23 April 2008

The Demise of the Television Audience Hits Politics

OK, this is a bit complicated, so hang in for a second.

We're all quite familiar with how the television has changed over our lifetime (my lifetime). When I first watched "Days of our Lives" with my Mom, television was black in white in so many ways. We had two or three channels (NBC, CBS, and ETV sometimes) on our black and white set. Clear cut choices, either this or that. ABC joined the mix on some weird second dial (the regular channels went 2-13, and ABC was on Channel 16).

Fast forward to today, and I have a couple dozen high-definition channels and who knows how many channels (I stumble upon new channels when I'm surfing the guide). I can watch shows on stations so specialized now that the interested audience seems to be the size of our neighborhood. The major network's viewers have fractured their viewing behaviors as they have become more nuanced in the specifics of what they do and don't want to watch.

So what does that have to do with the price of tea in China? Plenty.

Obama and Clinton are in a slugfest for the Democratic nomination while McCain sits with the Republican nomination. Democratic Party officials wring their hands about the damage this is causing while the GOP squeals with glee. And what is the difference?

Proportional delegates vs winner-take-all.

You see, we Americans no longer do what we're told nor think what we're supposed to. Pundits are searching for the next Soccer Mom category of citizens that, if only they could figure out the segment's characteristics and then bombard them with marketing, could get them elected.

Let's look at how neatly I fit into a category. I'm fiscally conservative, have a passion for taking on our long-term problems, was vehemently against invading Iraq yet feel we now can't quickly pull out, feel we have to reinvent ourselves on the global stage, pro-NAFTA, feel manufacturing jobs leaving the US will only accelerate, socially compassionate, passionately pro-public education yet feel the greatest problem with US education is rooted in our social problems (single parent homes, lack of parental involvement in their child's education in pre-K through middle school), green but not a nutjob. What will my criteria be for casting my vote in November? I haven't the foggiest.

And that's just me. If the GOP had a proportional scheme for linking primary votes to delegate assignment, I assure you we'd still have candidates banging one another. Jump up to 30,000 feet, and the question starts to look like this: who gets to decide on our next President? Suburbanites? Southern working class? The struggling poor? Those over 50? Those under 30? If there is any lesson that we can gain from this campaign, it's that the US is no longer a clean-cut nation. I would guess we haven't been for awhile; regardless, we're a fractured nation. If we had a parliamentary system, where niche groups built a coalition to select a Prime Minister, I assume we would quickly see a dozen political parties and new governments on a pace more like Israel's revolving door than our current model.

Is this a good assessment, should we care, what does this mean to the three candidates and two parties, and what does this mean for each of us?


Blogger Dr. Pauly said...

We have two major political parties. Iceland has over 20. We have almost 300 million citizens. They have roughly a population of 300,000.

In a country as vast as America, we're basically given two choices... Coke or Pepsi... and when it comes down to it, they almost taste the same.

I feel your pain as to figure out which candidate fits into your personal political views. Sadly, none of them are up to snuff.

12:52 PM  
Blogger Astin said...

And Canada has 1/10th the US population and 3.5 viable parties (Bloc Quebcois is only viable within Quebec, but has a lot of power), with a 5th (Green) creeping up the legitimacy ladder.

But who decides who wins your Presidency? The voters. The trick isn't to pick a demographic, it's to pick a demographic that actually votes. Be it the Christian right, soccer moms, or someone else entirely. The prevailing idea of "it doesn't matter who you vote for, the government gets in." destroys voter enthusiasm. If any of the three frontrunners get in and continue with the same old song and dance, you can bet the election following this year's will set record lows for turnout.

2:43 PM  

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