I’m still (mostly) avoiding articles on that One weird trick! which won Trump/cost Clinton the election, mostly because I don’t trust anyone right now who is confident in her conclusions.
As I mentioned in my original election post-mortem, I think there are a number of variables which factored into Trump’s win and Clinton’s loss, and that the particular ordering of those variables likely shifted from state to state. Further, given that information is still coming in—any bets on what will ultimately be Clinton’s popular-vote lead over Der Donald?—we don’t even have all the pieces to begin trying to assemble these puzzles.
What can be done, however, is analysis of each of those pieces: how much did Clinton’s sex matter? what was the role of economic anxiety in voting? what is ‘economic anxiety’? etc.
And, of course, what was the role of the media? Well, that may only be theorized, never truly known, but one can at least look at the coverage, it’s shape and tone—which is exactly what the Shorenstein Center did.
This is only one study, of course, but it highlights the role of the negative in press coverage:
Negative coverage was the order of the day in the general election. Not a week passed where the nominees’ coverage reached into positive territory. It peaked at 81 percent negative in mid-October, but there was not a single week where it dropped below 64 percent negative.
Even those numbers understate the level of negativity. Much of the candidates’ “good press” was in the context of the horserace—who is winning and who is losing and why.
Negativity in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, but
The mainstream press highlights what’s wrong with politics without also telling us what’s right.
It’s a version of politics that rewards a particular brand of politics. When everything and everybody is portrayed as deeply flawed, there’s no sense making distinctions on that score, which works to the advantage of those who are more deeply flawed. Civility and sound proposals are no longer the stuff of headlines, which instead give voice to those who are skilled in the art of destruction. The car wreck that was the 2016 election had many drivers. Journalists were not alone in the car, but their fingerprints were all over the wheel.
There’s a lot more at the link—a lot more—so g’head and read it all.
Media folk will have to figure out for themselves what, if any, professional standards they wish to uphold in their campaign coverage, but it’s also damned clear that candidates must prepare themselves for another worst- (or even worst-er-) case scenario in plotting their own messaging strategies and tactics.
I have precisely zero advice on what those strategies and tactics should look like. Trump received a great deal of negative coverage, which (apparently?) didn’t hurt him; Clinton was also covered negatively, and it (apparently?) did hurt her.
Man, it’s tough even to figure out the affects of the coverage: how much did it really matter in any direction? I tend to agree with Rick Perlstein that it sure as hell didn’t help, but beyond that? Dunno, and dunno if anyone does know: I’m guessing there will be all kinds of regressions run over the next few years to try to tease out some kind of answer.
In the meantime, it might be worthwhile for current and would-be Democratic politicians to start dry-running different tactics right now to try to determine what works vis-à-vis the media—and if nothing works, what then.
Because they—we—have to be prepared. Even if it only matters on the margins, well, elections are won and lost on those margins.