In this era of electronic mass media, television commercials, image makers, and spin control, do voters get a true picture of the candidates and what they stand for? Is image more important than substance? Has the internet changed the nature of American elections? How do campaigns calculate the preference of voters? What role do the issues play in a campaign? What is the role of negative campaigning? What role do the debates play in the elections?
In this era of electronic mass media, television commercials, and high-tech campaigns, presidential candidates are being elected because of their image and amount of publicity more often than because of their stance on issues or ability to lead the country. The internet is a contributing factor in the degradation of the qualities required of a presidential candidate. News of the candidates circulates so quickly that as they enter new states to woo voters, they are met by already-established opinions and prejudices based on their campaigning in other states. Campaigns become about an image and what the news decides to report about a candidate rather than about the candidate himself. The media is the body that controls which excerpts from speeches to publicize or which interviews to comment on. The public is utterly subject to what the media feeds it and is affected by the images of candidates that the media wants it to see rather than the one the candidate is working so hard to present.
Events that are so inconsequential and irrelevant in the grand scheme of a presidential campaign are eaten up by the media and presented in a way that ensures the public adopts the same opinion of a candidate as the media. For example, it really doesn’t matter how much John Edwards pays for a haircut, but the media publicized the four-hundred dollar price-tag of one of his trips to the barber in order to suggest to the public that he is a rich, profligate, and unworthy candidate.
Another unfortunate habit of the media is their tendency to reveal private, sensitive matters regarding candidates’ campaigns to the public. Because of this, candidates must be aware that their operations are becoming increasingly public to the point where an incorrect recipient of a private email can be circulated to news outlets nationwide. A confidential email concerning Hilary Clinton’s plan of conceding the unwinnable Iowa to the other Democratic candidates was publicized, forcing her pour money and resources into a doomed state simply to salvage her image. Candidate’s personal lives, especially including marital issues are also becoming publicized and involved in campaigns. The media seemingly has eyes inside every candidate’s bedroom and chooses to announce very private and irrelevant information. During this past election, voters were bombarded with rumors and suspicions about the stability of the Clinton’s marriage, the disturbingly radical preaching of Obama’s pastor, and the affairs of the Edwards marriage. As shocking and exciting those insights may be, they are not the facts that voters should consider of primary importance and be making decisions on. Voters get a filtered and manipulated picture of the candidate because they get most of their information from the internet or the news, and for both of those outlets, there is some manipulative body controlling what information they receive.
Another factor in the degradation of elections is the rise of negative campaigning. It is discouraging that candidates have resorted to insulting the opposing candidate. Rather than developing and popularizing their own platform, candidates attack their opponents in the hope of focusing negative public and media attention on the opponent to make themselves seem like the lesser of two evil choices. They are essentially saying, “Choose me because I may not be great, but at least I’m not as bad as the other guy.”
The line between acceptable and unacceptable topics has shifted riskily into the realm of the inappropriate for negative campaigning. Race is unacceptable, and affairs and marital problems are off-limits, but implying that a candidate is weak, inexperienced, self-obsessed, or unpatriotic is acceptable, and in fact, normal. McCain ran an anti-Obama commercial saying that Obama was the world’s biggest celebrity and showing the Democratic nominee as even more self-infatuated than Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears. The Obama campaign was insulted by it, and rather than taking the high road, they resorted to negative campaigning as well, using the ad to try to show that McCain was bringing up race when he placed Obama next to pictures of white, female celebrities and to suggest that McCain thought Obama was the affirmative-action nominee and unworthy of his success.
The increased speed at which information can be exchanged today has drastically impacted presidential campaigns and how those campaigns affect the voters. Rather than just allowing more people to be involved in the election or allowing the campaigns to be more efficient and affective, the technological advancements have had negative effects on what information is received by the voters and on how candidates present themselves.