Media Technology and the Vote: A Source Book

Media Technology and the Vote: A Source Book

Media Technology and the Vote: A Source Book

Media Technology and the Vote: A Source Book

Excerpt

In the spring of 1988, a business executive running for a Democratic gubernatorial nomination seemed poised for victory. A few days before the election, however, one of his opponents began televising spots saying the executive had been an owner and director of a company that had filed for bankruptcy, endangering millions of dollars in the workers' pension fund.

Most voters in the state were strongly pro-labor, and overnight tracking polls soon revealed that the commercials were hurting badly--perhaps mortally. The executive's support was hemorrhaging.

With the election only days away, there seemed no way to get a response an the air. But new technology saved the candidate. He produced an effective 30-second commercial responding to the charges, and, for less than $1,000, leased time on a communications satellite to relay the commercial to television stations throughout the state. The commercial ran, the decline in his support stopped, and he won.

Such stories are becoming common as new communications technologies--and the various techniques through which they are applied--change the rhythms and content of American politics.

Many experts regard these changes as positive. New technologies, they say, improve communications between candidate and citizen. Information flows more quickly. Others are less optimistic. They lament the "technocratic flavor" that they say has robbed American politics of passion. Many long for the days when Robert F. Kennedy campaigned in black neighborhoods because his "gut" and not "number-crunching" told him it was right; others find it especially refreshing when a candidate like Pierre DuPont stakes out positions he feels are more correct than popular.

But almost all experts who have looked closely at campaigns agree that a quiet revolution--based on communications technologies--is transforming American politics. Public policymakers, scholars, journalists and political professionals must recognize this revolution if they are to understand--and shape--it.

This understanding will be helped if it includes three major steps. The first is to clarify language. As recently as the early 1980s, "new politics" meant grassroots . . .

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