The Role Played by the Media in the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election
By Adan Makina, PhT, AA, BAS, MA
The 2000 U.S. presidential election left an indelible mark in Americans’ perception of the media, its broad coverage of politics and political demographics, and its role in setting the stage for political divisions during hotly contested elections such as happened in Florida when former president George W. Bush and former Vice President Al Gore locked horns in one of the most fiercely fought election disputes in American political history. The role of the media during elections has long been a topic of debate among scholars interested in deciphering news and information related to how the media shapes elections and its impact on the general population. The media played a great role in the 2000 presidential election by making up-to-the-minute broadcasts that allowed viewers to keep in touch with their favorite candidates as well as details of the election results. This article tracks the role played by the media in the 2000 contentious presidential election between George W. Bush of the Republican Party and former Vice President Al Gore of the Democratic Party. George W. Bush, a former Texas governor competed against Al Gore in an election dispute that attracted international media attention. In the United States, many regard the media as a powerful arm of government because, according to popular opinion, it that has the power to shape public policy and put together agendas regardless of whether that policy has social, political, or economic implications. Despite the might of the media and the rightful place it enjoys in society and in governance, there are those who view the media from a different perspective. Understanding the role of the media in the 2000 election will be the focus of this article. Like any other business, owners of media houses are driven by the urge to make money and influence politics. The central question that drives this essay is: What role did the media play in its reporting of the 2000 U.S. presidential election?
Keywords: media; public administration; political parties; political mobilization; political participation
Definition of Media
The media is a form of communication that collects news and information from various sources then disseminates it to the public. After the media relays news and information in broadcast and print form, society becomes aware of the daily occurrences that affect their living conditions politically, socially, and economically. Through print, broadcast or electronic media, people can read, listen or watch unfolding events of profound interest. Newspapers, magazines, and journals are examples of print media while television, the internet, films, and other modern innovations like the iPad, iPhones, and cell phones that are generated electronically fall under the electronic media category. There are other media appliances like DVDs that allow us to listen to burned music, walkman that makes it easier for us to communicate at short distances, and the car satellite radio that transmits voice in the form of news and entertainment at the convenience of our car seats and our homes (Jenkins, 2004). Usually, mass media targets the general population, while local media aims at local populations. American media has undergone tremendous transformation since the last century. It has also accumulated enormous powers that allow it to penetrate public and private lives. Some of the largest media conglomerations in the world have their bases in U.S. soil with similar news outlets in many parts of the world. With the diminished role of print media, television coverage and internet connectivity, the two most powerful media forces of the modern century, seem to be gaining ground. However, internet use among the youth has been skyrocketing in recent years due to technological advancement, globalization, and human interaction.
The 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore has been described as the closest contests between two candidates and the first of its kind to see Supreme Court intervention (Hill & McKee, 2005). According to Gibson, Caldeira, and Spence (2003), there have been a lot of exaggerations and unnecessary condemnations from scholars, pundits, and politicians regarding the legitimacy of George W. Bush’s proclamation of the presidency in an election that still begs for further scrutiny and scholarly research. Contesting elections, whether in a democracy or in an oligarchy, presidential or statewide, is not a new phenomenon. An important aspect of the 2000 election was not about winning the presidency as Nicholson and Hoffmann (2001) construe, but about shaping the future of the Supreme Court whose significance rested on interpreting the constitution of the nation for the next 30 to 40 years. If an election has been as bad as that of Bush and Al Gore, reference could be made to the 1876 presidential election between Tilden and Hayes. It was after Congress appointed an Electoral Commission that Hayes received the upper hand after a split along partisan lines (Newcomb, 1905). Even in such far places as the Palestinian territories, Hamas, a popular religious group that has been on U.S. radar for a long time and viewed by American government officials as a consortium of religious zealots craving for Israeli extermination, proclaimed victory against contestants that were regarded as moderate and West-friendly in 2006 leaving the U.S. and its allies in a state of disillusionment and apprehension (Ajami, 2012). Also worth mentioning is the election of the fourteenth President of the United States, J.F. Kennedy, who ran against Richard Nixon in 1960. It was not until the Associated Press, in favor of the Democratic candidate, reported a staggering 318, 308 of the Alabama votes cast while the highly regarded Congressional Quarterly gave Kennedy five-elevenths of 324, 050 of the Alabama votes cast (Morley, 1961). As claimed by Morley (1961), despite Kennedy’s win in the 1960 election, the American Good Government Society, in its November 23, 1960 analysis, gave Nixon 282 votes against 250 votes for Kennedy.
