If the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse were to ride forth among us at this moment, these are the names they would bear (Anger, Apathy, Frustration, Disgust). No, we’re not facing the biblical “end times,” only a bitter and contentious midterm election. The blue skies of the 2008 election have turned steely. Feelings of fear and powerlessness sweep the nation like cold autumn rains. Many of us are deeply discouraged by the direction politics has taken, heartsick over how much the disposition of voters seems to have changed in just two years.
And that’s the peril of democracy. As U.S. citizens, we’re endowed with certain inalienable rights. Primary among them is the freedom to choose not only whom we’ll vote for but whether well vote at all.
Threats to stay home
In gauging the mood of the electorate in 2010, it’s clear that many are threatening to sit this one out. Some are spurred by internal dissatisfaction, like those segments of the LGBT community and the women’s movement who feel the Obama Administration hasn’t done enough to advance their interests. Others are made apathetic by external factors, including voters worn down by the ugliness of this campaign season. Many believe the level of animosity has reached new heights in 2010 and blame negative ads for their disenchantment with the political process.
Is this a valid argument? With each election cycle comes the debate over whether or not negative ads suppress voter turnout. A US News & World Report poll conducted last month asked respondents what they disliked most about election season. Thirty-five percent, the largest group, cited negative ads. However, the impact of negative ads is not universal; they influence specific voters differently, stimulating increased interest in some and discouraging others.
A 2007 study by researchers at UC Berkeley found that voters who exhibited high interest and sought out political news were more likely to respond strongly to negative advertising. These individuals channeled their anger into civic participation and were highly motivated to vote in elections. However, voters with low levels of interest and media exposure were adversely affected. Negative ads disturbed them and fostered bad feelings toward politicians and elections. These individuals became more disinclined to participate on election day.
Yet from powerlessness springs opportunity. New media provides the tools of influence for “high interest” voters; and since misery loves company, social media has become the primary outlet to share despair and rally the troops.
Who among us hasn’t been bombarded by politically themed factoids as Election Day draws near? The relentless stream of Facebook status updates, tweets, and email forwards with links to articles, commentaries, YouTube news clips and parodies comprise a virtual town hall meeting of the minds, always at our fingertips 24/7 courtesy of computers, laptops and smartphones.
Women are the biggest beneficiaries of this largesse. But this giant leap for womankind has been largely ignored. It shouldn’t be.
Social media and women
Todayï¿½s free expression of political thought via social media is a quiet revolution that flies in the face of earlier gender expectations. It finally ends generations of female socialization and decades of indoctrination that ï¿½itï¿½s not polite to talk about politics.ï¿½ Although some mainstream sites such as Disney Family continue to perpetuate this “”don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to opinion-sharing, others such as Glamour magazine’s “Glamocracy” have put political discourse front and center. It’s a heartening example of how dissatisfaction with the status quo, combined with technology, can translate into discrete cultural change.
Engaged “high interest” women voters who are puzzled and discouraged by the disinterest of their girlfriends in tomorrow’s election, take note: We are the most effective change agents among our peers.
Three women at the University of Toronto and McGill University researching how women acquire political information and its impact on voting patterns found that the influence of friends is significant. The wider the range of females a woman is acquainted with, the more likely she’ll slant left in her voting. Even a casual acquaintance can be influential by serving as a new source of information.
All this does not diminish the fact that anger, apathy, frustration and disgust are still among us on the eve of Election Day 2010. Young women are the most deeply affected by the political malaise, argues Colleen Flaherty in Womenï¿½s eNews. Yet the fact that you’re reading this indicates you’re a high interest voter with a good grasp of what’s going on.
Convince a friend
Share that knowledge. Take the final 24 hours to have coffee or dinner with an indecisive friend or two. Use social media to extend your influence. Tweet the URLs of some of your favorite columnists or op-ed pieces. Write a note in Facebook about why you’ve chosen the candidates you’ll be voting for tomorrow, and provide concrete take-homes and positive points to support your choice. Tag “low interest” women of your acquaintance in this note, or post a shorter version as your Facebook status.
Do any of these things and you’ll help put to rest that damning adage for women, It’s not polite to talk politics. Be impolitic. You can’t afford not to be in this midterm election.
Friends don’t let friends sit this one out.
This post first appeared on the blog of The Women’s Media Center