Tag Archives: Politics

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.

 

How to Get Kids Excited About Politics

How young is too young for political conversation? Most countries require their citizens to be at least 18 years old before voting, reasoning that by that age, younger voters have the reason and thoughtfulness required to do their part in charting their nation’s future. But what does this limitation mean for those under the age of 18? Should they be encouraged to engage in political discussion even though they haven’t reached the designated age?

 

I would say with absolute certainty, yes.

 

Kids understand more than we give them credit for. Too often, we assume that children won’t be interested in or won’t understand political happenings. However, by acting on our assumptions and cutting interested kids out of the conversation, we potentially handicap their interest and engagement in political action later in life. Think hypothetically for a moment. Two newly-minted voters stand in line to vote; one comes from a politically apathetic family and only bothers to briefly look up which candidate fell within his political party before meandering out to vote. The other grew up discussing politics almost daily with his family and can explain his rationale for choosing his candidate to anyone who asks. Who would you rather have at the ballot box?

 

Political engagement doesn’t have an age restriction. We need to encourage our kids to participate in the political conversation and teach them how to think critically about the candidates they align themselves with. Otherwise, we run the risk of turning our political decisions over to a generation of apathetic voters. Don’t lock kids out of the conversation; bring them in!

 

Bring the Child Into Conversation

Children ask a lot of questions, especially if the adults in their lives are visibly passionate about a subject. Although it might seem tedious to go over basic political ideas, you should do so for the child’s sake. Once they understand the foundation of an issue, they can build on that knowledge and comprehend more complex subjects. Give them a voice! The best way to inspire interest in political conversation is to make a child feel as though their thoughts and opinions are welcome.

 

Allow for Gentle Debate

By and large, children tend to align with their parents’ political beliefs. However, this isn’t a given – and children should never be shot down for airing different beliefs. Talk through both sides of an issue, and gently ask your child to explain why they hold their position. Calm, thoughtful debate is a constructive exercise in critical political thinking.

 

Use Metaphors

Many adults don’t understand the finer points of tax reform – so why would a child? Try to stick to digestible subjects that can be simplified. Opt for metaphors that relate to the child’s experience, such as casting an election as a game or contest. A little reframing can do wonders for a child’s understanding.

 

Next time a child asks for context in a political conversation, give it to them! By bringing them into the conversation, you just might spark a lifelong interest in political thought.

 

How to Get Involved in Local Politics

Talking about a problem is easy; fixing it is harder. Our current political landscape is rife with division and controversy, with passionate voters taking to social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to express their frustrations. However, an angry post only goes so far in our fast-paced media culture; to make a real impact, voters need to take action by participating in their local politics and building the change they want to see in their communities. For those without personal connections to their local political office, this might seem difficult – how can they step up? Will they be welcome when they do?

 

The answer is a wholehearted yes – more helping hands are always needed during campaigns and at party headquarters. Below, I’ve listed a few ways that interested party members can get involved in local politics.

 

Attend meetings

You can’t make a difference if you don’t show up. Make the effort to sit in on party meetings; by doing so, you’ll make connections with local influencers and learn more about the specific issues facing your community. Most local meetings are open to all members of the party – simply call your local headquarters to find out when and where they will be held.

 

Help out at your local party headquarters

Local offices always need an extra pair of hands. You probably won’t be ushered into important strategy meetings within your first day, week, or month of participation – but you will make connections and set yourself up for greater responsibility down the road! Commit to spending a few hours each week at party headquarters stuffing envelopes and answering phones. It may not be glamorous work, but those at party headquarters will appreciate your time and effort.

 

Volunteer your skills during campaigns

Campaigns are perpetually in need of volunteers with social media, verbal, and written communication skills. Figure out what you do well, and offer your services! Reach out to those you know in your local political community and make a case for why you would be of use to the campaign. If you don’t have personal connections to the political milieu, don’t give up hope; write a brief cover letter and resume and visit the party office to submit your application. In all likelihood, the campaign will have something for someone with your skill set to do.

 

Build a network

Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and make connections! Introduce yourself to local influencers and start conversations about relevant political issues. Establish yourself as a dedicated, knowledgeable party member by staying informed on local political happenings. For information on your regional elected officials, search through USA.gov’s index.

 

Breaking into political life can be difficult if you lack personal connections to local influencers; however, every community member has the potential to become a leader with enough will and effort. Change can’t be made on a message board – so get involved! You might find yourself running for office one day.

 

The Electoral College System, Decoded

The Electoral College falls into a nebulous area of public knowledge – everyone knows that it exists, but many are hard-pressed to give a description of how it works. In most cases, the question yields a few stammered sentences and ends with a sheepish admission of uncertainty. Despite the general confusion surrounding it and its purpose, the Electoral College system is easy enough to appreciate with a little reading. Below, I’ve included a few of the most commonly asked questions about the mechanics of the system – but for more detailed information, I highly recommend browsing the research offerings on the National Archives and Records Administration’s website.