Elections and Representative Democracy
There is plenty of literature explaining how the media impacts elections, public policy, and the youth (Baum & Potter, 2008; Brown & Cantor, 2000; Wanta, Golan, & Lee; 2004). Undoubtedly, American media is not objective as many would expect it to be. At times, it is unfair and lopsided, discordant at other times, politically leaning, and generally having many faces. Under universal suffrage, elections, according to Hudson (2009), influence the conduct of government while giving each and every citizen the right to one vote. With the typologies of democracies the world over, the American system of governance is one that allows people to elect their leaders in a competitive environment. Representative democracy, the model chosen by the founders of the American nation, provides a lot of freedom as enshrined in the nation’s constitution. Representative democracy, despite its popularity in the U.S. structural democracy, still shows signs of imbalance inefficiency in representation. According to Besley and Coate (1998), there are some sources of inefficiencies shrouded in representative democracy.
Despite political representative displaying the hallmarks of political equilibrium, inefficiencies may exist in the socio-economic criteria where there may be disparities emanating from unequal distribution of resources on a national scale. Altering citizen productivity could result in diminished productivity and inefficient investments (Besley & Coate, 1998). O’Donnell (1994) argues that all forms of democracy that work contrary to popular representation fall under the category of delegative democracy which is a form of democracy where democratic institutions have not been institutionalized. Delegative democracy, according to O’Donnell (1994), is enduring, free from degenerating into authoritarianism, and contains little traces of representative democracy. Delegative democracy may still have traces of inherited economic disintegration. Assar & Weinbull (1993) relate that party identification is the major dynamic or foundation that determines voter behavior. Voter preferences are determined by the nature of political stability on the ground and policy motivation. Citizens enjoying political rights have the ability to influence government and fight for their rights. However, in institutions devoid of elections, citizens resort to influencing government officials through unconstitutional means. Subornment, sycophancy or private petitions become the norm in places that are completely lacking representative democracy.
The wishes and desires of citizens is what drive governments (Simon & Jerit, 2007). The citizen, driven by the need to effect changes, takes course to direct the government to its right destination. People rely on the media to learn new political lessons and thereafter put them to effectual use. Citizens may embark on corrective measures by petitioning government leaders for support and guidance on particular issues of concern. Afterwards, the issue can be deliberated on and changed in a manner that suits the general population. Progress cannot be attained without progressively partaking in steps that change government mistakes. Citizens have the power to replace errant representatives through the one-vote system. Hudson (2009), argues that elections help compensate disparities that may exist in political resources. In the words of Hudson (2009) “elections are considered the essential institution in the modern conception of democracy” (p. 170). People compete in a struggle that leads to scramble for public votes. The Greeks hypothesized the idea of isegoria which implied the right for the people to seek equal representation by speaking to an assembly of representatives. In modern public policy, citizens have no power to change policy like the Greeks did. Changing policies in a representative democracy becomes the prerogative of elected representatives. These views and ideas will then be put into consideration or rejected in a unanimous decision making process. To ensure a representative democracy has the hallmarks of political representation, political parties organize voters after selecting the right candidates slated to hold office. Thereafter, the winning party then forms the structure that forms government of choice. Finally, the party that holds office becomes responsible for any future misgivings until it is removed from office (Hudson, 2009). Office bearers are bound by political accountability and observation of ethical matters that are exclusive to modern representative democracy. This is done to ensure public interest is held at heart and the bureaucratic structure is in line with modern democratic ideals and governance.
Comparable Election Statistics
The distribution of voter demographics during the 2000 presidential elections is replete with social divisions with majority of Latinos and Blacks showing signs of political divisions and party inclination. Nuno (2007) postulated an election where Latinos who were contacted by Latino Republicans voted exclusively for Bush while Latinos contacted by Democrats voted for Al Gore. As is common during election times, lure of promises of relaxed immigration, job creation, and welfare reforms attracted voters to their potential representatives in the divisive 2000 presidential elections. Latino voters exercising their democratic rights through voting doubled between 1980 and 2000 (Nuno, 2007). The proliferation of modern technology like the internet and other most recent technological social interactive innovations may be credited for luring many young voters to the electioneering processes (Brown & Cantor, 2000). The 2000 presidential election did not augur well for many black voters who were either turned away for not having proper identification or simply because they found themselves on the wrong side of the political process.
