Traditionally the American electorate usually doesn’t become involved in presidential election politics until after the national party conventions. However, with the political atmosphere since the election of Barack Obama, it is hard to imagine that voters aren’t, at least to some extent, engaged. Here in Wisconsin we have been highly politicized since the election of November 2010. But, does being politicized translate to being informed?
It seems to me that with 24/7 news coverage, widespread immediate Internet access and social media; we, the public, are being buried in an avalanche of information. Normally, we would say that this is a good thing; but, in this case it is turning out to be an unexpected consequence of the Information Age and too much information becomes non-productive.
“Back in the day”, as kids are prone to say; information had to be ferreted out using traditional research methods. Through my formal education and beyond, I have invested 1000s of hours in the research process and at times became a permanent fixture in libraries wherever I resided. As I became Internet competent, I too switched from library book and article research over to reliance on search engines. This has resulted in speeding up the research process, making it more productive. However, from my decades of library work, I had learned the methods for performing an effective and efficient search; beginning with the ability to ask the “right” questions.
It’s funny, that today many students entering into colleges or universities must be taught how to use a research library and how to validate information.
Asking the “right” questions is critical to the information gained. If I ask the wrong question, then the outcome will not render the truth that I am seeking. Asking that question requires much forethought and a process of self-examination. Knowing that personal biases, perceptional lens and worldviews will impact the question, then it is imperative to frame the question absent, of the preconceived garbage and let the research lead where it leads. This is the current problem in the lightening speed information access that most people engage in; they don’t purge themselves first and only engage in research that validates their preconceived beliefs.
The world is awash with information that misrepresents, misdirects, misinforms and in many instances are outright lies. This is the reason that college students are cautioned not to use certain sources because of their unreliability. The information spin engineers count on the volume of information to help camouflage their claims and make it difficult to trace information. It is so bad that now we have to have independent verifiers to judge the veracity of claims and information. It seems that the more complex the issue/s the more difficult it is to get to the truth. With the difficulty to verify and the natural human tendency to only validate preconceived beliefs; how is it possible for the average voter to make a well-informed decision?
Since the US Supreme Court ruled in the favor of Citizens United, the campaign ad situation has gone from bad to worse. With the flood of money it has created conditions where it is even more difficult to trace those who are financing the messaging. As far as factual information, with third parties controlling the content, the messages are becoming more and more fictitious.
In an election with so much on the line, it has become almost impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff, leaving the average voting citizen in a difficult place. Political party pieces are not quite as bad as third party ads for truthful content, but they spin information in such a way as to misdirect information and control the desired message in their favor. The information overload and information manipulation has led to a serious problem; general information distrust.
The voter, who is not a political wonk, will be forced to do the best they can. To answer my own question; I don’t think that the average voter can be expected to ferret out the truth and will be forced to vote based on their own biases and beliefs. The election in November might as well be a crapshoot. Whoever comes out on top will be based not so much on message but on the voter’s preconceived beliefs.