I picked up the term horserace politics from Ampersand (who may have found it elsewhere). The term describes political coverage framed not in terms of the issues or platforms of the parties and candidates but in terms of the sheer competition, the race. I’ve opined that such thinking has made the practice of politics into a perpetual campaign. If the reorientation of the political sphere into a contentless swamp of personality and misfocus is not fully apparent, a report on a new study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism paints a pretty stark picture of how the mainstream media covers politics. This table shows what the public wants:
This graphic shows what the public gets:
It may be impossible (and probably pointless) say whether this discrepancy is more the fault of the media or the candidates themselves. No doubt, both are contributing to the syndrome. (Specifically, the avoidance of many candidates to take positions on political topics makes it impossible for journalists to restate the candidate’s positions coherently.) The blogosphere may be an antidote to the failure of the mainstream media to provide enough useful political coverage. Indeed, many believe that the blogosphere has at least partially revitalized the public sphere, which has been largely corrupted in the for-profit media. I tend to agree.