Election day came and went, and there’s a good chance that you might be feeling more relieved than empowered.
What was all the noise about? How could so many spend so much on so little?
Here’s how Mitch Pearlstein, founder and president of the conservative Center of the American Experiment viewed this election cycle prior to Tuesday: “I will give thanks when it is over.’’
Hy Berman, retired University of Minnesota history professor whose political views lean left, was similarly weary: “We’re in a hiatus in the culture. Republicans are shouting and Democrats are shouting back. But the result is that nothing dynamic is happening.’’
But don’t panic, the old prof said. The country has been in similar positions before. “Periodically, we seem to come to transition points,” said Berman. “The 1920s was that way; the 1950s were that way.’’
This was a campaign without surprises in either style or substance. Our candidates let us know they are adored by their children, spouses and/or dogs. That they will fight for us. That they care deeply about old people and children. And that the opposition candidates are awful people who will destroy the district/state/country/universe.
For all the all the technology-based change in our society, social media seemed to be mostly used in this campaign cycle to raise more money so that more old media time could be purchased. Who among us wasn’t bombarded with sky-is-falling e-mails begging for money?
Often, the name of the candidate and party affiliation was dropped from the typical plea for cash: “We’re THREE days out from Election Day and we’re doing everything in our power to reach every voter in our district but we need to pick up the pace,” the pitch would go. “Thanks to all the (liberal/conservative) cash that’s flowing into our district our message isn’t being heard! That’s why we are kicking our phone program into overdrive immediately. We need your help to get the word out and tell voters what’s really happening. Can you help us now with a contribution? Just $25 can help our team reach hundreds of voters by phone!’’
“This sort of fundraising was a new, weird strategy,’’ said Ben Golnik, state Republican Party chairman in the Pawlenty era and now chairman of the Minnesota Jobs Coalition, which is — just so you know — at the opposite end of the political spectrum from the Jobs Now Coalition. “It was constant.’’
But despite the inundation of our inboxes, Golnik says it’s still hard to understand what dynamic social media played in the campaign. “It remains the wild, wild west out there,’’ he said. “I think it’s still a great unknown. I’ve heard Facebook compared to yard signs, and I’ve always been told yard signs don’t have much value because ‘yard signs don’t vote.’’’
Pearlstein has another view of the impacts of social media. Most of us on the gray edge of the demographic spectrum likely will not understand social media impacts. “It’s all a question of age,’’ Pearlstein said. “I increasingly recognize that I’m of a different generation. I accept the fact that I’m inescapably dated.’’
Berman agrees with Pearlstein. “People, especially younger people, aren’t watching commercial TV. Social media is playing a bigger role, but we really don’t know how that plays out. At this point, we can’t monitor [the voter impact of] things like Facebook and twitter.’’
So perhaps, something has been going on out there in the technology cosmos that won’t be revealed until results of this election are analyzed. Certainly, the minor parties — along with the Independence Party — hoped that social media, which is inexpensive, have reached a huge new field of voters, though their returns from Tuesday night don’t exactly support that notion.
But mostly, the vast amounts of money that were spent in this cycle appeared to have been used on traditional advertising forms, meaning mailings and television commercials. And it at least felt as if most of those ads were outrageously negative and paid for by organizations not tied directly to individual campaigns. (It’s possible it only seems as if the majority of ads were negative. Most studies show that negative ads have more sticking power than positive ads.)
Interestingly, Berman, a DFL partisan, and Golnik and Pearlstein, GOP partisans, all see the “other side’’ as the instigators in this now-traditional deluge of sludge. As much as Democrats bemoan the influence of “outside money,’’ a MinnPost study showed that in Minnesota, at least, DFLers were greater beneficiaries of outside cash — by a substantial margin.
A libertarian outfit, Institute for Justice, reported that we spend too much time bemoaning the amounts of money being poured into elections. The organization believes that any effort to suppress the money in politics would actually be an suppression of free speech. Using stats from the federal elections of 2012, the Institute for Justice claims more was spent for Halloween ($8 billion in 2012) than on federal elections ($7 billion).
But now it’s over. The voting booth is a blessedly quiet place. And if you were unhappy with the tone of this campaign — or if you were unhappy with the outcome — the old professor offers some solace. “Don’t worry, things will change,” said Berman. “They always do.’’