October 7, 2004    AmericaPolitics

Why the Election Cannot Be About Real Issues

Part One - Why the 2000 Presidential Election ended in a tie

The opinions of 250 million people cannot be split 50-50 on any substantive issue, in the absence of significant external manipulation. In fact, if you polled 250 people about a new situation (where they had not had any previous input) it would be unlikely that there would be a split of opinion even as close as 45-55. In human society, most people will agree on most things, most of the time.

In the modern media age, public political opinion is actually more similar to an NBA basketball game, where two teams play for a couple of hours, and yet their final scores are usually within a few percent of each other (and sometimes tied, requiring an “overtime” period).

So, what this tells us is that current public opinion is really the “score” of a sporting event. The fact that the “score” was tied after months of campaigning shows merely that the two sides were of equal strength. Each party now has equal capability to influence voters. This is demonstrated by their roughly equivalent strength in the House and Senate, as well as the even split in the Presidential Vote. The media analysis of Republican states and Democrat states merely points out the areas staked out by the two sides, not any real substantive difference between two population groups of equal numbers.

The two parties constantly adjust their appeals and stands, in an effort to attract a larger portion of the public. Since they are evenly matched, every advance by one group is equaled by a similar advance by the other.

An example of this adjustment of positions is the recent passage by the Republicans of a new Medicare prescription drug entitlement, and proposals of a new guest worker plan. The former is an attempt to attract a larger number of senior citizens, and the latter is an attempt to attract a larger number of Hispanic voters. Current Republicans disapprove of both plans.

Another example is the current Democratic position criticizing the current deficit spending. However, during the last Democratic administration, it was the Republicans criticizing the deficit spending. Thus their positions on deficits change depending on who is on power.

The brilliance of the Founding Fathers is demonstrated in the effectiveness of the two-party system, which keeps any single group from having complete control over the government.

However, they could not have anticipated the impact of modern communications, which allows the two sides to have immediate access to the voters. This efficiency allows each side to quickly react to the statements of the other side, which makes the contests far closer than they would be in the absence of modern communications. Note that the first close election was also the first election with extensive television coverage - 1960, where the vote was 49.7% to 49.5%.

Even closer than the overall vote in 2000 was the vote in Florida. The difference between the two sides was less than 0.01%. Most telling was the fact that which side won changed depending on which method was used to count the votes. This means that mathematically, the vote was exactly tied, since both methods of counting are rational possibilities.

Note that Presidential campaigns think in terms of states, putting little effort into some states and much effort into other states. Florida was a state receiving full attention from both sides. And, with 6 million votes cast there, the tie is beyond any statistical variances.

The claim that one side would have easily won had there not been third party candidates is refuted by the analysis above. First off, it was clear from the media coverage beforehand that the election would be close. So, anyone who voted for a third party candidate was clearly opting out of the overall contest between the two sides. Their actions were the same as non-voters - pointedly failing to identify themselves with one side or the other.

Since the aim of each party is to win the election, then they will adjust their views on issues in any way that will achieve that outcome. So, even though their appeals are in terms of issues, those appeals have no likelihood of being fulfilled in terms of actual policies, because their positions are constantly being adjusted to garner more votes.

Part Two - The role of the news media

The media base their viability and appeal on the perception that they are merely presenting important events in an objective fashion.

In order to continue this perception, they have to appear to not favor either of the political parties.

This means that either party can have any position on any issue, without being challenged by the news media. Furthermore, any voice that does challenge any position of either party is thereby considered to be “partisan”, i.e. in support of one side or another. Thus, there is no possibility of any voice in society that actually examines any positions of the parties on the issues.

In fact, the whole meaning of the current term “partisan”, means that one supports one side or the other, in the exact same sense that one supports a sports team.

The illusion is given by the parties that one is supporting a particular point of view, but since the parties only have an allegiance to victory, rather than any particular point of view, this is just an illusion.

This is further demonstrated by the jockeying within the parties for support for particular stances on issues. If the parties had particular points of view, then such jockeying would be impossible. But the fact that it exists means that issues are simply items of barter. And, of course, they continue to be items of barter when lawmakers are governing the nation.

The above can never be pointed out by those who in the media who discuss either politics or issues of governance, because it would demonstrate that their activities were merely on behalf of the victory of one side or another, rather than on behalf of any point of view.

Then, why is the media so interested in presenting the politics, and the viewpoints of politicians? Simply because the concept of “news” is largely based on the idea that something different and new can happen (and be “reported”). And those new and different things can only be the result of the actions of governments.

Thus, the news media automatically consists of those who believe that there are things that are wrong that can be corrected by the government. Those who think the opposite are unlikely to pursue a career in news media, and those who are managers in the media are unlikely to hire them.

The result is that the media worldwide is one homogenous social group, who all try to conform to one perceived group point of view. This is demonstrated by the way all news media present the same stories, and even British news media present trivial news stories that originate in the US and elsewhere. There is now world coverage of “little girl who has fallen in a well” stories that have zero impact on the lives of more than a dozen people.

All of these processes that I have described occur automatically. Party executives who fail to win elections, are replaced by those who do win elections. Only positions that will win elections are adopted. And, since the media cannot be seen to attack the position of either party, the parties can even adopt positions that are false or even nonsensical - as long as those positions sound good to impressionable potential voters.

Thus, things have evolved to the point where a self-perpetuating communications entity continually propagates “issue positions” of the two political parties, which are created to fit the mental states of the voters, rather than to inform them about how they would govern.