October 17, 2010
The 95 percent solution
By Bill Kraus
A prominent political operative says that political campaigns have evolved (devolved? deteriorated?) into 95 percent television and 5 percent organization. I suppose that some time in not so ancient history these numbers would have been reversed. But that was when parties were the main propellants of campaigns and volunteers were making calls, going door to door handing out literature, etc.
The media takeover of political campaigning has been going on for a long time. But why is TV the winner?
TV is the most expensive, most inefficient, most limited mass medium. It is also the most effective, and the most rewarding for the people running campaigns. The fact that it is the least labor intensive is not unimportant either.
The other communication options don’t measure up for their own reasons.
Newspapers used to be a mass medium until they elevated their coverage of politics to the point that campaign managers could say, “Why buy what you’re getting for free?” Now that their coverage has dwindled along with their circulation, this reason no longer holds, but mass communications have gone away from the more thorough kind of pitch that worked best in newspapers. Advertising in newspapers is as passe as newspapers themselves.
Radio still gets some attention, but it’s fundamentally a daytime medium.
The Internet looked like the new TV until it became clear that this is a user-dominated medium. Before it can work, some other medium has to be used to draw the users in.
Direct mail works, but not all that efficiently. Very expensive.
Phone banks went the way of stay-at-home housewives. Evidently the media gurus think robo-calls are effective. They are cheap. But effective?
So the winner is: TV commercials.
The real problem with TV is it is time-bound. There isn’t much that can be done in a 30-second commercial, especially when that commercial will be jammed into a 10-message commercial break.
TV is not an idea medium. It's not great for proposing anything beyond slogans and simplistic appeals. Where it works best is describing or desecrating personality qualities and flaws, mostly the latter.
Hyperbole rules. Even hyperbole that edges into what at least one newspaper calls lies.
The super partisans whose votes are in the bag love these extravagant attacks at which TV excels. The undecideds not so much. But campaigns are increasingly pitched to partisans and know nothings.
Putting the message problem aside, TV also exacerbates the need for money, which opens another very large can of worms up to and including the possibility that the reliance on TV leads to the suspicion that the big contributors are buying something beyond air time for the candidates.
The faults connected to TV ads have infected the other main use of TV in campaigns, the debates. These are not really debates in the Lincoln-Douglas tradition of course. What TV thinks are debates really are hour-long joint press conferences which reduce the participants to schoolyard “Are too. Am not” exchanges which mostly demean the process and the participants.
There is no hope of getting rid of 30-second TV commercials based campaigns until and unless they don’t work anymore. Let's look at the small step that's available.
How about making a case for real-single-subject debates which present all the ideas and disagreements on major subjects where the state government plays a leading role. Education comes to mind.
It would be good for the process. It would utilize the great potential of TV to shine light on problems dimly perceived instead of tossing mud at the people we are picking to deal with those problems.
As a onetime New York mayor once said: It couldn't hurt.
post a letter about this blog »
As was mentioned by one the the writers blog on this site, "Whatever happened to the League of Women Voters." They actually knew how to run a real debate.
Television and "Broadcasters" running debates and the 30 second political ads are turning politics into a "Reality Television Show."
Add to that the television "black-out" of 2nd Feingold-Johnson debate and you have a deplorable recipe for politics as the theater of the absurd.
This years election is the ugliest thing I have ever seen. Yuk!
-John Davey | Kendall, Wi | October 18, 2010
How about Rebecca Kleefisch and her refusal to debate Tom Nelson in the Lt. Gov. race?!? The 2010 Republican strategy seems to be to avoid meaningful debate and substitute 30 second TV ads.
-Bob Franze | Waukesha, Wi.(Beloiter, by birth!) | October 18, 2010
You know Bill, I used to take you somewhat seriously but as the person who mentioned the LWV and their failures of late I also have to go on a bit about you.
As a member of Common Cause I have to wonder where the hell they have been in all this. Going "tsk tsk ain't this just awful" just isn't cutting it and it sure a hell is no kind of activism.
It seems that just when the country needed them the most groups like Common Cause and LWV jumped ship. Either that or the membership is just plain old, sclerotic, and out and out fusticated.
You guys have left a vacuum and nature abhors a vacuum and the monied and the loonies were more than eager to fill it.
Why don't you just shut up and get out of the way? All you are doing now is adding to the obvious and taking up space on the web. My disgust with those like you, who had respect and a chance at speaking out, is beyond measure. You are just another civic failure.
-Griebnotz Doerkpfester | Egg Harbor, WI. | October 19, 2010