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Chamberlain 1 Timothy Chamberlain Media and Superficial Voter Apathy The political process provides a framework for making

decisions. It allows a nation to examine candidates for office and see their strengths, weaknesses, and general ability to hold office. Today, media plays a strong role influencing the voters perceptions of candidates and even what makes a good candidate. Through political debates, and advertising, media outlets promote a superficial examination of the candidates and conse uently voter apathy. To start off, I believe a little background information about my personal experience with politics and politicians is in order. !s a boy growing up in "onkers, #ew "ork, I was the son of an unheard political minority. $y family was politically conservative in a state of liberals but felt content with out status. %owever, we always knew we did not have a voice. &e would vote in elections and take the time to look at the difference candidates, but knew that if we do not vote for the 'emocratic (artys candidate) our candidate will probably not be elected. *f the +epublicans who did get elected, I perceived them as more liberal than some of the 'emocratic candidates. $y family and I perceived we were in the minority and the facts support that perception. ,rom this standpoint, I have observed two ma-or trends in voters response to politics and a way that media has pushed voters to these decisions. The first response I see is the lack of voter focus on issues. The 1./0 presidential candidate debate between 1ohn ,. 2ennedy and +ichard #ixon heralded a new age in voter candidate interaction 3 it was the first televised debate. (rior to that debate, #ixon was thought to be the front runner, but hindsight shows us that 2ennedy, the 'emocratic (arty candidate, won. $ost people will point to post4debate polls which show listeners on the radio thought #ixon won the debate while viewers on television thought

Chamberlain 5 2ennedy won 6$ehltretter, 78.9. %owever, as :ara $ehltretter and 'ale %erbeck point out in their article, ;Looks Count 650109 the empirical data is sadly lacking. That point aside, when media participants look back on those elections they remember that 2ennedy won because he looked better on camera than #ixon, not because he persuaded his audience to his point of view on ma-or national issues. &hat does this mean for the political arena today< I believe that it points to a focus on the outward appearance more than the issues. This debate was the first time the nation was able to see the candidates side by side. &hile face to face debates have been around for decades, the national platform provided a greater impact on the voter perception. !ccording to the newly elected president of the time, 2ennedy, he could not have won the election without the debates 6$ehltretter, 78.9. I believe that appearance, though a factor in the 1./0 election, was also a factor in the presidential election of 500=. This was the first race where the >nited :tates had the possibility of either an !frican4!merican (resident, or a female ?ice president 3 both unprecedented achievements. In that race, I believe that many voters viewed it as a civil rights issue 3 no matter what their political beliefs were. $any said the !merican people needed to have an !frican !merican president in order to bring the civil rights struggle to complete victory. &hile I am sure not all voters held this belief, I know that some did, and it may have been the difference in the race. The second ma-or trend in voter response, aside from lack of focus, is silence. ?oter apathy is a growing problem in the >nited :tates. ! @eorge $ason >niversity study shows the voter turnout for the 500= presidential election was 7/.. percent nationally. In other words, of all people eligible to vote, everyone of good mind over the age of 1=, a little more than half of them

Chamberlain A actually voted in the historic election 6>nited :tates Blections, 50159. ,rom this statistic, I conclude that voters are apathetic because they feel too busy to vote or do not have a voice that influences the election process. To address these issues I turn to a study by +obert :tein and @reg ?onnahme and statistics about the 500= presidential election. The idea that voting is inconvenient for voters was tested in study of ;vote centersC by :tein and ?onnahme 6500=9. In their study, they tested an election reform designed to reach the unengaged voter 6:tein, D=89. The reform supported the creation of vote centers or non4prescient based locations for voting on Blection 'ay. These centers would use county wide voter registration databases and be placed in ma-or population centers to ease the voting process 6D=89. Through their study, they found that the centers generally improved voter turnout and were especially effective with those who do not usually engage in the voting process. This move to make voting stations more accessible to the people heralds a general realiEation that people are not voting. %owever, I believe that this move is merely treating the symptoms rather than the root cause 3 media created voter apathy. (olitics and media en-oy a very close relationship. !ccording to the #ew "ork Times 6500=9 5./ billion dollars was spent on political advertising during 500=, a presidential election year. $edia, which counts heavily on advertising, need those billions to sustain their business. %owever, I believe that those advertisements are counterproductive from a political perspective. &here the media sources and political figures want to encourage voters to get out and vote, they end up actually encouraging the voter to stay home. In their study ;Blectoral Competition and the ?oterC 650119, :haun Fowler and Todd 'onovan examine the effect of campaign funds on voter perceptions of the competitiveness of a race. They determined that the more the candidates spend on media messages the more voters

