Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The black hole where the US media's coverage of third party candidates should be

It was an interesting experience watching CNN's election coverage as one of the roughly 1% of voters who had plumped for someone other than Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. Although I'd been in that position before, in past elections I'd voted for the relatively high-profile Ralph Nader. This time it was as if third party candidates didn't exist, and indeed as if their voters didn't exist either. The subliminal message was "if you didn't vote Democrat or Republican, you didn't participate in this election". Psychologically, it's very hard to swim against that tide, and I found that I had to remind myself a few times why the easy option of a vote for Obama really wouldn't have been such a great idea.

This subtle pressure on voters to conform is undoubtedly very convenient to some. At about 6am, I saw a former Clinton adviser talking about his party's "growing up" process in 1992, which included an embrace of the death penalty. The Democrats "wouldn't have been ready" to make that change four years earlier, he added with a degree of smugness. This repugnant notion that putting people to death somehow equates with "maturity" is enabled by the assumption that left-liberal voters have nowhere else to go - or if they're uppity enough to think they do have somewhere else to go, that they can and should be browbeaten back into line. Witness the disgraceful attempt to pin the blame for Bush's 2000 election victory on Nader and his supporters. Seemingly it had never occurred to the "centrists" and "moderates" (ahem) that their complicity in maintaining a discredited electoral system might just have consequences for them, as well as for the constituencies of opinion that they are happy to patronise and marginalise.

On a more positive note, it's conceivable that CNN may have been kind enough to actually count my Senate vote, because I happened to vote for the winning candidate - an unashamedly socialist independent. Which is a timely reminder that if enough people persevere with voting for third party candidates for long enough, eventually some of those candidates will make a breakthrough, and then they can't be ignored anymore.

It should also be pointed out that the US media's treatment of third parties is infinitely worse than anything we've ever seen in this country. Even when British politics was a genuinely straight fight between the Conservatives and Labour, the BBC used to faithfully report the results for Liberals and fringe candidates (indeed they probably did so more faithfully than they do now).

* * *

A quick update on my previous post - somewhat surprisingly, Puerto Rico seems to have broken the habit of decades by voting against the constitutional status quo. The most popular option was to become the 51st US state, so it'll be intriguing to see if their wishes are respected, or if "only English-speaking states are welcome here". Unfortunately, the attempt to abolish the death penalty in California failed, which is without question a considerable setback for the abolitionist movement throughout the US. I do still firmly belief that America will join the civilised world eventually, but it may take a few more decades yet.

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