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Manipulation of Public Opinion

by Michael L. Gonzalez

September 19, 2000

For all of you who have gotten used to getting your news from the Internet and not simply from the traditional media, you probably have noticed that there's often a "group think" effect in the traditional media.  For example, first a newspaper prints a slant on an issue, then the TV grabs the same slant and gives the slant the appearance of legitimacy, and then a magazine grabs the slant, and adds to it, and then before you know it, this slant all of a sudden becomes thought of as fact, when it may have simply been opinion since its inception.

This effect has been rampant in recent years, and it's accelerating.  The real danger of this effect is that if a small group of extremely influential media people desire to influence public opinion, they have a real possibility of doing just that--MANIPULATING THE PUBLIC THINKING.

For many years the phrase politically correct has been bantered about, and although this phrase was at one time meant to be light-hearted, it's really become a phrase that exemplifies how the traditional media can, and has, manipulated public opinion.  This phrase politically correct gets attached to certain ways of speaking, and even thinking, when it's obvious that the media has overtly trained the public to speak, or even think, in a certain manner.

Obviously, many will argue that all kinds of right thinking and proper speech has resulted from the media's use of politically correct manipulation--I'll agree with this statement to some extent, as well.   Now, to the extent that the media is acting as a benevolent dictator in its effort to manipulate public opinion, this manipulation may appear to be beneficial to society.

However, this is the United States of America, and according to the founders of this country, we shouldn't take kindly to ANY kind of dictator, benevolent or otherwise.

Let's take a look at a hypothetical case to test this conjecture that the media could manipulate public opinion.  Suppose, for sake of argument, that many people who work in the traditional media would like to see one candidate elected for president.  How would these people in the media go about convincing the public to vote for one candidate over the other?

Obviously, the media would exhibit biased coverage of the candidates, such as always showing one candidate in a positive light, but the other in a negative fashion, also the media would give more exposure to the favored candidate; in this way, the public could to be led to the favored candidate by its own cognitive reasoning (albeit, reasoning based on biased information).

Next, the media would quote political wonks who prefer the favored candidate over the other; in this way, the public would be swayed by the logic of the wonk, because generally an american citizen wants to be associated with "smart and articulate" people whom they revere.

And finally, the media would quote polling that demonstrates that the majority of the american public itself plans to vote for the favored candidate; in this way, the public would be swayed by their own perceived peers, because generally an american citizen wants to be "like everyone else" and a frequent comment could be heard such as "I'm going to vote for him, because he's the better man--that's what people say."


The Art (and sometimes science) of Polling

Regardless of which political party, or which candidate you favor, try to read the following analysis with an unbiased and objective point of view.   Notice that the baseline for comparison between polls is an organization that is a combined effort of democrats and republicans.

Is Gore Really Ahead?

By Byron York, The American Spectator's senior writer.

The American Spectator Online
(Posted 9/15/00)

Don't tell me you're one of those nuts who think George W. Bush still has a chance to win the election.  Just look at the polls.  The latest CNN-USA Today-Gallup survey has Al Gore ahead of Bush by 49 percent to 42 percent.   John Zogby has the vice president up 46 percent to 39 percent. And the Wall Street Journal-NBC News pollsters say Gore is ahead 45 percent to 42 percent.   And don't forget Slate, which has declared that Bush is Toast.   "Stick a fork in him," writes William Saletan. "He's done."

Before one succumbs entirely to the conventional wisdom, it's useful to take a look at the new day-by-day Battleground Poll conducted by Republican Ed Goeas and Democrat Celinda Lake.  Unlike some other pollsters, Goeas and Lake, whose pre-election surveys were impressively accurate in 1992 and 1996, go to great lengths to try to figure out who is truly likely to vote in November.  It's a critical question, and, at least right now, the answer is not at all discouraging for Bush.

First, Goeas and Lake asked 1,000 registered, likely voters the following question:  "If the election for President were being held today, and you had to make a choice, for whom would you probably vote?"  The pollsters named no names; respondents had to come up with Bush and Gore on their own.  In the most recent "unaided ballot" -- through Wednesday, September 13 -- Bush is ahead with 38 percent to Gore's 33 percent.  Ralph Nader has two percent, and Pat Buchanan commands just one percent (a variety of even smaller candidates account for another two percent).  The remaining 24 percent told pollsters they were unsure how they would vote.

And they are the key.  Many analysts seem to think that they are a large mass of voters who will eventually choose one candidate or the other, but, according to Goeas, most of them won't vote at all.  "Right now there are a lot of younger voters who are saying they're definitely going to vote," Goeas says.   "But a lot of them will be non-voters."  To try to determine which of today's "likely voters" will actually cast a ballot, Goeas and Lake work with something called a "turnout model," a formula that gives extra weight to those undecided voters who are statistically most likely to vote.  The pollsters take four factors into account:  1) how definite respondents are in saying they will vote; 2) how strongly they favor a particular candidate; 3) their age; and 4) their education level.  It's all fairly complicated, but in short, the older, more educated, and surer the respondent is, the more likely he or she is to actually vote.

Given all that, the Battleground people put together a turnout model from their polling data.  They came up with the following results, as of September 12.  If the election were held that day, Bush would have received 50 percent of the vote and Gore would have gotten 44 percent, with Nader at four percent and Buchanan at one percent.

The numbers are strikingly different from most of those being reported in newspapers and on television.  And they're particularly encouraging for Republicans because the survey was done after Bush had suffered two straight weeks of negative reporting.  But the results should be viewed with great caution; the election is still a long way off, and a million things could change before November 7.   Because of that, Goeas says he and Lake will not publish the turnout model results again until a couple of weeks before Election Day, when daily fluctuations will take on a critical importance.  In the meantime, he simply stresses that the race is very close.

Of course, that's what everybody says.  But just because the race is close now does not mean it will be close when voters go to the polls.   "The question is, is it going to be a 1960-type race which was close 'til the end," says Goeas, "or a 1980-type election which was close and then broke open after mid-October."  In 1980, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter were within a couple of points of each other until a couple of weeks before Election Day; Reagan eventually won by ten percentage points.

So what will it be in 2000?  All one can say is that if the race is tight to the end, it will be unusual.  Most races aren't terribly close; Bill Clinton's six-point edge over George Bush in 1992 was the thinnest margin of victory in 20 years.

So there are three lessons to take from all this.  One, many people who are being counted in today's polls are not going to vote when the time comes.   Two, what appears to be a close race might not be close at all on Election Day.   And three, Bush can win, and win big.

Copyright 2000 The American Spectator. All rights reserved.

This sort of effect (manipulation of public opinion) could never happen in a mainline Christian church like the UMC, could it?


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