 

What is the Electoral College?

The electoral college is the apparatus by which the president of the United States is elected. When the college convenes, its 538 electors, or members, vote on behalf of their constituents to determine which of the candidates will become president.

 

How does it work?

Chosen electors from all 50 states and the District of Columbia cast their vote for president on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December during a presidential election year. The College does not physically convene in the same space; instead, electors gather in their state capitals to cast their votes. Then, their ballot choices are sent to the president of the Senate for counting. Once the votes are tallied, the Senate president is responsible for announcing the election verdict before the gathered House and Senate.

 

Why do we need it?

The electoral college solves a number of problems posed by a purely popular vote.

 

Firstly, it prevents majority interests from tyrannizing those of the minority during an election since the electors are trusted to ensure candidates will fairly represent national interests and not special interests that may malign their underrepresented fellow citizens.

 

Secondly, the electoral college encourages coalition-building. Think of it this way: Significantly more people (i.e., voters) live in cities than rural communities; thus, candidates focused solely on winning the popular vote might choose to dedicate their time to prioritize urban interests over rural ones. By removing the political incentive to hold some communities above others, the electoral college system forces candidates to build effective coalitions of voters and pay equal attention to the needs of all constituencies.

 

Additionally, the college mitigates the impact of voter fraud by making it harder for would-be manipulators to predict which precincts to target for malicious activities that can  skew electoral results. In a purely democratic system, any vote stolen – regardless of region or place of origin – could potentially throw the outcome of an election.

 

How are states’ electoral votes distributed?

Excepting Maine and Nebraska, the states and the District of Columbia submit their electoral votes in favor of the candidate who won the most votes within their jurisdiction.

 

What happens if the electoral college doesn’t have a clear winner?

Candidates must have at least 270 votes – a clear majority – to win the election via the electoral college system. If neither candidate manages to gather the required number of votes, the decision is passed over to the House of Representative. There, each state is allotted a single vote regardless of its size and number of representatives, and the presidency goes to whichever candidate receives the most votes. However, the House is not responsible for selecting a vice president – that task remains with the Senate. Given this, an election decided within the House could potentially leave the new administration with a president and vice president from differing parties.   

 

Who can be an elector?

While the details of the system used to choosing electors vary from state to state, the general process remains the same. Selecting electors begins at state party conventions, where potential electors are chosen from a pool of elected officials, party leaders, and political affiliates of the party’s presidential candidate. Once voting closes within the state, the prospectives affiliated with the winning candidate begin their roles as the state’s Electors.

 

If I’m technically voting for an elector, why are the candidates’ names on my ballot?

When citizens cast their votes for a presidential candidate, they aren’t voting for the candidate per se, but rather for the slated electors expected to vote for that candidate. While electors can technically vote for whoever they like, they are trusted to vote for a certain person before casting their votes – moreover, 29 states have laws specifically forbidding electors from voting for a candidate other than the one they pledged to select. For that reason, most ballots simply list the names of the candidates the electors have sworn to vote for, rather than the names of the electors themselves.

 

If the electoral college technically decides the presidency, does my vote matter?

YES! The Electoral College may determine the outcome of the presidential election, but ordinary voters have a tremendous collective influence on its decision. Voters in every state need to turn out on election day to select electors who will represent their political interests to the College.

 

Your voice matters. Back your beliefs and support your political candidates by heading to the polls on election days!

 

Camera Ready: How to Prep for a Televised Interview

The day is September 28, 1960, and depending on how you tuned in, Richard Nixon just won a historic debate against John F. Kennedy. Most historical sources name JFK as the winner of that debate in September – but had it not been for the onset of broadcast television in politics, Nixon may well have been listed as the winner. According to TIME magazine, those surveyed after the debate fell into two remarkably disparate camps: those who had heard the debate over radio broadcast and believed Nixon had won handily, and those who had watched the debate on live television and thought that JFK had snatched a victory.

 

This particular event was a turning point for politicians and the media. Prior to that day, coverage for political events were confined to radio broadcasts. The onset of television coverage allowed the American people to see the politicians they had previously only heard – and the televised Nixon, who was still pale and recovering from a recent hospitalization, appeared frail against the younger and more vital-looking JFK.

 

From a standpoint of logical debate, Nixon may have been the winner of the night – but under the harsh gaze of a camera, he was left disadvantaged. When broadcasted across radio waves, a candidate’s points are boiled down to the bare arguments and policies.  Television, in contrast, pushes the viewers to make additional judgements based on a candidate’s body language, wardrobe, and expression.

