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November 04, 2016

Wisdom from a guy at a bar; what's behind the state of our elections?

So, it was another great fall day, full of bright sunshine, golden leaves and crisp air. I thought I’d cap it off by going to my local pub to visit my buddy Dickie at the bar. He was at his usual seat with a full, cold one in front of him.

“Well, it’s almost here,” I said. “Are you ready for the election to be over?”

“Well, according to the ads,” he said, “the end of the world is near. Hillary is going to sell the government to the highest bidder. Donald is going to get us all blown up. The question I have is, who writes this stuff?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if you look outside of election coverage, there is pretty much nothing else going on. No big wars. No recession or depression. No plagues. No gigantic scandals. All we have is a bunch of people giving opinions about other people so marketers can post their ads to get us to buy stuff.”

“You’re talking about online news, right?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he continued. “You’ve got to dig to find anything actually newsworthy. It’s all crap. But if you listen to the ads for the candidates, we’re on our last legs. It ‘s obvious the candidates marketing teams are using the scorched Earth approach to scare everyone to death just to win an election.”

“Isn’t that kind of how politics works?” I queried.

“Sometimes,” he continued. “But nothing like this. Now it’s just exaggeration after exaggeration. They don’t even pretend to care about the facts. And a lot of the American voters are divided into tribes, so all they hear is what their faction feeds them.”

“And how does this differ from the past?” I asked.

“Look, I know politics has always been dirty,” he said. “but we’re now in a new era. We have all of these communications networks, but people only hear what they want to, so they go to biased sources, then they believe whatever that source feeds them. And the people in control know this, so they feed them a steady diet of hate, fear, and negativity, all proclaiming it’s the other side’s fault with no real facts to back things up. It’s the oldest con in the books, but with new technology.”

“The question I have, then, is why? Is the voting population these days any different? We have all of this information, but you’re inferring that people are less informed.”

“Well,” he continued, “that’s the million dollar question. People have a lot on their minds living day-to-day. They are exposed to all kinds of messages. They don’t have a lot of time, so they pick and choose what they want to hear. Plus, we all kind of protect our line of thinking. We don’t really want to have to change our opinions because that would infer we were actually wrong once in awhile.

"Marketing types and strategists, who are paid to win at all costs, know this and feed the monster. No matter what, communicate that the other side is not only wrong, but incompetent, untrustworthy and evil. Describe how they will tear every shred of decency from your life. Paint a picture of Armageddon.

"And unfortunately for all of us, the party marketers have gotten better at this, using the newer technologies. So, as a result of the great "genius” of party strategists, the huddled masses are bombarded with mis-information. And, I believe, eventually a lot of people just give in and start parroting what they hear.“

"Yikes,” I said. “That kind of sounds like something from George Orwell. Mass marketing leading everyone around by the nose. It’s just not the government, it’s the two parties.”

“Compare the lives we are leading, which are generally pretty good, to what we’re hearing from the parties and the candidates,” he said. “They have created a virtual reality where the end of the Earth is near, especially if the other party wins.

"And that is by design. People behind the scenes have learned the art of creating emotions. Exaggerate dangers. Denigrate the opposition. Belittle counter-arguments. Create confusion. Build dis-trust. It’s the opposite of what is done to sell products. But instead of creating want and need, you create anger and hate.”

“I guess you’ve got a point.” I ended with. “I just hope it’s not a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“Well,” he concluded, “you do have to wonder whether selling fear, hopelessness and pessimism to win an election is worth it. Guess we’ll find out.”