Aggressive political campaigns yield high voter fatigue, not high voter turnout

As we draw the curtain on this year’s election, there is one resounding phrase that comes to mind: Thank God it’s over.

Over the last 17 months, we voters have been treated to no shortage of election coverage. There have been more than 45 hours worth of debates. There have been flash, Facebook and Gallup polls. Our televisions, radios and inboxes have been flooded with attack ads and solicitations for handouts. We’ve seen an almost inescapable blanket of media coverage and we’ve seen media coverage criticizing that blanket of coverage.

But at the end of the day, the thousands of hours of TV time and millions of dollars spent on campaigning don’t make for a more informed electorate — they make for a nation full of people suffering from voter fatigue.

As members of the media, much of the blame falls on our shoulders. Every quip, gaffe or inflammatory statement uttered by a candidate is dissected, analyzed and regurgitated across a hundred different platforms by a thousand different pundits. We at Xpress have gotten so fatigued with this election that we don’t really want to write this staff opinion.

The flood of election coverage doesn’t necessarily result in more informed voters. Choice fatigue, being overwhelmed with choices of people or propositions to vote on, means that people are statistically more likely to vote for the first choice that appears on the ballot, according to a study titled “Ballot Position, Choice Fatigue, and Voter Behavior.”

The same study said that voters overwhelmed with choices vote for the status quo or opt to abstain from voting on the issue altogether — not the most encouraging approach to the democratic process.

After such an extended period of campaigning, who wouldn’t want to get the elections over with as quickly and painlessly as possible?

In the United Kingdom, election campaigns are limited to four weeks. The British don’t have to suffer through endless primary debates and “game-changers” — events that rarely ever actually change the game — and there’s no discernable difference in voter turnout. In the 2010 general election in Great Britain, 65 percent of the voting age population showed up to the polls, compared with 64 percent of American voters in 2008, according to House of Commons Research Papers and the U.S. Census Bureau respectively. That means that with a year-and-a-half less of being yelled at by politicians and pundits, our friends across the pond actually manage to get a slightly larger voter turnout.

It’s hard not to long for the old days — days where when we got fed up with listening to the never-ending campaign rhetoric and could simply turn off the TV or switch the radio from FM to our favorite nonpolitical CD. But things aren’t that simple anymore. Political campaigns, like a virus, have infected and spread across the internet. And with most people being nearly constantly connected to the internet through their laptops, tablets or smartphones, there’s now practically no escape.

Political ads are annoying, everywhere and getting increasingly negative. According to a study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have received more negative coverage in the media than positive with 27 percent of Obama’s coverage and 44 percent of Romney’s coverage being exclusively negative.

So here’s to all of you that made it through all the 2012 bicker-fest, through the incessant talk of the economy, the unemployment rate and of how many cars the candidates own. The political barrage and overload is now over. Although at least half of us are bound to be unhappy with the results of the election, we can all at least be glad that we won’t have to live through that again.

At least not for another four years.

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Aggressive political campaigns yield high voter fatigue, not high voter turnout