In the 2000 election, there have been numerous ballot spoilages in the state of Florida that was central to the presidential dispute (Herron & Sekhon, 2005). Historically, African Americans have been voting Democratic given the party’s affinity to the poor that is famous for the provision of social welfare like Medicaid and Food stamps. Campaigning requires meticulous use of resources and advanced methods of attracting voters. The use of canvassing, a method of soliciting votes that requires engaging voters face-to-face, has been skyrocketing in many cities in the last few decades. Studies conducted by Green, Gerber, and Nickerson (2003) found that African Americans campaigning to earn a living, were turned away by White neighborhoods for fear of falling into unknown dragnets. There has been significant increase in the number of youth voters in the 2000 elections. Prior to 1972, American citizens whose ages ranged from 18 to 21 were not allowed to vote according to federal laws (Levine & Lopez, 2002).
According to Levine and Lopez (2002), since 1972, there has been a 4% drop among youth voters in presidential election. The significant drop among youth voters in the 2000 elections shows a significant shift in the youthful citizen’s voting behavior. Because voters are not required to disclose their ages in the ballot box, it becomes difficult for the Federal Electoral Commission (FEC) to monitor matters related to age. To find out age variations of citizens that vote in a specific election, researchers make calculated guesses or estimates. Imai and King (2004), basing their investigation on absentee ballots, found that Bush pressured willing county election officials in Santa Rosa and Escambia in Florida to put into consideration invalid absentee votes from military men and women in uniform. To the contrary, Bush campaigners advised election officials in Democratic strongholds to abstain from counting absentee ballots (Imai & King, 2004). It was this unequal application of legal process that culminated in Al Gore being politically defeated at the end of the electoral process. The manner in which absentee ballots were handled is cause for suspicion. According to FEC regulations, absentee ballots that arrive late do not merit counting. Of the 680 flawed absentee ballots given to Bush for bloating his percentage points, 344 were ineligible for consideration since they arrived later than the projected election date; 183 ballots displayed U.S. postmarks which contravened FEC rules; 169 ballots came from unregistered voters; 69 ballots were devoid of required signatures; 19 people on the electoral roll voted twice; and 5 ballots made through the counting process despite arriving after the November 17 deadline (Imai & King, 2004). The media has been immensely helpful in educating the public and in highlighting the overall significance of voting mainly by relying on news coverage and TV ads. In the 2000 presidential election, voters residing in battleground states had a clear understanding of presidential contenders George W. Bush and Al Gore (Drew & Weaver, 2006).
While modern elections have been beset by too much coverage of presidential elections, what matters most to the voter is the packages of promises and other political pleasantries for distribution after the victorious election of their potential representative. Promises and pleasantries come in the form of developmental projects like improving the educational system, developing medical training and healthcare facilities, building new water and sewage projects, extending parks and recreation facilities, lowering taxation on wages and properties, overcoming unemployment by creating new opportunities, fighting crime and lawlessness by deploying more police officers, and advancing the general living conditions of society. Many representatives, upon claiming victory, renege on their promises and become less active in political discourses leaving voters in total suspense. Between 1980s and 1990s, scholars accentuated matters pertaining to political campaigns brushing aside the Colombia and Michigan schools of voting minimal effects hypothesis (Clinton & Lapinski, 2004).
Media and Political Awareness
For Miller and Krosnick (2000), the media was at first thought of as a destructive force that would have severe repercussions on society’s wellbeing only to appear advantageous in the last two decades after. The media has the power to forge public opinion. Americans’ use of the media for news and information skyrocketed with the birth of digital television and internet technology. According to Gilens, Vavreck, and Cohen (2007), majority of Americans get their news coverage from television as opposed to the past when newspapers dominated the media empire. Despite the explosive political euphoria that gripped the nation during the 2000 contentious election, in terms of voter participation, Americans ranked dismally compared to other industrialized democracies (Hudson, 2009).
