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Making Your Vote Count
Television greatly increases the amount of misconceptions piled upon American citizen about political candidates, thus cannot be relied on as the sole form of information. Television manipulates voters especially in a presidential election year because of the candidate's campaign propaganda based on political personality and charisma and the attractive face does not hurt. Television's impact not on cultural but on the social structure is an amazing fact. Studies of the distribution of television sets show TV's to be the poor man's luxury because it has become his psychological necessity. When looking back in time past technological advances, such as photographs, also played apart of analyzing a leader based on appearance rather than their ability to do the job well.
Several past Presidents who were often great leaders would not have been elected president today with current human behavior and the influences that television has on voting. Abraham Lincoln was the first presidential candidate to be subject to continues comment about his looks. Howard Taft was very fat and we may assume that his physical condition would make him an unsuitable candidate in our own time. Another President who would have been affected by the imagery of television and it dominated our perceptions was Franklin D. Roosevelt. By being crippled by polio in midlife, so that he could not stand unaided, would have made him an unacceptable candidate in the age of television. A current example of television and perception would be Robert Dole and his inability to project an easy amiability on television. Does this mean American's are vain and care more for beauty than brains? The answer is not a simple yes or no because of how television has impacted the perceptions and natural human tendencies. With television becoming a popular technology in post-war United States sociologists were already hard at work analyzing possible affects. Although television could be used for elevating political consciousness of the public, many feared that politics would now be marketed much like toothpaste. Anything could be sold with the appropriate formula.
The first major event that aroused the public's interest in political television was the 1950; Senate subcommittee's investigations into organized crime, which then caused it to become a campaign issue in 1952. The second event was April 11, 1951 which dealt with the accuracy of video reporting during the Korean War. President Harry S. Truman summary dismissal of General Douglas MacArthur, the World War II hero, for insubordination not technical incompetence created a huge event that otherwise would have gone unnoticed. A reporter and historian, in describing the mood of the country, said it was doubtful "if there has ever been in this country so violent and spontaneous a discharge of political passion as provoked by the Presidents dismissal of the General and by the Generals dramatic return." For the first time politics was a topic of conversation from the milkman to the Chief Executive Officer of major corporations. Understanding the influence of early television with a political focus provides the perfect spectrum to show how much voters can and are deceived by their own human tendencies by the visual and audio depiction that is provided.
There are four characteristics according to Lawrence Grossman in The Electronic Republic that influenced the defining transformation of the relationship between the people and the government. First, television gives ordinary citizens an unmediated, direct personal view of world events. Elections have tended to become more and more like a business sales campaign, with the voters playing the role of a potential buyer to whom a commodity must be "sold". This conception of the voter is especially important to those politicians who find changing behavior baffling and fear to face the fact of genuine differences between the political parties on the issues of great importance at that moment. These people prefer the picture of voters as puppets easily manipulated. However, voters can also manipulate politicians by casting the political leader relentlessly in the role they want him or her to play and making a candidate a symbol of the voter's feelings and drives regardless of how the politician may feel. Second, television's presentation of reality happens in an environment dominated by entertainment and diversion, an environment calculated to help viewers escape from reality, not plunge into it. Thirdly, television emphasizes the personal, people and personality to take center stage over ideas and issues. A clear example of this principle is the political personalities, which are clearly shown on television. American's are paying attention to the visual, because otherwise after a presidential candidate debate on television they should be more interested in what was said rather than what candidate was not wearing an American flag pin on their lapel. Fourth, in a political system that is based on geography, television all but eliminates geography and replaces it with communities of interest. Early 1950's nationwide news coverage centered on a front-row seat for every viewer because it enlarged the viewers social world beyond belief and enabled them to become intimately acquainted with persons or places that they never would have had the chance to prior to television.
Television enables the public to make judgments on leaders by their appearance, demeanor and at time their knowledge of a subject. Political, on-camera personality has a lot to do with campaign success. Ronald Regan could not have been president without television. With his early career in Hollywood he had performing down to an art form and he had the added bonus of looking good on camera. He rarely spoke precisely and never eloquently except perhaps when reading something someone else had written. Yet, he is known as the Great Communicator because he projected an amazing image on television that fulfilled Americans psychological needs of what a leader looks and sounds like.
