Pre-emptive Election Coverage
Media outlets are already focusing on 2016 candidates
Within the past few weeks, CNN published an article entitled “N.Y. poll: Cuomo rumps Trump in possible showdown,” the New York Times released “Four Problems With Chris Christie 2016” and the Washington Post reported on “Why Jeb Bush is the Single Biggest Question Mark in the 2016 Sweepstakes.” In fact, the Huffington Post even has an entire section of their website dedicated to potential 2016 candidates with dozens of articles. Although the 2016 election is more than two and a half years away, political commentators and pundits have begun to devote a great deal of time speculating and attempting to predict who will make a bid for the White House.
In 2001, historian and political scientist Michael Parenti wrote: “The political campaign is reduced to a horse race: Who will run? Who will get the nomination? Who will win the election? News commentators sound like theater critics as they hold forth on how this or that candidate projected a positive image, came across effectively, and had a good rapport with the audience. The actual issues are accorded scant attention, and the democratic dialogue that is supposed to accompany a contest for public office rarely takes place.”
Much of the dialogue relating to 2016 candidates deals with polls, surveys of potential match-ups between big-name political figures. However, the legitimacy of these polls is highly debated. Don Campbell, retired White House Correspondent for Gannett News Service and Washington editor for USA Today, argued that this early in the election cycle, information received from polls is not valuable.
“With few exceptions, the people who ended up with the nomination, for either party, were not the people that were leading a year or two years earlier,” Campbell said.
At this point in time, polls “reflect name recognition, and of course name recognition is largely determined by media coverage,” he said. He also said that the mid-term elections in 2014 should be receiving substantially more coverage than they are now.
“The midterm elections this November may have more to do with the next ten years future of this country than what happens in 2016,” he said. “These are very, very important.”
John Balduzzi, President of the Balduzzi Group, a political consulting firm with offices in New York City and Washington, takes a different issue with this kind of speculation. Balduzzi believes that because the media now begins coverage of prospective candidates so early, the behavior of politicians has changed. Politicians have begun to make choices based not on what is in the best interest of their constituents, but rather on what will put them in the best position to make a run for higher office later. Balduzzi cited the raising of the debt ceiling as an example of this.
“The debt ceiling gets raised, and I’m sure there were some people, thinking about running for president who made their vote thinking ‘I wanna make sure that this looks good if and when I run for president two years from now,’ as opposed to ‘what’s good for the country right now,’” he said.
However, the amount of media coverage candidates should receive is still very much up for debate. Julia Wallace, former Political Editor at USA Today and current Market Vice President at Cox Media Group Ohio, believes that reporting about potential candidates is still a crucial part of the political system.
“I think it’s a chance for candidates to understand the landscape, and for the public to learn a little about the candidates… The race for president is an important one, so the fact that people would write about it now to me doesn’t seem inappropriate at all, I think it’s good,” Wallace said.
She also acknowledged that media is a consumer-driven field; if people want to hear about prospective presidential candidates, they should be able to.
“If you say, I’m only going to write about what I believe is important, and people don’t believe it’s important, then you really haven’t achieved anything,” Wallace said. “You’ve got to be able to write about issues that, when you write about them, people believe that they’re important.”
Of course, like any business, media companies should be responsive to the desires of their consumers. So, perhaps the larger question is why consumers of media are so fascinated with predicting who will run for office. Does it come from legitimate interest and investment in our political system? Maybe we become fascinated with a horse race, where we’re more interested in the race itself than the results?
Taylor Ford is a freshman politics major who will decide who he is voting for on election day. Email him it at tford1[at]ithaca.edu.