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Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Archive for September 13th, 2012

Ten things we’re told could influence the presidential election–but won’t

Posted by James McPherson on September 13, 2012

While President Obama’s lead over Mitt Romney seems to be widening and Romney seems to be sinking stupidly into dishonest John McCain-style desperation, and despite the fact that I’ve been predicting an Obama victory for some time, I do recognize that there is time for the electoral picture to change. Perhaps the debates will swing things in Romney’s favor, if he doesn’t offer to bet Obama $10,000 or if he suddenly becomes the anti-war candidate that Obama once pretended to be.

Or if Obama suddenly starts referring to Romney as “John” because he forgets which tall, stiff, rich Massachusetts flip-flopper he is debating. (Romney’s practice opponent has done this gig before, pretending to be John Edwards, Al Gore and Obama).

With the possibility of an electoral shift in mind, I offer the following list of ten things that media folks and others (I’ve fallen into one or two of the traps myself) often suggest will make a difference in presidential elections–but which, in fact, almost certainly won’t matter  in this or any future presidential election:

1) Your vote. I’ve discussed this at length elsewhere, so won’t go into detail here. But your presidential ballot has virtually no chance of affecting who becomes president. Still, you should turn out to vote: Cast a protest vote for president, and recognize that your ballot might mean something in a local election where fewer people vote.

2) Public opinion polls. At least those measuring the popular vote, since it’s the electoral vote that matters (ask Al Gore). And if we look at the Rasmussen poll (which I chose because it is considered one of the most politically conservative), we see that Obama has a big lead in the electoral count. According to Rasmussen, only seven toss-up states remain–Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, Virginia, Missouri and Colorado–and if Obama claims ONLY Florida, or Ohio and ANY ONE of the other six, or ANY THREE of the seven, he wins the election. By contrast, Rasmussen’s daily tracking poll would give you the impression that the election is close. And that impression would be wrong.

3) Citizens United. Yes, this was a horrible Supreme Court decision that lets corporations and lobbying groups spend too much power to try to influence elections. But that’s not necessarily much of a change. And there’s so much money in presidential politics that neither major party will lack enough funds to compete in the states that matter. On the other hand, just as your vote means more in local and state elections, big money also has more influence in those elections.

4) The current economy. Yes, since even before Bill Clinton, we’ve been hearing, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Maybe that was true in 1932. In fact, the economy today may even help Obama. To repeat, economic models tend to favor Obama, not Romney, in part because voters care more about trends than about where the economy sits.

5) Evangelical Protestants. Ironically, if these folks get their way in November, for the first time ever we won’t have a Protestant president, vice president or Supreme Court justice. Conservative Christian influence has probably peaked.

6) Candidates’ verbal gaffes. All candidates tire and say dumb things. The media then overplay the gaffes, but I doubt that voters make decisions based on the verbal slips of a candidate. (Again, the state level may be different.) Sarah Palin’s gaffes have mattered more than most because we heard so little else from her.

7) Cable news networks. There’s some evidence that Fox News changed the 1980 election, but probably not any election since then. Now every voter knows that Fox News is a house organ for the GOP, just as MSNBC has become for the Democrats. Besides, more Americans watch mainstream network news and any number of reality shows than watch anything on Fox News, MSNBC or CNN.

8) Convention platforms. Yes, I previously suggested that these might matter, and both the GOP platform and its Democratic counterpart drew attention during the conventions. Now they’ll be largely forgotten, including by the candidates themselves, until 2016.

9) Vice presidential candidates. Here again, at times I’ve thought these people mattered, but they haven’t since at least 1960. People vote for presidents, not vice presidents. Palin may have hurt McCain a bit, but she helped him first. And after eight years of George W. Bush, even Jesus Christ would have had a tough time winning as a Republican in 2008.

10) Candidates’ wives. Some are more glamorous than others. Some are smarter. Some bake better cookies. And until they run for office themselves, as Elizabeth Dole and Hillary Clinton did, they’re entertaining diversions that don’t matter much in the big picture.

So take some time to study local issues and vote thoughtfully. If you’re in a swing state, worry about things such as voter suppression that actually might influence the election. But stop worrying about things that won’t matter, anyway.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , | 41 Comments »