According to van Aelst, Maddens, Noppe, and Fries (2008), the media has the power to promote a candidate and as well ensure his or her successful victory if the said candidate is willing to pursue the policy agendas put forward by the media. George W. Bush’s presidential credibility may have been heightened by the attacks on the United States in 2001 resulting in the creation of wars on two fronts. His involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq in pursuit of terrorists and their sympathizers and his confrontation with North Korea altered public attention from the president’s economic agenda that was part of his election promises. The rise in casualties in both wars and the various reprisals against Americans worldwide led to the decline of his ratings in the later years of his presidency. The era of George W. Bush has been famous for many global incidents. Since the U.S. is the major driver of global economy and the source of universal technology, the rapid decline in the nation’s input and output in the succeeding years of his administration drove many voters who initially voted in his favor to turn to the opposite direction of politics. George W. Bush’s reign is symbolic of the reign of William McKinley’s aggressive Philippine rebellion or James Madison’s 1812 war (Ostrom & Simon, 1985). The sensitivity of the public to a president’s approval rating is visible when he initiates war (Ostrom and Simon, 1985) as opposed to when he inherits a conflict of national concern (Gaubatz, 1991). According to Gronke and Brehm (2002), scandals, the economy, and wars are some features that can tarnish or raise a president’s approval ratings.
Baker (2004), taking leaf from the 1998 film Wag the Dog, contends that presidents who go to unnecessary wars have a popularity rating to fix. As noted by Hill and McKee (2005), the Electoral College is an institution that suppresses voter turnout on a national scale. Other than Maine and Nebraska that are exceptions, the rest of the states deliver their Electoral votes in blocs (Hill & McKee, 2005). During the 2000 presidential elections, the Electoral College required every presidential candidate to win 270 electoral votes (Hill & McKee, 2005). Both George Bush and Al Gore spent a bigger portion of their campaign money on states whose outcomes were doubtful or uncertain with Texas and New York remaining the two major states that were solid foundations for both Republicans and Democrats. That is why political rivals for the presidency focused on battleground states while giving little attention to non-battleground states whose general outcomes have been apparent. The percentage of voters that turned out to cast their votes in the 2000 presidential election was below normal official requirements and below electoral projections. Normally, after making inroads into voter territory, candidates expect to influence thousands of voters to their political causes. Regardless of political aspirants mobilizing voters to partake in the electoral processes, last minute voter reluctance resulted in diminished numbers. From a political perspective, the state of Florida has been in the headlines for being a state afflicted by defective electoral administration and systematic electoral tabulations (Mebane, 2004). Gelman and King (1993) argue that the media use of projecting winners is misleading. The authors take note from the opinion poll projections that gave Michael Dukakis a 17 point lead over Bush in the 1998 elections.
Supreme Court Verdict
The Supreme Court lost its legitimacy after it interfered with the 2000 presidential election dispute. The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest legal institution responsible for upholding the constitution. By interfering with the Bush-Al Gore political fracas of the 2000 presidential election, the Supreme Court lost public confidence mainly for displaying partisanship, in a verdict that granted George W. Bush access to the highest office in the land. In making the verdict, Justices Thomas and Rehnquist both based the Supreme Court’s judgment of the disputed election not on political considerations, but on legal grounds (Nicholson & Howard, 2003). Justice Clarence Thomas, a man who is considered a strong conservative among the Supreme Court Justices of the United States, was appointed in 1991 by George W. Bush to succeed Justice Thurgood Marshall. Preceded by Warren Burger and succeeded by John Roberts, a conservative federalist, Justice William Hubbs Rehnquist was appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1994 and eventually left the bench in 2005 after 11 years of judicial service. Justices of the Supreme Court have political leanings since they occupied judicial offices with the blessings of a sitting president having political belonging. Judges of the Supreme generally reach verdicts according to their political, social, and economic leanings. Even after having conceded defeat, Al Gore disputed the Supreme Court’s findings by claiming that political miscalculation was involved (Nicholson & Howard, 2003).