Chamberlain D think the race is competitive. The more competitive the race, the more voters decide to go out and vote. Though these were secondary conclusions, I believe that I can safely conclude the converse is also trueG the less competitive a race seems the fewer eligible voters will vote. To back up my assertion, I again turn to the 500= presidential elections. !ccording to, then presidential candidate Farack *bama spent 8A0 million dollars on his campaign while his nearest competitor, +epublican 1ohn $cCain, only spent AAA million 6500=9. I believe that the results of the Fowler and 'onovan study point out a correlation between the differences in dollars spent to the margin of victory. &ith this almost two to one campaign spending difference, *bama went on to win the election A/7 electoral votes to 18A 6C##, 500=9. 'uring the election, I remember feeling the race was already won. I felt that *bama -ust had to sit tight and ride the wave of public support to victory. &hile I was not eligible to vote, I know that my blue state home coupled with the apparent lack of competition would have encouraged me to stay home. I submit that this feeling came directly from political advertising through the media. $edia has the wonderful status of being both a molder and a mirror. In one sense, mass media has the ability to promote social narratives and present a particular view of reality. $any of us understand what is socially acceptable because of what we have seen on television, heard on the radio, or read in the newspapers. $edia also has characteristics of a mirror in that itsH content has to be palatable. &ith the capitalist world of today, media has to entertain the viewers and give them what they want in order to make money and stay in business. &hen looking at political advertisements, I see a perfect melding of the two characteristics. *n one hand these advertisements act like a mirror by giving viewers information they think they want about the candidates like voting record or campaign promises. *n the other hand, these advertisements

Chamberlain 7 also directly affect voter perception about competitiveness and in turn, voter turnout. The sheer number of advertisements factors into the voters perception. ,our years after *bamas victory, the >nited :tates will hold another presidential election. &ith both ma-or party candidates starting to ramp up their campaign, politics, media, and advertising will intersect fre uently. &ill this increase in advertising effect voter response< I believe it will, for good or ill. Television, and more broadly mass media, has created a political scene difficult for candidates to navigate. They can spend the money and try to influence people to look at them as people instead of the issues or they do not spend the money on advertising and go with a party line or issue platform and lose voters. If they bombard the nation with a lot of advertisements, the momentum will shift in their direction) if they dont, it will shift in the other direction. This is the current state of politics and media. :hould it be this way< I submit it should not, though finding the road away from an apathetic nation may not be easy.

Chamberlain / &orks Cited IFanking on Fecoming (resident J *pen:ecrets.I Money in Politics -- See Who's Giving Who's Getting. #.p., n.d. &eb. 5D !pr. 5015.

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!pr. 5015. KhttpGLLwww.cnn.comLBNBCTI*#L500=LresultsLpresidentLM. :BBN"B, 2!T%!+I#B P.. I!bout Q5./ Fillion :pent on (olitical !ds in 500= 4 #" Politics $n" Govern%ent - 1231 Presi"enti$l W$tch - 4he C$ucus +log - #.p., n.d. &eb. 5D !pr. 5015. KhttpGLLthecaucus.blogs.nytimes.comL500=L15L05Labout45/4billion4spent4on4political4 ads4in4500=LM. :tein, +obert $., and @reg ?onnahme. IBngaging The >nengaged ?oterG ?ote Centers !nd ?oter Turnout.I 6ourn$l O! Politics 80.5 6500=9G D=84D.8. Politic$l Science Co%plete. &eb. 5D !pr. 5015. I>nited :tates Blections (ro-ect.I .nite" St$tes /lections Pro7ect. #.p., n.d. &eb. 57 !pr. 5015. KhttpGLLelections.gmu.eduLTurnoutR500=@.htmlM.