When I started thinking about what I wanted to write today and how I wanted to try to say what I was thinking, I decided it was probably too abstract (as many of my posts tend to be) and would be too hard to explain. Then as I was reading Politico.com, I noticed that someone, or really 2 people, had done it for me. The only difference was these two professors explained “The Myth of the Angry Voter” in the context of history and facts; and I wanted to blame the media.
In trying to figure out how to explore this notion of the “angry electorate” that seems to be leading many political shows and commentaries right now. Something didn’t make sense to me. For example, it feels like fewer people are paying attention to politics than 2 years ago and those that are paying attention are either the Tea Partiers or those vehemently opposed to the Tea Party’s existence. But then it hit me- blame the media.
More often than not lately, I’ve found that this blog which started out as a way to air my political ideas and work out many of the kinks in my reasoning has digressed into trying to decipher political realities vs. media perceptions. A few of my goals both in The Pickle and more broadly as a potential career are to explain politics more clearly, to offer a different perspective than the 2 main parties, and to excite people (readers, friends, relatives, law school classmates and occasionally the random train commuter) about our capabilities as a people through government. Yet, it seems like the media creates two main obstacles.
First, the 24/7, split-second news cycle creates stories out of any piece of news or political minutia available. This has bogged down both our elected officials and journalists in “politics” rather than the in-depth problem-solving, governing and reporting that might be much more beneficial. These key individuals are spending more time on Twitter, HuffingtonPost and Politico responding to tweets, blogs and posts than actually working. On the other hand, this could easily be a reflection of our society- voters and viewers. We want drama, gossip and name-calling. This symbiotic relationship has driven politics down into the nitty-gritty and further removed from substance. As a voter and viewer myself, this is entertaining but hampers deeper analysis and real change.
Second, the media can quickly make a story feel larger or more important given the unlimited amount of airtime and attention it can be given. I think this “angry voter” theme is just that. As Abramowitz and Sabato point out, the polls and stats do not show any greater unrest than is usual for a midterm election. Yet, there is reason to believe that it is the level of outrage among a smaller group of voters which is being generalized across the entire country. This brings me back to my original point.
History, it seems, is repeating itself. This midterm election will not be earth-shattering or Congress-altering. Yet, in this new age of journalism, you’d never know it. Is that good? Is this simply an old industry catching up with the changing times? During this “adjustment period,” blogs report on rumors, tweets become newsworthy and everything is a big story. After which, I am hoping there is a period of stability and reflection that causes us to reexamine how we consume political news and the level of attention required to monitor our politicians.
For now, I am going to assume that this election, though hyped on CNN and elsewhere, will come and go without too much changing. Most of America is not unhappy, angry, disenfranchised or whatever, but rather unable to maintain the political zeal of the 2008 election. Those that are able to harness their frustration in the wake of President Obama’s election have made enough noise that the media mistook the volume for the source(s). It’s louder than ever but that volume appears to be coming from fewer people.
Yet, I can’t help but think if the voters are fired up, demanding new candidates, and engaged in politics, it could point toward a trend of political activism and passion that grew out of a reaction to W’s second term, became evident in Obama’s campaign, and has been kept alive by the Tea Partiers. If true, this could point toward a larger transition taking place in America that could determine which direction this country ultimately chooses. More on that tomorrow in Part 2.