 

If Nixon’s hardship with television teaches aspiring politicians anything, it is that candidates should be prepared to face the media in all of its forms. Readying for an interview requires considerable thought and dedicated preparation time. Here few steps a candidate should complete before a broadcast interview.

 

Set the interview context.

Where will the interview take place? How long will it be expected to continue for? Which topics will you be discussing?

 

All of these questions need to be answered in detail before a candidate tapes on a mic. An interview at a campaign office has a different context and requires different in-office preparation than an interview recorded at a studio. A candidate who walks in without proper knowledge of what the interview will be focused on risks appearing confused, disorganized, or even uninformed on-camera.

 

Walk in prepared! Set expectations well before the interview date, and arrange accordingly.

 

Do your research.

“Winging it” may have been a useful strategy during college finals, but it should never be included in a candidate’s toolbox. The last thing aspiring political figures want is to appear out-of-touch with current political events – or worse, with their own policies.

 

Make sure to review national and local current events as well as your held campaign policies and the opposition’s arguments against them. Have snappy quotes and statistics in hand to support your position, and consider running a few recorded practice interviews. This will not only help you prepare, but it will also help you find body language or tics that translate poorly on screen.

 

Prepare your staff.

Most reporters won’t be satisfied with simply talking to a candidate – to get a full picture, they may wander around the office in search of a talkative campaign aide. Remember, everything is on the record unless a specific agreement is made to prohibit recorded comment – so talk to your staff! Warn them of the reporter’s visit well in advance, and then again on the day of the interview. Circulate a memo with official talking points to avoid confusion, and consider appointing a media-savvy staffer to act as a guide for the reporter.  

 

Finally, remember to clean up the campaign office before the visit! No candidate wants to be known as the politician who can’t keep their own house in order.

 

Stay clear, concise, and on-message.

Speakers will do nearly anything to avoid awkward silences – and reporters know it! In fact, many use long pauses as a means to encourage the interviewee to talk more. Left unchecked, a nervous interviewee might break off onto a rambling tangent, and drop their well-thought-out talking points.


Stay concise and directed! Answer questions, but remember not to wander off onto conversational paths that will land you in hot political water later. Prepare clear talking points, and stick to them!

 

Building positive rapport with the media is a must for all candidates – so prepare for interviews accordingly! Without proper care, eager candidates may well end find themselves in Nixon’s position, and lose their logical edges under a camera’s superficial gaze.

Is Television Falling From Political Favor?

Televised campaign ads just aren’t what they used to be. In our increasingly Internet-bound culture, more and more voters are turning to social media sites and other web-based platforms for their daily news. Recent surveys show that while Baby Boomers rely primarily on televised programming for news, Millennials prefer to check their apps. According to statistics from the Pew Research Center, a full 61% of millennials check their Facebook feeds to stay updated on current events in any given week, while only 37% report turning to their televisions for information.

 

Campaigns have long spent incredible amounts of money on televised ads in attempts to sway voters to their sides – but will those tactics lose their efficacy if current trends continue, and younger viewers opt not to tune in?

 

The answer is complicated.

 

In the 2016 election, President Trump spent considerably less than Hillary Clinton on his campaign. Estimates from the Washington Post put his expenditures at 956.7 million, against Clinton’s 1.4 billion. This isn’t a simple matter of spending less – it’s a matter of not needing to spend as much.

 

Unlike most traditional candidates, Trump received a remarkable amount of (free) social media engagement, and depended heavily on his existing base of followers to disseminate and engage with his messages. Moreover, because of the traditional media coverage allotted to candidates, his social media reach was actually extended by conventional coverage as his social presence fed into his political persona. The key to the Trump campaign was its effective utilization of both traditional and social media platforms. According to Adam Broder of FTI Consulting, Trump may have “earned” as much as $5 billion in free media coverage through his unconventional melding of social and traditional media campaigns.

 

But is this to say that television ads will cease to be relevant in upcoming years?

 

Not necessarily.

 

Television ads still reach a considerable number of people, and studies have shown that television ads have a significant impact on late-deciders. It is worth noting that Trump, despite his comparatively low spending in the months prior, poured money into television ad buys in the last few weeks of the election – increasing his spending from roughly $23,000 per electoral vote per week to over $91,000 per electoral vote per week in the final weeks of the campaign.

 

There’s no doubt that social media sites have begun to dominate as platforms for political news, particularly for younger voters. However, television will always serve as a valuable space for campaigners, and hold a place in strategy. As we move forward, the best campaigns will need to merge social media engagement with traditional coverage in order to build a strong and widely promoted candidate presence.

 

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!