Nicholson and Howard (2003) argue that political judgments made by justices are on their preferences, behavior, and motives. Judges, like the rest of us, have emotions that persuade them to strike a verdict in favor of a cause. Both Bush and Al Gore visualized the retirement of a few justices who were attaining advanced ages thus making new judicial appointments imminent. Nicholson and Hoffmann (2001) argue that, had Al Gore won the presidency, the new judicial appointments would have pursued the legal avenues of Justices Brennan and Thomas, which would lead to a liberal shift in the court membership. A greater part of society sympathized with Al Gore since he had garnered more votes in Florida only to be sidelined as Gibson, Caldeira, and Spence (2003) deliberate in their well-researched scholarly article that castigates the Supreme Court’s unjustified interference. Al Gore, the Democratic presidential contender was projected to win the 2000 election and proclaim the presidency even though the Supreme Court stepped in to rule in favor of George Bush. Despite both candidates winning 48% of the popular votes, the contentious state of Florida overturned Al Gore’s prospects of winning after George W. Bush was declared winner by just one vote. According to Imai and King (2004), the 2000 U.S. presidential election was full of irregularities (Imai & King, 2004). Even after the Supreme Court made its decision to enthrone George W. Bush as president, recounted votes in Florida showed Al Gore obtaining 202 extra votes (Imai and King 2004). These new electoral and political developments came to fore after the New York Times carried an intensive investigation that uncovered 680 illegally counted overseas ballots that went to George W. Bush (Imai & King, 2004). Thus, the illegal excess ballots gave Bush a mere 537 votes over his opponent Al Gore. Fullerton (2001) argues that the 2000 presidential election went down in history as the first election to have ushered in an unlawful winning candidate into the White House.
Hillygus and Jackman (2003) assert that the 2000 U.S. presidential election was discriminatory against a great section of American society. According to Hudson (2009), the drastic fall in voter turnout signified that often, citizens perceive voting as being wearisome, expensive, and lacking benefit. For the last fifty years, America’s media has been undergoing metamorphosis by changing its primary features like mode of operations, leadership qualities, and general influence. There has been a drastic decline in nightly network news coverage and a drop in newspaper circulation. After the decline of the print media, television and the internet rose up to play gargantuan tasks by relaying news related to the political mechanisms of mobilization and electioneering. The role of political parties diminished in the last one hundred years leading to drastic drop in equal representation. A number of factors have been blamed for this sudden decline. Because millions of voters of different political parties and espousing varying political ideologies mobilize to pick officials of their choosing, it becomes impossible to advance equal representation.
Unlike in Athenian Greece where citizens debated publicly in assemblies and in the marketplace to present their rhetorical voices to their leaders, modern representative democracy is complicated by the one vote system required of each citizen lining up to cast vote. Hudson (2009) heaps blame on the dysfunctional state of the civil service as being behind the cause of lack of direction and poor provision of essential facilities for running elections. According to Rosenbloom, Kravchuk, and Clerkin (2009), lack of oversight by public officials and public misconception of elected officials resulted in the decline of smooth government operations. Shamsul Haque (2000) argues that the media played significant role in formulating public policy and governance in the last half a century. The rise of civic movements, has led to increased political campaigning though avenues for public deliberation seem to be missing from American democracy (Hudson, 2009).
Bob Dole’s Castigation of the Media
In the past, there have been outcries from political contenders about the media’s inclination to opposition contenders in major elections. Scholars, academics, and the public often voice their concerns by castigating the media for taking the wrong side during elections. An example of a historical condemnation of media misbehavior that captured national attention erupted during Bob Dole’s political struggle to occupy the White House. In his quest to occupy the highest office in the land, Bob Dole lost to political heavyweight Bill Clinton (Watts, Domke, Shah, & Fan, 1999). Unlike in totalitarian countries where the media is either owned or coerced by the regime in power, in Western democracies, media houses enjoy an atmosphere of freedom with little obstruction coming from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). American media is protected by the constitution which allows freedom of speech and freedom of press. Gentzkow and Shapiro (2006) contend that the media distorts news and information by feeding the public with defective news especially when the nation is engaged in wars. Negative media coverage of a candidate can tremendously alter voter views and intentions. Studies have found that the media practices the act of slanting electoral news with the intention of discrediting a rival candidate’s prospects of winning election against a favorite candidate (Druckman & Parkin, 2005).
Druckman and Parkin (2005) discuss how coverage from various newspapers are weighed for editorial content and then analyzed for language discrepancies. The nature of language is then filtered for tone which could either be positive, negative, or neutral. Candidates receiving newspaper and television editorial endorsements have a better chance of attracting voters. A candidate with previous media experience has a better chance of claiming victory than one who has never stepped into the media profession before. In the 2000 Senate race of Minnesota between Rod Grams of the Republican Party and Mark Dayton of the Democratic Party, Dayton claimed victory with 48.8% of counted votes against incumbent Grams. Grams was associated with the media in the past mainly in the St. Paul area of Minneapolis before being elected to the House in 1994. Because of his past association with Target Corporation, Dayton became a favorite candidate among voters (Druckman & Parkin, 2005). Two major papers, the Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press were the preferred papers of the population of Minneapolis and St. Paul. In the 2000 Florida presidential election, 3,407 votes that were intended for Al Gore were wrongly diverted to Pat Buchanan of the Reform Party according people close to the voting initiative (Agresti & Presnell, 2002). Agresti and Presnell (2002) argue that in some counties of Florida where the punch card was prominent, a voting irregularity known as the undervote by the media or “hanging hand”, severely undermined Al Gore’s prospects of obtaining the right votes from his followers.
