James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

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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Posts Tagged ‘campaigns’

How many cell phone users won’t vote for a black guy?

Posted by James McPherson on October 15, 2008

I raise the above question–not a serious one–to highlight a couple of issues that concern pollsters who worry that today’s political polls may be flawed. The first is the so-called “Bradley effect,” which supposes that many people who tell pollsters they favor an African American candidate will then cast ballots for a white candidate instead.

With Barack Obama we’ve also heard discussion of a supposed “reverse Bradley effect,” which theorizes that some white people might not openly admit they’ll cross racial lines to vote, but under certain conditions (such as a compelling individual candidate or a collapsing economy while the white candidate’s party is in the White House)  will do so in the privacy of the polling booth.

Another issue, raised by the National Journal today, is related to cell phone usage. As I noted back in August when I predicted a substantial Barack Obama victory: “Many surveys rely heavily on phone interviews, which tend to underrepresent college students and techno-savvy people who rely on cell phones and/or computer phone services instead of traditional landlines. Yet those people are the ones who seem to be among Obama’s most enthusiastic supporters. I would not be surprised in this election to see Obama’s numbers underrepresented by 5 percent or more in many polls.”

I actually hope the polls are screwed up (assuming my favored candidate wins, of course); maybe then journalists will stop relying so much on polling for political coverage. Unfortunately if the polls are significantly wrong, many people will suspect another culprit: voter fraud.

Conservatives are now beating a drum about ACORN–despite the facts that the voter registration problems involving signature gatherers were discovered and reported by the organization itself, that no real problem exists (after all, “Mickey Mouse isn’t showing up on election day, and states have safeguards built in), and that the ploy is an obvious Republican smear designed to harm the credibility of the organization.

As Editor & Publisher points out, it is too bad (though perhaps not surprising) that so many in the media have helped hype the story, while turning a blind eye to the type of voter problems that may have cost Democrats the presidency in both 2000 (in Florida) and 2004 (in Ohio), and which Republicans are pursuing for this election, as well. “The allegations can also help cover up actual election fraud undertaken on behalf of McCain,” author Glenn W. Smith writes, adding that the media seem to find the more common situations that limit voter turnout to be somehow less egregious than the remote possibility that someone might accidentally be allowed to cast a vote: “Exclusion is a tradition with deep roots in our cultural narratives and founding documents. Historically accustomed as we are to exclusion, maybe we don’t judge it to be news.”

As for the supposed “threat” of ACORN, John McCain characterized the organization more fairly a couple of years ago as a keynote speaker FOR the group. You can see his remarks, along with more voter fraud discussion, in the first video (from “Countdown”) below. If you have the stomach for it, the second video–with claims similar to those made in an ad that drew a “pants on fire” rating from PolitiFact.org, shows the new, dishonest, attacking McCain perspective. In about an hour from this writing, we’ll see which version shows up for the debate.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Video, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Stay home–your vote won’t count anyway

Posted by James McPherson on July 30, 2008

That headline is a bit of an exaggeration, but I’ve known for a long time that, for the vast majority of us, our votes don’t matter.

Aside from the fact that each individual vote is such a small percentage of the whole that your vote is far more likely to be subject to accidental disqualification than to be the electoral decider, relatively few of us vote in states where our individual votes are likely to count. I spent most of my life voting in very red states, so there was no reason not to vote for an independent candidate  (my way of registering a small protest, since the Republican candidate was assured all of my state’s electoral votes, and I figured staying home indicated nothing but apathy). That’s part of the reason that protest voters such as PUMAs usually don’t matter much.

We also saw massive ballot problems in 2000 in Florida, and in 2004 in Ohio. As it turns out, most of us had no idea how bad it is.  As Heidi Stevenson points out in a truthout article this week:

Voting rights are under systematic attack in the United States. Techniques include:

  • Outright disenfranchisement.
  • Vote switching in election machines.
  • Refusal to allow the public to see how votes are counted.
  • Use of the people’s courts by political parties and corporations to subvert the law.
  • Use of lawsuit threats by large corporations against cash-strapped local governments to prevent them from examining voting machines.

As we used to say when presenting a good hand during a dorm card game: “Read it and weep.” But then send a copy to your local mainstream media outlets and your legislators, demanding action.

Posted in History, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Lying politicians

Posted by James McPherson on June 22, 2008

You may think that headline is the opposite of an oxymoron–so obvious as to be not worth stating. If so, you’re right; more on that in a moment.

David Brooks and others are beside themselves over Barack Obama’s change of heart–or lie–about accepting public financing. Of course, though I happen to think Brooks is a decent guy (and Slate magazine has called him “America’s one genuinely likable conservative”), he probably should be the last person to complain about inconsistency, based on his own record.

The point remains, however, that Obama flipflopped. He said he would accept public financing, then–when it was clear that he would raise a ton of money and be able to vastly outspend John McCain–Obama raise the spectre of conservative 527’s (think Swift Boats) expected to help McCain and declared that he would not accept it, after all. Personally, though I wish Obama hadn’t made the original pledge, I think a president who can change his mind when faced with new information is a good thing.

As several columnists and bloggers have noted, campaign financing is not the sort of issue that most voters are likely notice or care much about (especially this early in the campaign season). Brooks even suggests that the reversal indicates that Obama is “the most effectively political creature we’ve seen in decades” who boasts a necessary tough side that critics sometimes overlook: “Global affairs ain’t beanbag. If we’re going to have a president who is going to go toe to toe with the likes of Vladimir Putin, maybe it is better that he should have a ruthlessly opportunist Fast Eddie Obama lurking inside.”

McCain also has been crying foul, but of course he has flip-flopped on taxes and energy policy–two issues that voters do care about–and therefore has little room to complain. Besides, even if Obama “lied” (knowing that he would change positions if conditions changed), that merely puts him in good company. Almost all politicians lie (like most of the rest of us, for that matter). And presidents certainly do, as illustrated in Eric Alterman’s book When Presidents Lie, which my sister gave me for Christmas.

Alterman’s last chapter is titled “George Bush and the Post-Truth Presidency.” In fact, either Obama or McCain would have difficulty catching up with the lies of the current president, who seems bound to one day end up on this ignoble list.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »