I then learned that voter education is something rare in national media. I watched news channels, and I hardly see neutral electoral ads, or the ads that merely encourage people to register and cast their vote. Instead, compared to the dynamics in Indonesian election, the voter education activities in United States, in my eyes looks like underground phenomenons, the off-mainstream media programs, as the channels are more interested in the political waves itself then the encouragement to the people to be aware of their political rights.
At the other hand, as I joined Political Communication Theory classes, I learned more that, yes, the media in general sets the voter education programs aside. Instead, some critiques said that the media even cultivate the apathy within the voter, as they provide great exposure on negative news related to the political actors and political parties. The term of voting between "the lesser of two evils" is something that I heard quite often in the last two weeks, and indeed, whoever invented that term, it empirically reflects the condition of lack of trust within the voter community.
I am not (yet) a political expert, but I remember so much on my election observation days, how strict the observers were in zooming to the media bias, black campaigning and impartiality issues. We were good friends to Panwaslu, the election watch dog in Indonesian electoral structure, in grabbing sets of data of negative tones in campaigns that can withdraw voter favors toward a certain party or candidate. Black campaign was a serious issue. an additional note, I was not only working with the EU Observer, but at a point in the second election term, I was also with a US-based election observer, and I knew how keen they were about that issue.
But here, in USA, I cannot count how much I have seen those indecent campaign ads broadcasted in national media. In a common sense, if you are an undecided voter, you are not well informed, you would be confused to see both competing parties putting negative to each other. In common public information values, you should not confuse your audience if you would like to build their knowledge. Carpini (1996), in "What Americans Know About Politics and Why It Matters" said, "...political knowledge helps citizens make sense of the political world by providing them with a basis for evaluating new information in light of their own values..."
Hm, so, allow me to offer you an "if" condition:
If, the only available political knowledge accessible to public is the contradictory information infused by opposite parties, would it be sufficient for common people to make sense of political world?
Michael Moore was said to do a voter education effort. I was all excited as Jiji told me that Moore was going to launch a documentary titled Slacker Uprising. I should have not been too naive to think that he was merely going to launch a neutral voter education project, regarding on his previous project track records. I downloaded the Slacker Uprising as soon as I came back from my class on September 23rd. Yet, I am a little disappointed. I do appreciate his spirit to open up the Slackers' eyes to the sins of the incumbent's leadership. The way he creates the bond between people - who already have the seeds of some common values is an interesting object for a message design and social influence study.
Yet, I think he doesn't work so well in bridging two existing political stands, to remind everyone that it is not about A or B, but it is about the future of America. This failure is indicated by extreme refusal from the opposite party, the GOP. A voter education, if it really aims to raise people awareness in general, should be more neutral, and non-condemning than that. This is just a tiny example.
After all we all know, that we cannot assume that ALL Americans really know what to do with their political rights.
I feel that it is ironic: US government should help its own people first before helping people in other country in understanding democracy. I don't know whether there is a regulation prohibiting the government to intervene the public information streams in the media here, but I suppose, in the battle between political parties, that might impact to unfavorable condition to voters' political knowledge, there should be a neutral party in between to shy the voters away from the apathy.
Seeing the slacker uprising in 2004 and reading the predictions on 2008 turnout "tsunami", I am optimistic that there will be more Americans using their right to vote. However, in my naive Indonesian point of view, these fights between the blue and the red has been too nasty, that it left a very narrow opportunity for the common people, to comprehend their choices out of the negative feelings toward others.
I am sad for the Americans. Politics, and the image of sweet democracy his is the first fading star in my eyes....
Interesting Links to Visit:
CIRCLE (Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement), Rock the Vote, Slacker Uprising, Politico, USAID-Indonesia, Democracy and Governance Project, The Carter Center Report on Indonesian Election 2004, United States Elections Project, US Cencus Bureau.