Tuesday, Nov. 8 eligible voters across America will line up at the polls to cast their votes for yet another historically significant election. For the first time in America’s history, a woman candidate will be on the ballot.
The election has taken over news coverage everywhere, from print to television to social media; the candidates in this year’s election can’t seem to get enough of the limelight.
Voters have become very frustrated with coverage of this year’s election; some have taken action to avoid news regarding the election. It seems like every news station that you turn to is concerned with the lastest on an email scandal or leaked video tape. We see a lot of what the candidates are doing poorly, and not a whole lot of what they plan to do right as president.
Roni Kay O’Dell, assistant professor of political science at Seton Hill University (SHU), says that one principal reason the media tends to lack coverage of these important issues, such as policy, is because they don’t receive as much attention.
“They certainly want to be as objective and unbiased as possible, but there are these conflicting interests that sometimes make this really difficult to achieve,” O’Dell said.
The conflicting interests O’Dell refers to is the media’s attempt to balance viewership (readership, listenership) with the need to get out the right information. The attempt to create this balance can lead to some information being left out or included more than other information. In some cases this can lead to a perceived bias or other perceived notions.
“I see a deliberate attempt to equate the candidates, so that the news can maintain a veneer of impartiality,“ said Joshua Sasmor, associate professor of mathematics at SHU. “I really think they have done a major disservice to the American public by saying these are equal choices, this time more so than any other election I have seen in my lifetime. Somebody saying these are your choices, therefore they must be equal in our coverage and in our respect for them is really a bad idea.”
“You can sometimes see when a candidate releases a press statement and a news outlet runs with it almost verbatim, there’s a clear bias there,” Sasmor said.
“I think it’s the way that candidates have been able to manipulate the media,” said O’Dell.
She explained that Donald Trump, Republican presidential candidate, has had more media coverage because he knows how to grab their attention using sensational remarks.
“Media does have a tendency to focus on the sensational things that they think will grab people’s attention,” said O’Dell. “The things that are more mundane and not as interesting, but still important for voters to know about, don’t often get out there because it’s not sensational.”
This is true for all mediums of news sources. “The choice by editors and by people who are in charge about what is presented to a population certainly does have an effect on what they know and do not know and therefore has an effect on their vote in the end,” O’Dell said.
Sasmor said that there is not enough time for the media to do all of the policing they could be doing. “Do I think an open transparent policy would work better? Absolutely. Are we going to get one? Not anytime soon,” he said.
“The way that the media plays a role has definitely changed over the last, even just 10 years, but definitely decades, in that media itself has changed,” said O’Dell. “The way that it provides information to the population, and then of course the advent of social media is a huge game changer with elections.”
With the rise of social media, the platform for voters to receive and produce information regarding the election has changed dramatically.
“Social media allows campaigns to target individuals based on their likes and dislikes, based on their viewing patterns, based on what they buy,” said O’Dell. “That has an enormous impact on the information that is available to individuals, and then based on that information, how they vote.”
The question then becomes is social media providing a fair and balanced platform for any and all information regarding either candidates?
“When you are targeted [this way], that means you are not getting both sides of the argument,” explained O’Dell. “There’s a bias in that people don’t have access to all of the information as much as they used to. This can be both beneficial and detrimental.”
Social media not only provides a platform for voters to receive information, but it has also greatly influenced how voters can produce information themselves, especially with other voters.
“If everybody is in some act a journalist, then is everybody in some act a responsible journalist?” asked Sasmor while speaking on the variance of civic and political responsibility.
“For the civic point of view, the answer should be yes. It is our civic duty to be responsible providers of information when we try,” said Sasmor. “If you want to be political as opposed to civil, you’re going to put forth the information that puts your candidate out there the best, no matter what it is.”
It is the responsibility of voters in a democracy to make sure they are seeking, interpreting and sharing knowledgeable, unbalanced information.
“A lot of people talk about the living in a bubble idea, and that you only really go after news sources that confirm your own pre-established biases,” said Sasmor. “If that’s true, then nothing that the media does can change people’s perspective… because they are only looking for the pieces that confirm what they want.”
With so much conflicting information regarding the election and the candidates, it is a voter’s responsibility to understand what they are receiving from the media.
“Be very careful about sources that do not reveal the source of their information and that don’t provide a balanced perspective,” said O’Dell.
“Acknowledge whatever bias may exist there and remember it when you read the next story,” is Sasmor’s advice for voters. “It’s not that you have to avoid bias, you just have to acknowledge that it exists and understand what is going on.”
With the election right around the corner, place close attention to the coverage of the candidates. Understand what is being said and compare it to other sources, do some fact-checking and become an informed voter. Know which candidate you are voting for on Nov. 8, and most importantly know why.
Nov. 8 at 8 p.m. SHU student engagement and the political science department will be hosting an Election Watch Party. Students are encouraged to participate in various activities including trivia, food and prizes, and to watch the election of the next president of the United States.