Thursday, August 21, 2008

The "low-information voter:" A portrait

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking about the ritual pursuit every four years of the moron vote--often euphemistically referred to by pollsters as the "undecided" or "low-information" vote.

Sometimes, though, I find that a picture is worth a thousand polls. Here's a scene from a NYTimes story this morning datelined--just to preview the tone of the article--Raccoon Township, PA:

Many voters talk of reading a stream of false and shadowy rumors purveyed by e-mail: Mr. Obama does not put his hand on his heart during the national anthem, he is a Muslim, he did not say hello to enlisted men in Afghanistan. Some disregard these rumors; some do not. […]

Ivan Stickles, a carpenter, worked on his motorcycle in his driveway in Hopewell. Mr. Stickles, 57, is not taking what he sees as a gamble on Obama.

“There’s this e-mail that he didn’t shake hands with the troops,” Mr. Stickles said of a rumor that is false. “I don’t have the time to check out if it’s true, but if it is, it’s very offensive.”

This vignette is one of many in an article about the difficulties of winning the rural blue-collar vote in economically depressed places like Raccoon Township for both McCain and Obama--but especially for Obama, although the reporter doesn't seem to settle for very long on a single explanation why. And in fairness, many of the locals quoted in the story have a much better handle on the facts--and what to do with them--than Mr. Stickles.

There are lessons to be learned here, of course--one of them is that the Democrats should never underestimate the effectiveness of those "forward this to everyone you know!" dogwhistle emails that can quickly, repeatedly, and unaccountably spread misinformation that even Hannity, Coulter, and Limbaugh aren't ready to touch. There are people out there for whom this untraceable discharge is a main source of political information.

Somerby (who found the Times story before I did, so props there) raises two incomparable points. The first is that there may not be much you can do with the hard-core center of the moron vote--the √úbermorons, if you will. But the second point is that doing nothing at all to challenge the unending flow itself of the crap being fed to the Stickleses of the land is a proven way to lose elections.

Of course, there’s no way to keep every damn-fool voter from believing every damn-fool story he hears. But the Democratic Party has been massively harmed in the past two White House elections by false accusations against its candidates. Our question: Have you seen the party make any effort to bring this general problem to the attention of regular voters? Have you seen the party develop messaging urging voters to doubt the things they get told? Have you seen the party discuss Jerome Corsi—who is back, of course, with a new, nasty book? Have you seen the party make any effort to discuss the false claims about Gore?

Have you seen the party show any sign that it prefers to win elections?

Readers; it’s a great bumper sticker: Friends don’t let friends believe rumors!

One of the things my nerdy, pedantic self loves about Firefox is that I can highlight a phrase on a page, right-click it, and immediately search the page to check it out. I've got friends who, I suspect, send me stuff from time to time just for the amusement of poking that habit of mine with a stick. So I'm not the problem, and I'd guess you aren't either, but there's not much good to be gained by the two of us smugly wearing our "I cancel out a moron vote" button (see above). We're not the problem here, true, but talking to each other isn't the solution, either.

There are small rays of light here and there: Rachel Maddow will soon have her own show on MSNBC. A couple of high-profile beltway press corps members have started calling McCain not just on this or that falsehood, but more importantly on the pattern of constant falsehoods, although they seem to do so more in sorrow than in anger.

But those are a couple of squirt guns from the Dollar Store against the forest fire of misinformation and zombie lies out there, propagated by right-wing bloggers, conservative radio hosts, Sunday talking-heads programs, campaign surrogates, swift-boaters--and, of course, Maureen Dowd. Can a Democratic candidate win the White House without publicly calling out the right, and the lazy, compliant media, on it?

1 comment:

Chuck Butcher said...

I think the world of Rachel Maddow's appearances and I am heartily glad she will have a show - which I'll watch, religiously. But...
I'm afraid that as an antidote to moronism she's a placebo. Most MSNBC watchers will already agree with her, rather than be edikated by her.