If you were watching CNN last week you could be forgiven for not knowing there was a national election coming in the United States. Ebola and ISIS continued to dominate the 24-hour news stream, with surprisingly little coverage of the midterm elections on November, 4.
Switch to Fox News and there was coverage of very little but the election.
Why the disparity? A new Pew Research study shows that there is very little overlap between how liberals and conservatives get news about politics and government. Our news intake is more and more siloed on the basis of our political views.
This is exacerbated by the increasing tendency to access media via social and email recommendations. We are more likely to read an article if someone we trust (and know has the same political views as us) emails the article, or posts it on Facebook.
This means that television networks are, more than ever, preaching to the choir. Programming is being dictated not by the news, but by what their viewers want the news to be.
By all accounts, Democrats are losing the midterms, so CNN focuses on other news stories. Its left-leaning viewers don’t want to be told they are losing. For Fox, the Republicans expected dominance of the elections is exactly what its viewers want to hear.
This trend has not gone unnoticed by political campaigners. If the media is focusing on the extremes, how do they access the undecided?
For the Republicans in particular, in these midterms, it is the undecided who will dictate whether they gain control of both the House and the Senate, giving the party the power to substantially alter the course of the last two years of the Obama Administration.
Campaigns are reacting to this fractured media market and realizing that ad buys are limited in their audience scope. The undecided are finding only the extremes in the media, and are therefore limited in their access to information on the issues on which they are most concerned.
One answer to this issue has been to dramatically increase funding for door-to-door canvassing across key electorates. This is nothing new. In 2008 in particular, the Obama campaign’s focus on door-knocking was thought to be a key element of his success.
But this time conservative funders are also piling money into mobilizing teams to meet and talk to individual voters. Adam Brandon, the CEO of conservative Super PAC Freedom Works was quoted by the Washington Post as stating that spending money on adverts is “a complete waste of our money”. Training activists to make phone calls and walk door-to-door is, Brandon says, much cheaper and more effective.
In this saturated media market, with so much hype around ad-buys and Twitter feeds, we need to be reminded that it is essential to communicate on multiple levels, to multiple audiences. And sometimes, this will mean going back to the basics.