by: Courtney Suber
America is witnessing its latest election, and as of now, it’s not complete. 160 million people set out to vote, with 538 electoral votes up for grabs. The candidate who claims 270 is declared the winner, and it’s been a winding, surprising race. This begs the question: how are people inspired about who to vote for? What influenced those 160 million Americans to go out and vote in record numbers? Party affiliation and personality are a large part of it, but the overwhelming answer is simple: media.
Media can best be defined as a means of mass communication and consumption of information. Anything that we can see or derive information/entertainment from is media — including television, social media, the news, infographics, newspapers, and other mediums. It’s something that everyone actively has access to, consumes, and engages in; it’s usage encourages people to participate one way or another in the democratic process. This is seen on different platforms and voices on social media, online ads, and news stations. Candidates not only for president but for senate, house, local elections, etc. often showcase their professionalism, accomplishments, values, and goals through media which helps them to get in touch with their supporters and/or people who may hold similar values. At the same time, media also adds to the darker side of campaigning: online posts, Twitter, and ads all have an effect on people’s perceptions.
Because the messages conveyed through these ads often engage people through visuals and images, they often hit hard with the pathos of emotions, and sometimes to the basest ones at that — yet they can also persuade more positively. Media ads can be a perfect example of the other rhetorical appeals. When a candidate demonstrates a set of ethics that people value, their ads help viewers decode and identify that. If candidates present themselves as religious people, voters who share those values identify with and follow them.
In addition to advertisements, social media has become a staple of regular life and a means of continuous communication with people all over the world. Texts and posts are emitted within seconds; with an estimated 244 million Americans online, the field is ripe with possible voters to target. During the course of this election, in just 13 states alone, over $1 billion was spent between Joe Biden and Donald Trump for advertising. Biden raised and spent more than $600 million in this timeframe whereas Trump spent a little over $400 million. Trump’s messages at his live rallies, carried by broadcasters through news reports, have resonance with both his followers and his critics, and his Tweets alone make news. Biden does not have as strong a presence or voice on Twitter, and has not had as much of an active live presence campaigning state to state as Trump due to concerns of COVID-19, but his heavy use of ads clearly helped capture votes in states that seemed up for grabs.
Biden can credit his current electoral college lead on President Trump to the rapid and massive repetition of his message through his ads, as well as billboards, radio, and more.
Television and news channels also serve as media that go on to affect people’s view of the election. The phrase “no press is bad press” can be derived from this statement and observed during the 2016 US election. Consistently, Donald Trump was the face of the news cycle. Whether it was allegations, critiques, or negative press in general, Trump profited from this coverage and was able to claim his spot as the 45th president of the United States. Media reporting increased coverage that President Trump was receiving which could possibly credit his win.
As noted before, the of social media has negatives that come with it. Parody websites may influence voter mindsets. The satirical website ‘The Onion,’ an online newspaper whose job is to report false news mainly as a quip is an example of this. Although it’s quite outright that the website is not meant to be taken seriously, other websites/accounts may not be the same.
To troll someone online is to ‘line or bait them’ into false information. For example, trolls on websites such as ‘4chan’ are known for misinformation campaigns that spread rapidly online. While causing hysteria online is seen as a joke to them, it could have possible negative outcomes on big events such as an election. Trolling’ is something that’s become common within our online atmosphere. This presents itself in many ways, from spam campaigns to the purposeful spread of false information. This goes on to affect voter perception and convey possibly harmful messages that affect outcome.
Media has a heavy impact in the influencing of elections. To use media is to convey a message to a population and give them information. This information that’s consumed is later used to make big decisions such as who to vote for in upcoming elections. This is witnessed in peculiar cases like Georgia. As of the posting of this article, Georgia is a projected to go to Joe Biden, making it a blue state. The last time Georgia turned blue was in 1992 for President Bill Clinton. It’s reported that Biden has not only outspent Trump, but has also outraged him. This is no doubt an effect of campaign ads and endorsements from big names like Vice Lady Michelle Obama and artists such as Lady Gaga. Media plays a big role in our culture today and will have an overwhelming impact on who our governmental representatives are for years to come.