Election 2016: Misery in Missouri -- and everywhere else

Story highlights

  • Pollsters have found historically high unfavorability ratings for the two major party candidates
  • Many Missourians also spoke out against the negativity in politics

St. Louis, Missouri (CNN)In bellwether Missouri, there's one thing voters can agree on this sharply divided election cycle: misery.

From St. Louis and its suburbs south to Branson, voters here are vocal about an angst around next month's election. Many say they feel like they're choosing between the lesser of two evils, that the political dialogue feels sharply negative, and they are deeply fearful of what might happen if their preferred candidate loses.
    "It's just a sad year for politics, that's all," said Loretta Hon, a 66-year-old retired office manager who was picking up a Trump-Pence yard sign at the Fenton Days festival outside of St. Louis last weekend.
    Hon and her granddaughter, Erin Walters, a 20-year-old medical canvasser, both said they are voting for Donald Trump because they can't stomach Hillary Clinton. But as they carried off their yard signs, they said they were "not at all" excited about their vote.
    Missouri was once the quintessential swing state. For a century, from 1904 to 2004, it voted for the presidential winner in every election but one, since 1956. Since then it's veered more sharply Republican at the national level, and few strategists think Clinton has a serious shot at beating Trump in the Show Me State. Still its relatively diverse electorate provides a pretty good snapshot of the national mood.
    Sunday night's debate here at Washington University likely won't curb the bad feelings voters have about the race.
    Pollsters have found historically high unfavorability ratings for the two major party candidates. A national Monmouth University poll last week found 70% of voters say this election has brought out the worst in people, and only 4% say it has brought out the best. Less than one-third said the harsh language used on the trail is justified.
    Downstate in Hollister, a reliably red part of the Bible Belt, voters were also expressing discomfort with their choices.
    Randy Kate Summers, who will turn 18 before Election Day, and Hannah Coleman, 18, both said their families were voting for Trump and they probably would as well -- given their choices.
    "How I feel about it is, I don't want to be disrespectful, but the better of the worst," Summers said.
    "I don't think they're super excited about it," Coleman said of her family and friends. "It's kind of like the lesser of two evils. Neither side is like, 'Yay!' But I feel like Trump is better than Hillary because he is conservative."
    Neither Andrew Bolger, 31, an evangelical Christian pastor, and Grant Ryder, 27, a resident director at nearby College of the Ozarks, were prepared to choose a candidate.
    "I don't know how I'll make the decision this year, and honestly my wife and I were just discussing that recently," Bolger said. "This area is very conservative. I think most people are trying to decide of the lesser of two evils, and I never feel like that's the best way to make a decision. So I am kind of at a loss how to make that decision."
    Neither Bolger or Ryder said they could identify with any of the candidates, making the decision tougher.
    "I think a lot of people are torn between what they feel like they're supposed to do and maybe what they want to do," Ryder said. "I hear a lot of surprise and more shock as to who actually the two final candidates are, and I think there's a lot of distaste with those two people from the younger perspective. ... I'd say most of the responses I've heard are more kind of jokes."
    Many Missourians also spoke out against the negativity in politics, both in politician and surrogates' discourse and in campaign advertising.
    "I hate the ads," Hon said. "I hate it, all they do is cut each other down, and I don't think that should be part of politics. It wasn't that way when I was growing up and I think it's gotten out of control."
    For voters who are dedicated to their chosen candidates and excited to cast that vote, many still spoke of a fear of what might happen if the other side wins.
    Annette Read, 54, who is a director of the volunteer office supporting Trump in Fenton, said she's been excited about the prospect of a Trump political run since before he was a candidate. But she said that doesn't necessarily extend to the full GOP.
    "I don't like the direction the Republican Party has gone," she said. "We have so many people, even Democrats, saying, 'We don't want any more of these party politicians.'"
    Another volunteer in that office, Brinda Johnson, 66, a retired real estate developer, said she was a life-long Democrat who went to the convention for Clinton in 2008 -- until she read "Clinton Cash," a book that slams the Clintons for their family foundation and fundraising. She said she and her family have all switched to Trump out of distaste for Clinton.
    Meanwhile, at a phone bank volunteer night at Clinton's campaign office in St. Louis, volunteers spoke as much about their support for Clinton as their concern about Trump.
    "There is no question that Hillary needs to be president and not the alternative, that would be very bad for our country," said Lisa Marz-Browning, 66, a retired lab supervisor who said she usually votes Democratic but has voted for Republicans in the past.
    Jarvis Neal, a 22-year-old senior at nearby Lindenwood University who grew up not far from where Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, said that although he is not used to talking about politics, his professor convinced him to come phone bank. He added the election was "definitely ... important."
    "I feel like a lot of Democrats in this area are really scared, because no one wants Trump to win. Talking to my family and friends, if Trump wins, they're going to be devastated," Neal said.
    "This is not an election that I want to give to chance. I mean, the stakes are too high," said Lauren Davis, a 68-year-old retired public high school teacher. She said she is volunteering more than in the past, and donating a little more. "It's really time to step up to the plate to stop Trump and support Hillary."