Category Archives: Dan Centinello

Up on the Soap Box: How the Media Portrays Politics

Political intrigue abounds; a private argument turns swiftly into a public scandal. By the close of the first scene, a supporting character faces public scrutiny and a career-ending press conference – all of it machinated by a corrupt politician. When seen through the silver screen, politics is chock-full of nail-biting excitement and sensationalized drama. However, the day-to-day grind of political work falls far short of the Machiavellian epics viewers expect from their television shows. For those of us active in the field, the misconceptions regarding our work can be frustrating to fight against, if not downright damaging. Everyone loves a well-made fictional political drama, but what happens when voters forget the “fictional” modifier and take the toxic machinations they see on-screen as representative of real political action?

 

The political arena’s affiliation with cinema stretches back to the films of the early 20th century. Even then, depicted events were dramatized to appeal to mass audiences – and why wouldn’t they be? Consider a truthful medical show. The idea of watching a doctor work frantically to save someone’s life seems exciting…until you realize that doing so means viewing an hours-long tape of a surgeon poking around in the operating room. Film is inherently escapist; we choose to view movies and television episodes because they take us out of the banalities and stresses of day-to-day life and into an delightful (fictional) world where we ourselves have no stake in a story’s outcome. Film is meant to entertain, so it must be made entertaining. Thus, more accurate depictions of a politician reviewing policy documents or sending fundraising emails are set to the side; replaced by scandalous plot twists meant to entice viewers into watching just one more episode.

 

This isn’t to say that movies can’t tell us something about our political reality. The messages these pieces convey, however, are often more subtle than those we expect from direct political dramas. Think back to just before the Reagan era, in the 1970s and early 80s. As the decade turned, films such as Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind were released with much public acclaim. But wait, you might say – these aren’t political films at all! They both are and aren’t. In his article “Film, Politics, and Ideology: Reflections on Hollywood Film in the Age of Reagan,” film scholar Douglas Kellnes notes that the films rising to popularity in the years before Reagan’s administration increasingly showcased conservative values such as individual initiative and hard work (Star Wars), as well as a vilification of large, corrupt governments (The Parallex View). Interestingly enough, Kellnes finds that an analytical viewer could have predicted Reagan’s emergence as a conservative leader by noting the increased right-leaning principles expressed in the era’s popular films.

 

Where, then, does this leave us as politically-minded viewers? First, we need to keep the fictionality of the shows we watch in mind in order to combat the negative stereotypes created by politically-inspired shows. That way, we can trust in the professionalism our politicians demonstrate without waiting for the next scandal or paying attention to blatant sensationalism in the media. Then, we need to keep our metaphorical fingers on the pulse of American cinema. What are Americans watching? What does popular content tell us about the ideological leanings of our country? A little beyond-the-polls analysis may provide us with unconventional insight into our country’s ever-shifting political leanings.

 

Advice for Primary Elections

Gossip circulates in the months, if not years, leading up to races for prominent seats in government. Sometimes, a single offhand comment from a high-profile politician is all it takes to spark candidacy rumors. As the political hype gains momentum, the question begins to echo across news outlets and social media platforms – who will represent our interests in public office?

 

Primary elections in the United States offer interested party members their first opportunity to officially toss their hats in the ring and present themselves as candidates for office. It further serves to narrow the competition in preparation for the general election. In the primaries, voters are responsible for choosing a single candidate to represent their political party in political races. Each state has its own rules about who can vote for which candidate in the primary; some limit voters to choose only those representatives within their own party, while others allow all voters – regardless of their party registration – to vote for the candidate of their choice. Regardless of state-specific details, though, the primary elections present the first hurdles candidates need to clear in pursuit of public office, and thus require strategies different from those deployed in general elections.

