexual orientation.
  • Climate change: Two out of three Ohioans believe global climate change is caused, at least in part, by human activity. A majority supports steps to mitigate climate change impact, such as planting more trees, restricting carbon emissions and setting
  • Student loan forgiveness: While many GOP lawmakers in the state were critical of President Joe Biden’s move to erase some federal student loan debt for borrowers, the poll found 64% of Ohio voters say at least some student loan debt should be forgiven. 

Lauren Copeland, a political science professor at Baldwin Wallace and associate director of the school's Community Research Institute, said the results were not at all what she expected.

"I was shocked," Copeland said. "Shocked to the point where I was going back and double-checking everything to make sure it was right."

Copeland said she has family members in Chicago who have a much different view of Ohio than what the poll reveals.

"They are always asking me, 'What is wrong with people in Ohio? Are they just all crazy?' " Copeland said. "Now I have something to show them."

The poll did show some areas where Ohioans hold more conservative views.

One was on transgender issues, where voters disapproved of medical care for minors who make gender transitions by a 41-point margin. They also oppose transgender athletes playing on teams that match their identities by a 39-point margin.

But there was a time, not that long ago, when Ohioans were just as opposed to same-sex marriage. And that has completely turned the other way.

Overall, the poll was clear: Ohio voters are much more "progressive" than they are given credit for.

"I was shocked. Shocked to the point where I was going back and double-checking everything to make sure it was right."
Lauren Copeland, political science professor at Baldwin Wallace and associate director of the school's Community Research Institute

"There really is a disconnect between what the people support and what the legislature does," Copeland said.

There are three reasons for that, Copeland said: 1. Gerrymandering by Republicans in the legislature has given the GOP very conservative districts in which to run, particularly in the state's rural and suburban areas; 2. most general election elections for legislative seats are not competitive; and 3. primaries are dominated by the most extreme candidates.

"It's really disconcerting that people in Ohio don't have a government in tune with their wishes," Copeland said.

The poll shows clearly, Copeland said, that Ohioans are in the mainstream of political thought in this country.

"Ohio is actually not much different than most Americans on the issues," Copeland said. "The disconcerting part is that, clearly, the people of Ohio don't have a government in tune with their wishes."

Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.