The Kennedy-Nixon Debates were the first presidential candidates to appear together for a televised debate. There were four debates that took place over four weeks in 1960. Statistics show that sixty-five to seventy million Americans watched any one telecast. John F. Kennedy is a second example of how a political candidate can use his looks and supplemental campaigning to win an election. Television because of its actuality becomes the medium through which people judge the trustworthiness of leaders who appeal for their support. The emphasis is on the personality not on knowledge of a subject. As long as it sounds good, the content of the message is of mediocre importance to the majority of the population because human nature focuses on tone and if it sounds honest whether or not it is actually true.
Other technologies have influenced our perceptions of candidates simply because of how they influence the general public's daily lives. The irony is that while Americans feel increasingly powerless, cynical, and frustrated about government, the distance between the governed and those who govern is actually shrinking dramatically. Many more citizens are gaining a greater voice in the making of policy than at any time since the direct democracy of the ancient Greek city-states some twenty-five hundred years ago. However, television fits within the typical attention span of most Americans and can provide the brief platform without specifics and the majority of Americans do not require anymore information before dropping their ballot into the box. Changes in attitudes, beliefs, and behavior directly traceable to the mass media are the exception rather than the rule. This is because exposure is highly self-selective; people pay attention primarily to content that already interests them and that is congenial to their point of view. This selective exposure, it was said, had been made possible by the pluralist structure of the mass media. Where as different or contrary points of view within the message are not interpreted in the manner the sender wished. Americans rely largely on television and not written material as the basis of their political information. Written material often comes from a source that already supports their misconceptions, such as Fox News for conservative Americans: "Fox has not gone soft, but from watching its coverage lately, I get a sense that the haven for conservative hosts, and viewers alienated by liberal news, needs to figure out its next act." Sound bites often the deciding factor of who will be president, because the majority of Americans do not find out anymore information than what is provided in less than thirty seconds if we, the educated voting public, are lucky. Television tends to personalize politics through close-ups that encourage viewers to scrutinize the faces of people who appear on the screen. Without knowledge of where the truth lies, viewers are limited to making judgments on who can be trusted. The 2008 presidential campaign provides examples of all of the above abuses of television and campaign practices toward taking advantage of human behavior in regard to perceptions and the overall poor quality of campaign propaganda.
A great example of American campaign politics are interviews on the major media networks such as, an interview with Senator Hilary Clinton with Katie Curric. The type of questions she would be asked would be soft ones. Meaning that it could be they would largely be prepared answers and recycled campaign trail answers and speeches. Senator Clinton would not be grilled by a reporter because networks would lose business. This can also clearly be shown in press conferences with the President of the United States. Press conferences at the White House are structured and reporters who push an issue may not be able to ask questions at the next meeting. However, in the United Kingdom of Britain this type of questioning is not used. When interviewing politician's reporters do not pull their punches, they ask the hard questions forcing the issue. The reason for the difference is the set up of the governments in regard to political openness and the different relationship between the press and the public. In the United States the public largely hold offices in respect. Whereas, in the United Kingdom they are a social nation opens to driving a politician to defend his or her opinion and authority to stand on their governmental choices.
Television greatly influences American voting practices by taking advantage of the perceptions provided by visual and audio representation, human nature and its attraction to beautiful and attractive people on television, and how television misrepresents presidential candidates. "Past Presidents stood, for election rather than ran for it, in the belief that presidents should preserve the dignity of the high office by staying off the campaign trail. To take the high road meant that presidential nominees should remain at home while letting their political supporters do their dirty work for them. Make an educated decision by not solely relying on television but by reading several sources, both right and left wing and if using television try to find a nonpartisan news source. Being a viable candidate depends less on support from a party organization than on the ability to sell oneself in a media campaign. Human beings feel as f they are intimately involved with the politicians that appear on television. This can be seen by when a typical American citizen refers to a presidential candidate by their first name, as if they were just over to their house for dinner. When watching television, which exists for entertainment, purposes not knowledge, viewers naturally want to listen or watch someone who sounds and appears well on camera. They do not want to waste their time listening to someone they cannot understand even if they have better qualifications and more experience when the competition sounds smooth and suave even if they have little experience. Understanding what can influence you either consciously or subconsciously is the first step in creating a better future with the best choice in a leader being on the ballot.
- To see worksited and appropriate footnotes please see hard copy of this paper