How TV Influences Elections
by Alex Cosper
Sunday, Ocotober 30, 2016
Does TV coverage have anything to do with who wins presidential elections? Since the 1950s, when TV became a part of everyone's living room furniture, sure. Before that candidates relied on news reels, radio and newspaper articles to get their message to the masses. Before film and radio it came down to print and public appearances.
Another piece of the puzzle to national exposure is television advertising, the most expensive medium for promoting you name it. Since third party candidates do not have the funds to pay for consistent expensive advertising, it's clear that presidential contests are based on reach and impact through media, not so much about issues. Swing voters (the flip floppers who use coin flips to decide) are perhaps the most important deciding factors in swinging elections one way of the other.
It doesn't take any research to predict how well a presidential candidate will do in the polls or on election day if their campaign budget is zero. It also doesn't take much research to forecast an election if the two major party candidates are spending multi-millions while third party candidates barely raise a million. The reality is that nearly half the eligible voters don't vote and the ones who do aren't necessarily voting about issues. They may despise both major parties, but vote for the "lesser of two evils" anyway.
Some people vote for third party candidates as "none of the above" protest votes. So the final tally isn't necessarily an accurate portrayal of "how America feels." Mathematically, it's possible for a largely unknown candidate such as Evan McMullin to win just the state of Utah then throw the vote to the House of Representatives, who would decide the election. That's the easiest way for a third party candidate to win, assuming they align with the House on issues. It's still statistically improbable (since it's never happened like that before, which factors into probability).
TV is notorious for programming people's minds about politics, especially those who live for conformity to be accepted in whatever circles they wind up in. People who stick with what their parents drilled into their heads at a young age about party loyalty are harder to sway.
But one thing most voters have in common regardless of party affiliation, is they accept media-programmed false dilemmas. Just as a TV is either off or on, TV programming teaches people to choose between this or that (as in good vs evil), rather than a long list of choices. Channel surfers now understand how much time can be wasted by flipping channels too much. So the choice quickly narrows down to comedy vs horror, drama vs documentary, sports vs news and so forth. More specific false dilemmas include Coke vs Pepsi, Ford vs GM, McDonald's vs Burger King and ground attack vs airstrike.
Deciding between government/media-defined packages like conservative vs liberal based on news soundbites is an easy way of getting out of doing lots of homework about things that most Americans don't know or care much about. More people watch the Super Bowl than vote in presidential elections. It's interesting that in football the word "conservative" is used frequently by sportscasters to label safe plays while the term "liberal" is non-existent.
Regardless of mathematical possibilities, Americans tend to give more slack to a wildcard football playoff team than to independent presidential candidates, even though independents outnumber both democrats and republicans. Why is that the case? Sportscasters tend to be easier on underdog teams than newscasters are on third parties in elections. A significant percentage of the public simply accepts speculative narratives as fact - if it's repeated by big media enough times.
Just like Y2K, if enough people believe a rumor, it can shake up a small percentage of people. In advertising, that small percentage equates to billions of dollars in return on investment. In elections, that small percentage proves swing voters who know little about issues can be more powerful than huge blocks of voters who care deeply about issues.
The 2016 election has been a see-saw battle between two well known TV stars, while three independent candidates, each doing better than normal in the polls, still have low numbers by comparison. So far since the television age began, no third party candidate has ever come close to winning the White House, but the few that made some kind of mark benefitted from TV coverage either from campaign advertising or appearing in nationally televised debates.
Donald Trump was a TV star on NBC for over a decade, which helped build his popularity. Hillary Clinton, by virtue of being married to President Clinton, became a TV star from the press coverage that comes with living in the White House, then she moved on to U.S. Senate and Secretary of State positions. It is unlikely Hillary Clinton would've rose to national fame just on her prior credentials, which included working for an Arkansas law firm and serving on the Board of Walmart. Why would national TV spend time on a lawyer in an obscure small state or an obscure board member of a corporation?
The reason the democratic and republican parties get so much automatic free news coverage is because they are each empires of wealth that spend hundreds of millions of dollars on campaign advertising. There's not much more to know about how the electoral process works, other than local and state elections are driven by other media vehicles than television, such as newspaper endorsements, direct mail and signage.
Midterm congressional elections had low turnouts in 2010 and 2014, which is how republicans won back the House in 2010 and then the Senate in 2014. There was no GOP revolution, as some networks boasted. All that happened was too many democrats stayed home in those elections, tilting those contests to the GOP. Perhaps they were turned off by so much negative TV advertising.
Does this sound like democracy? It's closer to "dumocracy," "media-ocracy" or just plain mediocrity. Gallup polls consistently have shown in recent years that independents represent the biggest block of voters. Throughout 2016, for example, independents were in the lead near 40%, followed by democrats at 32% and republicans at 27%. Yet that's nothing like how national elections actually turn out. It still comes down to a handful of swing states that decide presidential elections, regardless of where candidates stand on the issues.
The moral of the story is democracy will remain in jeopardy as long as big money controls it and TV brainwashed zombies keep going along with it. Message does matter in the sense that it's the primary motivation factor for millions of people to vote. But when about 5% of the voters - those undecided until the last minute coin-flippers - are really who decide presidential elections, democracy seems more like an ideal than a reality. Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy said it best in their 90s underground song "Television, The Drug of the Nation." Television feeds ignorance and breeds radiation.
Television soundbites and ads do impact elections, many times in the worst of ways. That's why it's important for people to take social media seriously, instead of treating it like a toy. It is possible to fix democracy and ensure that message-oriented candidates win, but it's going to take a lot of social reprogramming.