 

Stay Positive

As I’ve written before, there are significant risks to diving into a negative campaign early on. According to statistics provided by the Conversation, a full 76% of television ads run in 2016 were character-based smear ads. The trend towards negativity is inarguable; however, candidates who utilize smear tactics run the risk of alienating otherwise interested voters. Moreover, surveys indicate that attack ads may in some cases drive voters toward the smeared party out of distaste for the attacking candidate and sympathy for the attacked. Candidates participating in primary elections should make an effort to stay positive for as long as possible in order to maintain the moral high ground and voters’ goodwill.

 

Start Early

Waiting to the last moment to declare candidacy may spark headlines, but the media flash a shock announcement makes will not have the same long-term effect that a quieter but more thorough PR job will. Candidates should begin building the foundation for their candidacy as soon as the time for campaigning draws near. If voters cannot recognize a candidate’s name or identify their core positions, that political hopeful is unlikely to succeed in the primaries.

 

Build a significant web presence.

The influence of online media cannot be understated. While traditional in-person events should never be allowed to fall by the wayside, candidates should spend a significant amount of their PR time and attention ensuring a strong online presence that accurately represents their character and politics. Having a sturdy, informative website and active social media profiles will help a candidate engage with voters in a way that isn’t always possible at large events.

 

The importance primary elections hold in our democratic system is considerable. These races challenge would-be candidates to prove themselves more suited to office than their peers and as such, demand careful strategic thought from candidates during a campaign.  Those who aspire to office should consider their plans for voter engagement carefully before leaping into the race.

The Importance Being Politically Involved in College

The-Importance-of-Being-Politically-Involved-in-College-HeaderOpinions are easy to have. It takes very little effort to lounge on a dorm couch and strike up an idle conversation about your thoughts on the latest healthcare reforms with a roommate, especially if that roommate happens to hold similar beliefs to yours. The chat might even end with mutual grumblings and complaints about the changes you know need to take place in order to eliminate the flaws you see in current policies. But by the end of the day, you decide that there isn’t anything that you, a college student, can do to back your words.

You would be wrong. College students have more power than they know; according to data from the 2014 Census, there are over 27.5 million United States citizens between the ages of 18 and 24. The reported number is far from insignificant – so why do college students so often feel that their beliefs don’t hold sway? Unfortunately, their own lack of action may be at fault: of those 27.5 million potential voters, only 4.7 million, or 17% of the pool actually submitted a vote.

These numbers are troubling, and reveal more than anything that while opinions may be easy to have, real change requires action more effort than what might be contributed to a dorm-room conversation. Luckily, there are a multitude of ways that college-age voters can enter into their political community.

Find an on-campus political group that aligns with your personal beliefs.

Nearly every campus will have clubs devoted to representing the interests of College Republicans or College Democrats – and often similar clubs for those who lean Independent or third-party. Decide which organization aligns most closely with your own political leanings, and send its president or communications officer an email! In all likelihood, they’ll welcome a new member.

Hold on-campus registration events.

The best way to combat political apathy in college students is to convince them that their voice matters. Encourage potential voters to do their part at the polls by holding voter registration events on-campus. In doing so, you’ll not only boost voter engagement, but foster a constructive climate of political activism at your school.

Bring a political candidate or activist to campus.

It’s all too easy for a student to disappear into the schoolwork-dominated campus bubble and lock out happenings in the non-academic world. Bring the political world into the academic sphere by inviting local political figures or activists to speak on campus. Even the students who don’t necessarily agree with the perspective your guest offers will benefit from the constructive debate that their visit will inevitably prompt. Moreover, a student’s renewed or changed feelings might inspire them to vote on the issues when they reach the polls.

College students are a vital subset of the voter population, and work needs to be done to boost their currently disheartening levels of engagement. Change is made by those who act – so get off the couch! Join whichever on-campus political organization you feel best represents your beliefs, and make the difference you want to see in your government.

The Negatives of Going Negative

Few things are guaranteed in political campaigns aside from the fact that there will be a winner, there will be a loser, and there will be a slew of negative campaign ads. Of course, many voters say that they don’t endorse “mudslinging,” as the practice is euphemistically known, but campaign ads that emphasize the weaknesses or outright attack a particular candidate or policy are remarkably common during election season. In fact, 76% of all television campaign ads from the 2016 general election—specifically the presidential race—were negative ads that attacked a candidate’s character.