Lobbying and Campaign Contributions
Besides the media, lobbying bodies have considerable power to influence political parties and prepare a new government through aggressive political meddling, creation of coalition partners, and through financial contributions for their candidate of choice. Political parties seek the help of lobbyists to advance their political agendas. While some applaud the positive steps taken by lobbyists in rejuvenating the economy during elections, others castigate the inefficient policy choices that come with lobbying. Lobbyists can cause economic plunders that spread unemployment when distributed money is used in an illegal manner thus leading to policy choices that are Pareto efficient (Besley & Coates, 1997). No matter the insignificance of lobbyists to some, in a nutshell, it is part of the political process and will remain so until such a time when it is deemed unnecessary and unbeneficial. Lobbying choices may be worth its actions when it is truthful and capable of raising equilibria. Despite America having all the hallmarks of a representative democracy, scholarly refutations emerge due to corporate influence and the visible fabrics of corporate democracy. Feingold (1998) perceives a cornucopia of corporate intermingling in American representative democracy. Since corporate democracy is dictated by corporate power and stakeholder investment, the chance of succeeding in such a system is in the long run dampened by the stiff model of corporate power that makes absolutely impossible for someone having little influence to emerge victorious. Further, Feingold (1998) decries how campaign contributions undermine the “one person, one vote” of American democracy.
When campaign financiers race for access to a representative, the prospect of elevating the legislative and electoral and processes become futile. As stipulated in the constitution, each and every citizen has one vote to cast in an election whereas the same candidate may contest to vie for political office In the case of one citizen standing for public office without any challenge, that candidate shall occupy office unchallenged (Besley & Coates, 2001). American political landscape is full of powerful opportunistic lobbyists and mega-corporations whose presence in the corridors of the White House and Capitol Hill rest on the will to wedge a hammer between party of choice and the party in the opposition. Since freedom of association and of assembly is contained in the constitution, lobbyists remain in the forefront of penetrating official establishments for paltry political gains. The private sector has been subjected to problems that hold back the improvement of the private sector. They include scandals, theft, unprofessional conduct, cluster of difficult intermediaries, and a host of other manifest sentiments that cordon the road to progress. American elections have become inconsequential given the nature of power struggle by political contenders and the wasteful spending nature of funds raised by supporters that is exclusively spent for disseminating political messages through the use of the media. In the 1992 presidential election, Bill Clinton led the race by raising enough campaign money despite the litigious Lewinsky affair (Hudson, 2009).
In a like measure, because of their immense financial power, George W. Bush and Al Gore finally emerged victorious in the 2000 election by trouncing their potential competitors. Likewise, in a political battle of nine contenders, Obama and Hillary Clinton emerged triumphant in the 2008 election. Both candidates, assisted by the use of telephonic and modern internet fundraising techniques, emerged early top contenders of their party. Raising enough money in any presidential primary is advantageous for the contender who strives to wage credible campaigns in areas of political concern. Buying significant advertising slots from the print and electronic media advances the chances of a political aspirant emerging victorious. Prevailing in an unchartered constituency requires capturing the attention of undecided voters through rigorous advertising and political campaigns. The foundations of economic crises apparent in the private sector are a result of the impositions of greedy individuals in the public sector having avid craving for worldly control and ownership. Since the media is attached to powerful conglomerations for upkeep and resources, intervention in the political process becomes apparent. Other than disseminating news and information, the media has become an imperialistic force that is capable of transforming or shaping cultures (Schiller, 1991).
