Creative Destruction

November 1, 2007

Horserace Politics

Filed under: Blogosphere,Election 2008,Politics and Elections — Brutus @ 11:33 am

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:

table 1

This graphic shows what the public gets:

table 2

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.

2 Comments »

  1. Yes, and I would add this phenomenon is worldwide. The French candidate did not win on issues, he just waited until the other candidate said anything and then jumped on her.

    But I think this is cause by the electorate who is not really knowledgeful of the issues and has a very limited attention span. Voters are polarized and as a consequence the candidates change their views.

    Let’s take gay weddings. 100% of candidates agree that gays should wed, it is a basic principle of their platform. But since gays already vote democratic, what ever the candidate says, there is not a single vote to be gained by saying you support gay weddings. On the other hand, if you say you oppose these weddings, you may get 5% more votes from center voters who would otherwise vote republican.

    This principle, when applied across the board implies: “Never support anything your voters want dearly but not dealy enough to vote for the other side.”

    Comment by Vilon — November 2, 2007 @ 9:38 am | Reply

  2. The fallacy here is the assumption that what people want and what they say they want are the same thing.

    A couple of decades ago the British Newspaper “The Star” polled its readers over whether it should continue its practice of showing a topless “page 3 girl”*. The result was decisively against, so it replaced them with ones of less-revealingly attired women.

    Result: Sales plummeted. Within days, the topless pictures were back.

    *Not actually on page 3 in “The Star”, the term refers to the location of similar pictures in the more popular newspaper “The Sun”.

    Comment by Daran — November 10, 2007 @ 12:28 am | Reply


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