Despite the ubiquity of campaign ads, there is little consensus on why or how they manage to influence voters. Some experts believe that a proliferation of negative ads can cause voters to become more pessimistic about both candidates that they don’t vote at all, which would imply that negative ads depress voter turnout rather than persuading candidates to vote for a certain candidate over the other. By contrast, others believe that negative ads can push voters to head to the polls by making them scared enough to vote against the candidate on the receiving end of all the negative ads.

Yet another school of thought suggests that negative ads are most effective in the early stages of a campaign when candidates have still not defined themselves to the voters. At this point, a negative ad can create an association between one candidate as immoral, untrustworthy, or incompetent, and that first impression can taint voters’ perceptions of said candidate for the duration of the election cycle (or, in some cases, even longer).

Even with the potential advantages of running a negative ad, they can backfire and do tremendous damage to the candidate who put forth the ad instead of the candidate targeted by it. For example, if a candidate tries to smear their opponent using a negative ad, the voters may feel solidarity with the candidate under fire and subsequently resent the candidate who created the ad, seeing him or her as duplicitous and underhanded. Additionally, even when negative ads are effective, they don’t necessarily convince the public to vote for you—they just convince them not to vote for your opponent—so you will still need to energize your supporters enough to go to the polls even in spite of successful negative campaigning.

When it comes to the final verdict on the use of negative ads in political campaigns, in the minds of many experts, the jury is still out. For some, they are an effective way to identify and differentiate between candidates; for others, negative ads only serve to undermine public faith in our officials and depress voter turnout. One thing that’s not up for debate, however, is the popularity of negative ands, and for better or for worse, it looks like they’re here to stay.

Advice for Door-to-Door Campaigning

One of the most hallowed traditions in American politics is the art of door-to-door campaigning. People love to meet the men and women who are vying for their votes, and there is arguably no better opportunity to connect with the voters who can carry you to victory than by talking to them about important issues from the comfort of their porches. On the other hand, knocking on doors can be an intimidating experience for some candidates and volunteers, so here’s some advice on how you can conduct door-to-door campaigning as effectively as possible.

Focus on Registered Voters

If you want to win, you need to gain the support of men and women who can actually vote, so make sure that your door-to-door efforts only target registered voters. You can organize a voter registration drive if you want to engage new sections of the electorate, but during door-to-door campaigning, you want to focus on the areas where you can earn the greatest possible return, and that means not sacrificing precious time with people who aren’t registered to vote. Contact your local board of election for an up-to-date list of registered voters in your district, city, or state.

Be Brief!

While it’s admirable for you spend an hour talking to each voter and winning them over to your positions, you simply don’t have the time for it. Aim to spend three minutes at each house: Give your name, a short description of what’s important to you and what you hope to achieve, offer the voter some campaign literature, and go to the next house.

Avoid Arguments

Perhaps the worst possible outcome during door-to-door campaigning is for the candidate to get caught in an argument with a constituent. To sidestep this potential trap, remain polite even when people get heated. Acknowledge the voter’s frustration—if they disagree with one of your positions, you can say, “I can see where you’re coming from” or “I can tell that you’re passionate about this topic”—and then move on.

Ask for Voters’ Support

Once you’ve put in the effort of knocking on a voter’s door and discussing your ideas with them, don’t just walk away: Ask for their support! The person will feel more energized about voting or volunteering if the candidate asks for their help directly, so make sure that you take advantage of this opportunity to engage new men and women with your campaign—plus, if they do offer their support, you can have your campaign staff take down their information and contact them about future events or get out the vote initiatives. It’s also a good idea to leave each voter with some literature that discusses your positions or explains how they can get more involved.

