By Rafe B.
A rich heritage of eclecticism makes America the mosaic it is so often characterized as; but what if some colors in the mosaic shone brighter than others? While the United States clings tightly to the title of “democracy”, our government operates far beyond what a democracy can offer and there are hosts of contributing factors that warp our so-called “democracy” into a system of Hyper-Pluralism. With the onset of popular social networking and new immersive media experiences, the premise has always been the same: “the media will bring us together…even in our differences”; however, the media holds most of the influence in creating this super divided form of governance, specifically, in it’s use of campaign advertisements.
According to the Encyclopedia of Associations, there are more than 40,000 special interest groups in the United States (Atterberry). “The number of groups continues to grow each year,” says John R. Wright, “as does the diversity of the issues and viewpoints they represent” (Wright 656). These groups cover issues ranging from coalitions for fighting drunk driving to social reform. If you can think it, it’s probably a group. Also, American voters receive the bulk of their political information, not from the news coverage of elections, but from political advertisements. “In the month leading up to the 2006 mid-term elections, local television news viewers got considerably more information about campaigns from paid political advertisements than from the news coverage” (Stowitts 246).
Many political ads play on ideas that carry extreme emotional weight and tie them very loosely to unrelated events to confuse viewers into jumping to conclusions. In one such ad, an interest group focusing on environmental causes flashed images of the destroyed World Trade Center and the national heroes picking up the destruction. In an ad like this, viewers are so engrossed into the emotional imagery, they are easily swayed by the ad’s argument, and the conclusions get muddled. Does this ad suggest that by supporting this environmental interest group, terrorist attacks like that of September eleventh could be avoided? That’s a far cry for an environmental group. Another interesting ad is one in support of Lyndon B. Johnson during his campaign in 1964. An image of a young girl eating an ice cream cone fills the almost minute-long advertisement while a female narrator discusses the dangers of atomic bomb radiation. The contrasting images, though powerful, don’t exactly make sense; yet, the take away message is so murky, that the imagery has more effect than the facts. So when American voters vote, they’re voting based on imagery that “meant something” more than policy stances that truly hold the meaning.
The most important aspect of political ad’s influence on policy, however, is that, legally, politicians can only spend a certain amount of money on their campaigns. Instead, politicians are “turning to indirect unregulated contributions…by interest groups for specific candidates” or causes (Soberman and Sadoulet 1522). So these groups harbor the cost of advertising promote their own interests by helping out their politician “friends”. This is a tremendous amount of power for interest groups, and an increasingly uninterested (and uninformed public) eats it up. The cycle, then, works like this: interest groups pay for an advertisement while the ignorant public receives that advertisement as viable and trustworthy information.
America the beautiful, America the free; but not America the democracy. In our Hyper-Pluralist system where the mass media, particularly in campaign advertisements paid for by organized special interest groups, dominates policy change, we must ask ourselves: in this age of media, and interconnectedness, have we lost unity or gained it? The answer may startle us, but it’s the first step into a more unified future.
Atterberry, Tara E. Encyclopedia of Associations :. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale/Cengage Learning, 2010. Print.
Soberman, David, and Loïc Sadoulet. "Campaign Spending Limits and Political Advertising." Management Science 53.10 (2007): 1521-532. JSTOR. Web. 5 Apr. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/20122311>.
Stowitts, Ginny. American Government and Politics in the New Millennium. 8th ed. Wheaton, IL: Abigail, 2001. Print.
Wright, John R. "The Evolution of Interest Groups." Principles and Practice of American Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings. 5th ed. Washington, DC: CQ, 2010. 649-56. Print.