If candidates appeared on reality TV would voters finally turn out?
I’ve been diving into this issue of voter turnout, or lack thereof, in San Antonio and posed a question to some of my Facebook friends as to what they think the problem is. As you may know, the more local the race the smaller the turnout. So one reason I put out was the lack of media exposure for candidates at the local level. I’ve found that many people in San Antonio can name some of the possible 2012 presidential candidates but can’t even name their current city council member. So what will it take to raise awareness of local elections to the point where people will start turning out to vote?
These days, with all the various media outlets, both traditional and new, it’s almost impossible for people in America not to know who’s running for president, or even thinking about it. Even when they exit the race they stay in the media limelight. Just ask Sarah Palin who brought us that ratings buster reality show “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.” Trump even beat them all to the tube with “The Apprentice,” with some expecting us to see a presidential version for the veep slot, if he makes it to the nomination. Okay, just kidding on that part.
But when you roll that media exposure down the ballot to the state and local level, it’s easy to start seeing the correlation between media exposure and voter turnout. Some people commented that the candidates aren’t that exciting with “nothing to get passionate over.” Others pointed out that it’s hard to really dig into what they stand for, that there’s no very good place to sum up their positions. Honestly, they really brought out some things I hadn’t considered, but maybe that’s because I eat, sleep, and drink this stuff.
At the presidential level information on the candidates is in abundance. Almost everyone wants to get into the game, even down to the local level including bloggers like myself. There’s the mainstream media outlets, there are analytical sites like FiveThirtyEight and Politico, and there are countless blogs and alternative news sites to help slice and dice the candidates 20 ways to one. There are even sites to validate information provided by the candidates like Fact Check and Politifact.
At the state level the information isn’t quite as available but still provided by some good outlets. In Texas we have the major city media outlets and their political reporters, the Texas Tribune provides more in depth reporting on Texas politics, and then there are the bloggers such as the Burnt Orange Report. Even Politifact has a Texas Edition managed by the Austin American-Statesman to check out the claims of Texas politicians and public figures. But when it comes down to the local level, what do we really have?
Until recently, the only news source was the San Antonio Express-News, the San Antonio Current, or some of the TV stations. Heck, you could even throw in the San Antonio Lightning as a source of information; you just had to dig a little to make sure the stories were credible. During the last mayoral race I provided information as well San Antonio Mayor, a site that is now dead. Even that coverage was limited due to constraints on the local staff to carry all the load. Trust me, after blogging for a while it’s sometimes difficult to keep up with the locals and keep everything straight.
Recently a new site, Plaza de Armas (PDA), has sprung up as a new source of political information, covered in a more in depth approach, much like the Texas Tribune. Pulling reporters from the Express-News and Current, the group has been doing a good job of digging a little deeper and taking a little more aggressive stance on reporting local issues. They even added a colorful reporter, Jade Estaban Estrada, to provide that flair reporting about the candidates. However, the site launched as a paywall site which limits it to really people like myself who can’t get enough news at the local level. The price is not expensive, $60 a year, but more than your casual voter cares to pay for news.
When looking at candidates, in many cases the drama can be so arcane on issues that it’s difficult to determine if it’s really an issue or not. Council members deal more with stray dogs, graffiti, and sidewalks. Granted they take on large projects but almost every resident wants to know what a council member is going to do about their street or neighborhood first. Frankly, there are lots of promise but those problems are usually already in solution mode.
So there’s not a lot of things to dig into with council candidates, making their campaigns pretty bland. It’s really up to the news organizations to set the discussion and draw out the candidates positions on matters. Recently, both PDA and the Current published questionnaires sent to the candidates but those take time to digest and stake out positions. Even I don’t do a good job of laying out those positions, largely because I’m discovering them as I dig into the race. Remember, I’m just a volunteer blogger on the side of politics.
So it’s left up to the average citizen to do their own spelunking of the candidates to see where they stand. That means reading a lot of articles and blogs, dissecting candidate websites, and going to a lot of candidate forums to ask questions and hear answers. In today’s armchair society, I think you see where this is going.
In reality, voters don’t get engaged when they don’t know what an election is about or why they should care. Most will not visit the polls if they don’t know who the candidates are or what they stand for. I have to give them credit for not casting the “blind or gamble vote.”
Until media exposure or intriguing candidates enter our local political space, we can expect more miniscule voter turnout for local elections.