How to Maintain a Healthy Relationship with the Press

Although the First Amendment guarantees our right to a free press, relationships between the media and politicians have always been tense. For example, President John F. Kennedy had a relationship with the press that at times devolved into censorship, withholding of information, and at times deception in order to contain stories the administration considered hostile to its goals. The relationships between politicians and reporters doesn’t need to be so extreme, however, so if you’re running for office, take a look at what you can do to foster a healthy relationship with the press!

Don’t Hide

You may feel tempted to avoid talking to the press altogether, but this idea will more than likely backfire. If you don’t talk to the media and try to keep them at arm’s length, then they’ll grow to distrust you and try to dig into your past in an attempt to learn what, if anything, you’re trying to hide. In addition, if you refuse to discuss your ideas or your campaign with reporters, the result will be critical coverage and articles that may drive public opinion against you.

Instead, from time to time, reach out to journalists so that you can take control of the narrative of your campaign. You can set the terms of the meeting: If you want to talk in-depth about a policy or if you’re afraid of being ambushed by a large group of reporters, consider hosting one-on-one interviews. On the other hand, if you want to quickly issue a few statements and avoid looking like you’ve got something to hide, then regular press conferences might be the best approach for you.

Talk to a Range of Media Outlets

Resist the urge to grant press access only to the outlets that give you favorable coverage. This opens you up to accusations of cronyism and an unwillingness to listen to criticism. At the same time, since the audiences of the publications or programs that support you are most likely going to vote for you on election day, only reaching out to reporters who have covered you favorably isn’t going to attract many new or undecided voters–if any at all–to your cause.

With that in mind, stay in touch with a range of journalists, both those who support you as well as those who have been critical. You’ll dispel notions of favoritism or pandering while working to engage a broader swath of the electorate.

Be Honest

If you’re dishonest with a reporter and it comes to light, that might be the last thing you do as a candidate for public office. Lying destroys your credibility and reputation not just with the press but with the voters as well, and as a result, your campaign will more than likely be finished. You can work with your campaign staff to determine what language you want to use, but even when it’s uncomfortable to tell the truth, never, never, lie to the press!

Dan Centinello – Past Politics: American Politics in the 1950s

Halfway through the twentieth century, America had just come out victorious from the deadliest war in history. So, the 1950s was a decade of celebration. There’s a reason they call those born in the 1950s the baby boomer generation. The fifties were a time to focus on family and the American dream. Television was starting to catch up to films as a popular form of entertainment and the film industry was churning out stars like Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Sophia Loren. This was the decade when Elvis shook his pelvis and the Barbie doll was born.

Even with all the excitement, though, the 1950s was tinged with darker aspects (segregation, the Korean War, and the fear of Communism, to name a few). Here, we take a look at some of the important American political events between the years 1950-1959.

Republican President Dwight Eisenhower sworn into office in 1952

On November 4, 1952, Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower became the 34th president of the United States. Having served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces during World War  II, Eisenhower was a popular choice for president, but was a newcomer to politics. Among Eisenhower’s many achievements, include: launching the Interstate Highway System, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA). He also established a strong science education via the National Defense Education Act.

McCarthyism and the Red Scare

On April 22, 1954, Senator Joseph McCarthy commenced televised investigations into Communist activity in the United States Army, initiating a wave of paranoia that swept over the entire decade. The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), formed in 1938, also instilled a fear in Americans by investigating Communist activity in Hollywood, tarnishing the reputations of those artists who refused to cooperate. Congress voted to condemn McCarthy for his actions that same year, on December 2.

1954 Brown vs. Board of Education

A milestone in Civil Rights history, this May 17 Supreme Court ruling declared racial segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional according the the 14th Amendment guaranteeing equal protection. This precedent set forth a slow but steady process of integration of public schools.

Alaska and Hawaii admitted as states

Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th states, respectively, on January 3, 1959 and August 21, 1959.

Dan Centinello is an avid traveler and at  twenty-something, he’s already a political industry veteran who has worked on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. To learn more about Dan Centinello, visit the website for Lincoln Strategy Group where Dan is the executive vice president. You can also follow Dan Centinello on Twitter and Instagram.