The Pundits are Polarized, Not the Public

FoxNews has an article quoting Michael Moore and Bernard Goldberg making the case that the United States is very divided politically. The main evidence for this is the absurdly close 2000 election and the popularity of ideological books such as the recent bestsellers by Moore and Goldberg. I suspect the reality is just the opposite.

One of the longstanding debates between the left and the right is whether the news media — especially broadcast television — is biased toward one side or the other. As someone who is often infuriated at news broadcasts, I think the answer is neither. Rather, news broadcasts are targeted toward a middle-of-the-road relatively non-ideological political position which I suspect the vast majority of Americans subscribe to.

What the Left and Right do not want to hear is that, for the most part, Americans aren’t really into ideological politics. In fact most of the people I know a) are not really interested in politics and b) tend to have a mishmash of views across the ideological spectrum. I see a fair amount of interest in very narrow special interest politics — someone concerned about federal funding for breast cancer research, abortion-related activism, but not much beyond that.

Of course people like Michael Moore and Bernard Goldberg want to think that there is this deep political division and that they are appealing to their respective side, but I suspect sales of their books are driven largely because of the general middle-of-the-road consensus. Personally, being an extremely ideological person in a relatively non-ideological society drives me nuts. My idea of entertaining television is “Crossfire.” So of course the minority of ideological folks, fed up with the bland centrist television news, are going to flock to buy books like Bias or Stupid White Men.

The 2000 election is really the clincher. Moore thinks that because Gore and Bush were separated by a few hundred votes, that is an indication of a divided country. Maybe among hardcore Democrat and Republican activists, but the reason they were so close is that they held almost identical positions. Sure they differed on some of the details — details that most people don’t seem to give a hoot about — but their broader ideological positions were almost identical. Bush moved to the Left on abortion, Gore moved to the Right on free trade, and they looked more like members of the same party during the nationally televised debates than sworn ideological enemies.

If Americans were really divided by ideology, I would have thought Ralph Nader would have actually been able to poll significant numbers. Moore, after all, campaigned incessantly on behalf of Nader as the true left/liberal candidate and I suspect his performance in the polls — under 5 percent — closely reflects the number of people in Moore’s ideological tent.

And 5 percent of adults in the United States is more than enough to make a book like Moore’s a best seller. And the same phenomenon probably explains Goldberg’s success. Yes, 400,000 copies is a lot of books, but it’s still a drop in the buck to the small percentage of committed ideological conservatives.

The claim that Americans are polarized is simply wishful thinking on the part of Moore, Goldberg and other ideological activists.

Source:

There’s a Bias, but Is It Left or Right? FoxNews, March 26, 2002.

The Religious Right, the Nutty Left and Everybody In Between

After I posted about that horrific child murder in Chicago, Seth Dillingham noticed that the news story seemed awfully slanted against religion. Seth writes,

So many people crow about the unfair, imbalanced influence that the “religious right” has on the U.S. political system. The “religious right” political bodies bug me too, much of the time, but what really saddens me is this apparent feeling that they shouldn’t be heard at all.

What’s always amazed me about the “religious right” is how if you repackage the exact same ideas in a liberal package, people don’t even seem to notice. So if Jerry Falwell came out and said we need to start censoring movies to save our decadent culture he would be blasted for it and every pundit with a pen (or word processor) would be wringing their hands about the influence of the religious right.

But last year when both Al Gore and Ralph Nader indicated their desire to see the government step in to do something about Hollywood, pretty much no one cared. If Jerry Falwell says that the Teletubbies promote homosexuality, he’s headline news and the laughing stock of the country, but when a liberal group blasts GI Joe and other toys for promoting violence to children the news media generally laps it up.

More Nader Censorship Schemes

The Associated Press reports that Ralph Nader’s group Commercial Alert has filed a complained with the Federal Trade Commission about search engines that sell search rankings. According to Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert,

Search engines have become central in the quest for learning and knowledge in our society. The ability to skew the results in favor of hucksters without telling consumers is a serious problem.

From the looks of things, Ruskin is a putz with nothing better to do. For example, one of the search engines Commercial Alert complained about was AltaVista (which I was surprised to learn was still around — who uses this anymore?) Here’s a screenshot of a search I did a while ago on the word “automobile.”

Now maybe it goes right over Ruskin’s head, but it was obvious to me that “Partner Listings” is AltaVista-speak for “these people paid to be included here.” Placing the “We found 1,913,925 results” after the Partner Listings further delineates the paid-for listings from the “objective” search results.

The really scary thing about Nader’s groups is that what they really want long-term is for all rules that apply to traditional broadcasting to apply to the web as well. As the Associated Press sums it up,

In its complaint, Commercial Alert alleges that the search engines’ misleading paid listings are equivalent to television infomercials masquerading as independent programming. In the past, the FTC has cracked down on infomercials that weren’t adequately labeled as advertising.

Applying the bloated rules and bureaucracy that governs television to the web would be an unmitigated disaster, not the least of which because it would open the door for demagogues like Nader who made no bones about his desire to use the FTC to censor media — such as the video game industry — that are largely beyond the reach of government censors. In fact, Nader referred to the video game industries as “electronic child molesters” in an October 1999 campaign press release.

Thanks Ralph, but no thanks.

Florida Follies

  • Being from Michigan watching the coverage of last night’s election was a lot like watching a Detroit Lions football game — you just have to expect you’re going to see a lot of fumbles, poor clock management, and generally bad decision making. Why all the major networks decided to call Florida for Bush given the slim margin he had escapes me.
  • The most surreal moment with Florida was channel surfing between NBC and CBS earlier in the evening. CBS was the first network to my knowledge to acknowledge the early error and remove Florida from a solid Gore state to close to call, while NBC waited longer. So on NBC Tom Brokaw and company were wondering if it was possible for Bush to possibly win without Florida, while Dan Rather on CBS was simultaneously wondering if Gore could possibly make up the huge hole he had put himself in by giving Bush a shot in Florida. Bizarre.
  • Biggest surprise of the campaign: Pat Buchanan’s humiliating vote totals. He gets $12 million in matching funds and in many states he got beat by Libertarian Party candidate Harry Browne. Buchanan is officially politically dead.
  • Second biggest surprise: everybody was talking about Ralph Nader’s role as a spoiler, shifting potential Democrats to the Green Party and winning the election for Bush. Note, however, that if Bush should lose Florida on a recount, Libertarian Party candidate Harry Browne’s vote total — roughly 18,000 — would be greater than Gore’s victory margin. Unlikely to happen, but possible.

Polling Data

Tracking polls fascinate me and Delan McCullagh’s got a nice feature at Wired on Keeping Track of Tracking Polls. I knew for instance that most polling companies aside from Rasmussen will work for candidates, but I didn’t realize Gallup pushes undecided voters to choose between candidates.

Based on McCullagh’s analysis, the most accurate tracking data seems to be at Rasmussen’s Portrait of America website, and it’s very bad news for Al Gore and Ralph Nader. Gore because he’s losing by 7 points — which isn’t that big given the margin of error but translates into a huge loss in the electoral college. Nader because he’s well below the 5 percent threshold the Green Party needs to get federal matching funds in 2004.