The media is at the heart of freedom of speech and American democracy, it has also become the driver of all media elections since the 1950’s. It allows citizens to access information about candidates with the click of a button, and today we run into media coverage even more inadvertently than that. In fact, today 67% of adult Americans are active on Facebook and 62% of these Americans get their news on social media. This is why media has been detrimental in the current and past political elections. The media has rendered politics a participatory process between candidates and voters and vice versa. But more importantly it has made the election process more transparent and accessible. Ideally we would hope this would create a more democratic process. But unfortunately, media coverage isn’t as objective and well distributed as we think it is, and these biases and skews are driving the polls.
The power of the media has always been put into question. Does it drive fashion trends? Does it drive popularity in TV shows? Does is influence someone’s dietary choices? I don’t need to answer to my rhetorical questions. My point is, why wouldn’t it influence political choices! Media coverage drives the searches we are conducting, it drives the conversations we are having, and it drives the decisions we are making. Ultimately, the media isn’t just determining our likes and wants; it’s turning the cogs in the political machine and shaping America in the process. A study conducted by the Stanford’s Graduate School of Business concluded that voter’s opinions do in fact change when the individuals are brought to believe that their opinions are not supported by the majority or by the experts. In the study, 11.3% of the selected group of voters changed their opinion when in the study participants were shown fabricated poll results backed up by expert favored positions. This change stems from a need to be a part of the majority, and the belief that the majority holds the potential to indoctrinate voters. So regardless of whether the facts are true voters are going feel more comfortable voting for someone if they believe the majority is. Its no wonder that according to Google Trends the most researched question about the Presidential Debate is: “Who won the Presidential Debate?” and not “What were the positions taken on abortion by both candidates?”
According to politifact.com before Donald Trump was selected as the republican candidate, an analysis and fact check of his quotes proved that 41% of his statements were false, while his opponents (Ted Cruz) quotes where only 14% false. Yet Trumps daily social mentions from March to August were almost always higher than that of his opponents “best day” when Cruz received 31,802 media mentions. In addition, in light of the release of the scandalous news indicting Trump for sexual harassment, his hourly social sentiment has been down 56.21%, while Clintons is up 27.36%. And in the polls Clinton is leading 49.2% while Trumps number slowly falls and is now at 41.1%. It’s also no surprise that when Donald Trump announced his running mate Mike Pence on July 15th, his media mentions spiked and according to the Huffington Post, Trump neared Clinton in the polls with a 42.0% to 44.6% lead by Hillary. And when Clinton was nominated as the Democratic Party candidate her media mentions went through the roof and so did her poll ratings. A few days after the nomination poll ratings were 48.1% to 40.2% in her favor. In my eyes this data (and more) proves that media mentions are associated with political popularity and viewers sentiment and decision-making. Although the media might not be purposely creating media mentions to skew viewers’ opinions, it is definitely doing so to generate money and views. In the words of CBS Chairman, Leslie Moonves, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS”. This leads me to my conclusion: Unfortunately, drama sells. So the more news outlets keep publicizing a particular candidate based on what they think people want to hear, the more media mentions are going to occur, which lead to conversations, that result in voter decisions. In fact, a candidate’s popularity is not increased by articles that deliver substantial information about each candidate. But rather articles with flashy titles that sell and create views. This leads to uninformed citizens that are voting based on fictitious opinions created by media.
Nieman Lab, Nearly half of U.S. adults get news on Facebook, Pew says. By Joseph Lichterman, Oct 11th, 2016.
Nieman Lab, How much influence does media really have over elections? Digging into the data. By Jonathan Stray. Oct 11th, 2016.
Stanford Business, How Polls Influence Behaviors. By Bill Snyder. Oct 30th, 2012.
Geckoboard, The Social Media Race for the White House.
Google Trends, Presidential Debate 3. Oct19th, 2016.
The HuffPost, 2016 General Election: Trump vs. Clinton.
University of Vermont.
Enthusiastic adventurer, multi-passionate scatterbrain, with an insatiable love for skiing and the outdoors.
Rob Williams, Ph.D.
University of Vermont Professor of Media/Communication.