The best part about politics, and particularly presidential elections, is that each news story or political ad demonstrates the well-known negotiation theory of confirming evidence. In other words, we only believe data that confirms what we already think. And, watching the debate last night or listening to the political commentary afterwards probably confirmed for you what you already thought about the candidates. And, this phenomenon doesn’t really help us or the candidates.
First, as to the candidates, if you only go to political rallies where everyone already supports you, you might be forgiven for thinking that what you are saying is persuasive. So…the allegations that Obama “pals around with terrorists” seemed to be really popular last week at rallies until the polls come out showing that most voters think that McCain is running a more negative campaign and that the attacks aren’t persuasive. (It also doesn’t help when the rhetoric goes so far that McCain needs to correct his own constituents.) (See this hilarious clip from Lewis Black on negative advertising.)
Second, the echo chamber phenomenon doesn’t help us either learn about the candidates or what the rest of the population is thinking. For example, after last week’s debate, 86% of Fox viewers (who phoned or texted their opinions) thought that McCain won the debate. My guess is that a poll of Daily Show viewers might skew equally strongly in the other direction. Polls conducted of random samples of voters had McCain losing that debate but by a closer margin.
This phenomenon is one of the reasons that watching the debates on CNN with the “undecided” voters’ opinions scrolling at the bottom of the screen is addicting. I am really curious to see what those who are uncommitted think (and, at the same time, wondering who in the world these people are–See John Oliver’s analysis on this)
My guess is, however, that the presidential debates are the last opportunity for voters across the spectrum to hear from candidates without a filter. Now that the debates are over, the candidates and their supporters can safely return to only talking to people who already support them.