Thursday, October 19, 2000
5:00 - 7:00 p.m.
MIT Media Lab
20 Ames Street
This Forum will discuss the 2000 presidential election and the
media. What are the underlying dynamics of the election, and
how has the race unfolded? Who is likely to win and why? How
have political communications -- through traditional media such
as television and new media such as the Internet -- shaped the
2000 election? What innovations in electoral politics and political
communications have come about through the Internet? How does
the American political experience with new media compare with
that of other countries?
Ansolabehere is an MIT professor of political science who
studies elections, democracy, and the mass media. He is coauthor
(with Shanto Iyengar) of The Media Game and of Going
Negative: How Political Advertising Alienates and Polarizes
the American Electorate. His articles have appeared
in The American Political Science Review, The British Journal
of Politics, The Journal of Politics, Legislative Studies Quarterly,
Public Opinion Quarterly, The Quill, and Chance.
His current research projects include campaign finance, congressional
elections, and party politics.
Lawson is an assistant professor of political science at
MIT. His major interests include Latin American politics, Mexican
politics, regime change, the mass media, and U.S. foreign policy.
His dissertation, Building the Fourth Estate, addresses
the role of the mass media in democratization. Lawson's current
research focuses on voting behavior in Mexico. Before joining
the MIT faculty, Lawson served as a director of Inter-American
Affairs on the National Security Council and was a fellow at
the Center for U.S.-Mexico Studies at the University of California,
Greenberg is assistant professor of public policy at Harvard's
Kennedy School of Government. She specializes in public opinion,
political participation, gender politics, and religion and politics.
She is currently working on a book titled Divine Inspiration:
Revealing Faith in Politics, which examines the role of
congregations in politics and local communities. Her other research
focuses on the gender gap and electoral politics. Greenberg
is an expert on Web-based survey research and has conducted
a variety of methodological and substantive studies using an
Internet-based panel. Greenberg was a field worker for senators
Christopher Dodd and Joe Lieberman, was Rosa DeLauro's deputy
press secretary in her run for Congress, and worked in the polling
unit of the 1992 Clinton/Gore campaign.
Ansolabehere likened the twists and turns of this
year's U.S. presidential campaign to "Mr. Toad's wild
ride," and said the result of the "surprisingly close"
race will hinge on voter turnout.
close, the MIT political scientist said, because Vice
President Al Gore is not taking advantage of the economic
good times that have coincided with the Clinton presidency.
troubles in the election have political scientists questioning
their own models for predicting election outcomes, Ansolabehere
said. Those models predict that during peacetime and
a strong economy, Gore should automatically be getting
at least 53 percent of the vote as a member of the incumbent
party. But many polls cited in the media indicate that
both candidates are polling in the 40s and the difference
is well within the margin of error, indicating "a
race that is too close to call."
is Gore not cashing in on a healthy economy and no war
in terms of getting high polling numbers?
"message moves around a lot," according to Ansolabehere,
who is a Democrat, while Bush has been "on message always"
pushing a less-government agenda that is "Reaganesque
in its simplicity."
U.S. Congressional elections are just as tight. Ansolabehere
said there are 25 seats up for grabs in the U.S. House
of Representatives - 20 are now held by Republicans,
who hold an overall six-seat advantage, and five are
held by Democrats - and that if they are split evenly
between the parties, as he expects, the Democrats could
pick up six or seven seats leaving an even narrower
majority than now.
the U.S. Senate, where the Republicans now hold a 54-46-seat
advantage, Ansolabehere predicted the Democrats will pick
up two seats, making it 52 to 48, Republican to Democrat.
"president barely elected" by 10 electoral votes either
way, and both a House and Senate narrowly held, will create
"the most divided political scenario possible" in the
U.S., he said.
things" will result from such an even split, Ansolabehere
explained, as politicians jockey for power and position,
making backroom deals and even switching parties in exchange
for committee chairmanships. "Some pretty ugly things
are going to happen." Dividing political communications
into three groups, old-old media, new-old media and new-new
media, Ansolabehere said that the word-of-mouth, grassroots,
door-to-door, old-old politics will be the determining
factor in this year's election. Saying that the old-new
medium of television is rapidly fragmenting political
messages with decreasing advertising costs, and the new-new
medium of the Internet is "still waiting to become" in
terms of a political coalition-building tool, he said
grassroots efforts such as "union guys driving people
to the polls" and the big spending of soft money trying
to get voters to the polls in swing states will decide
Greenberg of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government
said that the gender story of this year's election is
that that there is no real gender story.
election year since 1980 has had its gender story, Greenberg
explained. Nineteen-eighty was the gender gap; 1992
was the Year of Woman; 1994 was the angry, white young
man; 1996 was the soccer mom; and 1998 was the waitress
election year's media assertion that women represent
the undecided, swing vote, is a "made up story," according
to Greenberg, who said the number of polls and surveys
"is somewhat out of control" driven in part by technology
and the Internet.
a pollster for the Gore campaign, was harshly critical
of what she called "cagey" questionnaires, and "fake"
for-profit sites such as Speakout.com [LINK: www.speakout.com]
that masquerade as forums for civic engagement, but
that collect and sell data while claiming that their
polling sample is representative of the American public.
It is hardly
a random sample, Greenberg said, having been drawn from the
group of people who register and agree to be polled at the Web
site, which she said is similar to treating the callers to radio
talk shows and their opinions as representative of the American
of these stories that women are swing voters. There really wasn't
a soccer mom, and there was no waitress mom. There probably
is a whip-sawed woman (in reference to a type identified by
Democratic consultant Lucinda Lake), but it is probably most
women," Greenberg joked.
get anyone to say anything in a poll," she asserted. "We really
don't know who the undecided voters are."
Chappell Lawson, an MIT political scientist who studies
emerging democracies, pointed out "eerie" parallels between
this year's U.S. presidential elections and the recently concluded
all, Lawson said, the Mexican incumbent was a "kind of boring
guy," the economy was good, there was some scandal, opposition
voters were "chomping at the bit" to vote out the incumbent,
and, ultimately, it was voter turnout that decided the election
as Mexicans elected a new president.
suggested the incumbent would win, Lawson said, but incumbent
partisans stayed home, and, as a result, the polls failed to
predict the outcome of the election. Media coverage of polls
in Mexico were "shockingly more responsible than what is being
done in the U.S.," Lawson said. He explained that the Mexican
media reported a poll's margin of error, sampling methodology,
and the questions being asked, which "most American polls never
should matter similarly in the U.S. election, Lawson concluded,
and "that's bad news for Al Gore."
on to compare the media in the U.S. and developing nations such
as Mexico. In America, he explained, we are used to using multiple
information sources including newspapers, television, radio
and the Internet. As a result, Americans won't see the same
kind of dramatic cultural changes from the introduction of new
media as will be seen in developing countries where there are
long traditions of corruption in the media.
for example, the introduction of market competition and an infusion
of journalistic norms and standards over the past decade have
made the Mexican press "more independent, more aggressive, more
assertive, independent and plural," Lawson said. Those changes
dwarf what's happening in the U.S., he said.
it is online databases in the U.S., newspapers in Nigeria, or
television in Mexico, Lawson said that the proliferation of
media does give people an enhanced ability to monitor their
by Brad Seawell