Citizens that rely on the media for news and information tend to be more informed of unfolding political, social, and economic events in their nation and universally. Despite the excessive disposition of the media in the industrialized work, modern studies point to a decline in the number of viewers relying on broadcasting networks and newspaper publications (Davis, 2003). American politics of equal representation, despite the existence of stringent financial reforms, continues to suffer at the hands of the powerful and rich. The passing of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) of 1974 was passed by Congress to deter illegal financial contributions during national elections. The legislation came following Nixon’s Reelection campaign of 1972 when powerful lobbyists and campaigners contributed suitcases of illegal money for the former president’s reelection. In 1979 Congress amended FECA to allow political parties to broaden their campaign funding. FECA’s easing of party fundraising without restrictions attached, resulted in parties soliciting unaccounted amount of money to be used on voter education and voter registration drives. Such campaign contributions came to be known as “soft money”. According to FECA statutes, soft money could only be used for campaign advertisements and that at no time could it be used to entice voters to vote for a particular candidate. Despite the two major parties spending an estimated $500 million for campaign activities in the 2000 election, attention shifted to the so-called “hard money” or money coming from direct wealthy contributors.
The unregulated nature of soft money contributions coupled with the excessive involvement of tainted mega-corporations, led Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin to table legislation that would restrict soft money contributions despite stiff opposition from fellow legislators (Hudson, 2009). Fearing further financial crisis for scandal-ridden corporations and after the collapse of Enron, the reigning President of the United States, George W. Bush, finally signed the act into law. Congressional restrictions on soft money resulted in political parties forging relations with Political Action Committees also known as PACs. Ansolabehere, Snyder, and Tripathi (2000) argue that PAC is heavily engaged in various activities including lobbying and raising campaign funds for candidates sharing political views. Congressional legislation on financial reforms that aimed at limiting individual financial contributions, setting the amount of money individuals could contribute towards a presidential contender, and lessen funding by big corporation financing of presidential elections. In modern American political history, only two candidates have been successful in occupying political office using their own money. Billionaire Michael Bloomberg secured New York’s mayoral post by spending a tiny fraction of his fortune while John Corzine, an investment banker, spent roughly $60 million of his own money to win the 2000 senatorial election in New Jersey in 2001.
According to Hudson (2009), Corzine was elected governor of New Jersey while Bloomberg was reelected major. Two famous and influential billionaire-candidates, Steve Forbes, who ran on a Republican ticket in the 1996 and 2000 presidential elections and Ross Perot, who ran for the top office in 1992 and 1996 respectively, financed their own campaigns to win the presidency (Hudson, 2009). Another political application that has pilfered into every American election is volunteerism that falls under political participation or civic engagement. Civic engagement is a form of physical social interaction where select groups of people, driven by the urge to effect change, take responsibility to educate society in the fields of public education, legal improvement, economic development, and social needs (Sobieraj, 2006,). In contemporary democratic elections, voluntary associations driven by utopian vision and the desire to exercise their democratic rights, mobilize during election phases so as to assist party of affiliation and potential candidates by sorting mail intended for party supporters and undecided voters. In American elections, winning political office requires a candidate to be surrounded by a retinue of campaign experts and willing volunteers. Civic engagement can be a vital tool for educating volunteers; it improves citizen confidence and as well elevates assurance; it raises human competence and educates volunteers engaged in the political arena.
Beginning from the date a president-elect declares victory in November until the swearing-in ceremony that falls on January 20, the nation remains immersed in a period known as the “transition” period when arrangements for handing power capture the political scene in the nation’s capital, Washington, DC (Zywicki, 2001). It is within this short period of seventy-three days that the president-elect assembles appointees that comprise senior policy analysts specialized in policy formulations. The president-elect delivers to Congress his budget version and in addition embarks on putting together selective legislative priorities. As Zywicki (2001) contends, David G. Barram, the man appointed by Clinton to head the General Services Administration (GSA), was reluctant to release the funds slated for the new administration. It was not until the Supreme Court reached its verdict of granting Bush and Cheney the right to hold office that the funds started trickling in. Until 1963, the party of the presidential-elect was responsible for funding presidential transitions while volunteers managed transitional offices.
According to Gomez, Hansford, and Krause (2007), even weather patterns were a defining factor in the 2000 elections. Powerful media houses like the New York Times, CNN, and ABC News made numerous weather forecasts during the 2000 elections. The authors contend that voter turnout depended on the existing conditions. During snowy and rainy days, voter population diminished. Poor weather conditions tended to favor Republican voters who arrived in droves to cast their votes. The study focused on the behavioral voting of voters in 3,000 counties in 14 U.S. presidential elections between 1948 and 2000. The media had deep impact on voting behaviors of voters in the 2000 election campaigns. According to Pew Research Center, in 2004, a staggering 75% of the U.S. adult population that corresponds to 37% of adults and 61% of internet users logged onto the internet to get their political news (Drew & Weaver, 2006). The online surge increased to 50% between the 2000 and 2004 elections, according to the research by PEW Research Foundation.
Religion and Moral Issues
Morality is a big issue in American politics especially among religious conservatives whose majority of supporters rally behind the Republican Party. Hillygus and Shields (2005) assert that in the 2004 presidential election, voters were asked what the most important issue facing the nation was. Majority who were conservatives and who voted for George W. Bush pointed to moral issues. With the help of conservative media, the issue of gay and abortion usually dominates political debates with the catchphrase “On Tuesday, vote God” becoming the rallying cry that unites churchgoers opposed to practices deemed immoral and corrupting society. In the 2004 presidential exit poll, 80 % of voters who voted for George W. Bush mentioned morality as the most important issue facing the nation in the while 18% of respondents who voted for John Kerry mentioned morality as a big issue. Big issues like terrorism, the war in Iraq, taxes, jobs and the economy, and healthcare received little attention in the 2004 exit poll. Despite shifting political demographics among Latino population, the media exposed little information about Latino party identification in the 2004 presidential election.
Abrajano, Alvarez, and Nagler (2008) have a different demographical statistics regarding Latino or Hispanic voting dynamics in the 2004 election. Throughout this essay, the names Latinos and Hispanics will be used interchangeably. Despite voting Democratic for years, a bigger percentage of Latino voters turned to Bush in the 2004 election mainly to support the anti-gay, anti-abortion activism. From a historical standpoint, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans have been allied with the Democratic Party while Cubans supported the Republican Party (Abrajano, Alvarez, & Nagler, 2008). According to a 2004 PEW Hispanic Center, Latinos perceived the economy to be the most important factor deserving attention. As shown by the PEW Hispanic Center, second and third generation Hispanics have been switching allegiance by abandoning their long time party of affiliation, the Democratic Party, to the Republican Party, citing insecurity and moral issues as major concerns (Abrajano, Alvarez, & Nagler, 2008). American politics of racial demographics has been dominated by four races since the turn of the century: White, Black or African American, Hispanic or Latinos, and Asian. These four racial classifications have been shaping the political system for years with Whites leading the political role and remaining majority in the nation’s governance from county, state, to federal level. In recent years, there has seen a shift from White aristocratic rule to black minority rule.
The election of Barack Obama, a man of mixed race and a former state senator from Illinois, titled the political scale when he defeated Republican Party presidential hopefuls Senator John McCain of Arizona and his running mate Sarah Palin, a former governor of Alaska. American elections are tedious, clangorous, and lengthy. Confusion reigns from the time campaigns kick off to the time of election. An election defeat brings in opportunities for the winning side and a loss of power and resources for the losing side. In all aspects, American elections come with gains and losses. A newly elected president has the power to make a difference by making new policies through congressional help and as well make new appointments that benefit his supporters. A matter of national concern that draws voters to the ballot box on Election Day is the issue of economic policy which is usually ceded to a retinue of civilian bureaucrats. While voters may not necessarily have a glimpse of how the economy works, matters pertaining to job creation and other social amenities capture their attention. Despite promises of policy changes in election campaigns, the winning president could vacate office without making considerable gains for the four or eight years of official duties. Nowadays, modern researchers have taken to the pen and by writing a lot about bias in American elections.
Since the constitution insists on the equality of all races before the law, the conception of denying minorities the right to vote has been a burning issues and an unending political phenomenon having negative implications on a margin of the citizenry for a long time. Despite repeated calls by public officials to allow minorities to cast their votes, still, voting disparities exist among the different races of the nation. Despite being the most advanced democracy in the world, voting restrictions imposed on minorities by party apparatchiks dissuade thousands if not millions of voters from grasping their constitutional and democratic rights. There seem to be a policy of exclusionism practiced by officials who have no regard for human the equality and equal justice enshrined in the constitution. The concept of “One Nation under God” seems to be apparently absent from a sector of society either due to exclusionism or other discriminatory practices and the lack of credible information and education. The 2000 presidential election has gone down in American history as an election that was riddled with political malpractices and social division. Had the elderly and African Americans gained access to polling stations and exercised their constitutional rights to partake in the 2000 presidential elections, the American political landscape would have been completely different and there would have been little resistance.
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