Image: Joseph Ratliff | Photos: Canva/Jumpstory
Election Day is finally here, and a year of partisan energy is coming to a crescendo. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the flood of messaging — and tricked into thinking the stakes are higher than they might be.
Campaigns want votes. Thus, as Election Day approaches, campaign managers and field organizers have one goal: get their voters to go to the polls, and get their opponent’s voters to stay home. They will do and say everything they can to persuade you because that is their job.
The political media wants attention. For some outlets, that simply means sensationalism, regardless of partisanship. Other outlets rely on partisanship for views — appealing to one group’s hopes and fears to keep them hooked.
Regardless of who you’re voting for, it’s important to be aware of the ways in which these institutions try to influence you.
Media: Exit Polls
For the political media, Election Day is like the Super Bowl; everyone wants to know the score, and everyone wants to know now. Thus, outlets try to provide a score as quickly as they can.
That means reporting on exit polls on Election Day. Pollsters like Edison Research and the National Election Pool — supported by ABC News (Lean Left bias), CBS News (Lean Left bias), CNN (Left bias), and NBC News (Lean Left bias) — conduct surveys of voters leaving polling locations, allowing news outlets to provide a minute-by-minute analysis as the votes trickle in.
Critics of exit polls, however, argue that releasing poll data before voting has ended could sway election results by discouraging some voters from voting. AllSides has its own policy against covering exit polls or any election results before all the polls in that election have closed. So, for example, even if polls have closed in parts of Florida that are in Eastern Time, we will not publish any of those results until after the polls in the rest of Florida have also closed.
Some research has been conducted on the effects of exit polls on voter behavior. A 1986 paper published in The Public Opinion Quarterly found that “exit polls appear to cause small declines in total voting in areas where the polls close late for those elections where the exit polls predict a clear winner when previously the race had been considered close.” Meanwhile, some supporters of exit polls have argued that the available evidence of voter impact is inconclusive.
Regardless of the research, media outlets you watch or read will likely report on exit polls on Election Day. Some of this reporting will exhibit a partisan bias, as commentators highlight or de-emphasize polls that appear to show their side winning.
Remember — it’s not over until the polls close. If you plan to vote, don’t let reports on exit polls keep you from casting your ballot.
Campaigns: Voting Disinformation
Political campaigns attract all manner of people to do the difficult work of door-knocking, phone banking, volunteer training, and voter persuasion. Sometimes, those workers or campaign supporters get desperate and resort to an infamous tactic: giving their opponent’s supporters false information about how to vote.
This is by no means standard practice, and campaigns from both parties train volunteers to look out for voters who’ve been lied to.
“There are many reputable places you can find your polling location and registration information, including eac.gov and usa.gov/how-to-vote. However, not all publicly available voting information is accurate, and some is deliberately designed to deceive you to keep you from voting.
Bad actors use various methods to spread disinformation about voting, such as social media platforms, texting, or peer-to-peer messaging applications on smartphones. They may provide misleading information about the time, manner, or place of voting. This can include inaccurate election dates or false claims about voting qualifications or methods, such as false information suggesting that one may vote by text, which is not allowed in any jurisdiction.”
Election Day is Tuesday, November 8. Be sure to check your voter registration and polling location hours with official sources to make sure your vote gets counted.
Media & Campaigns: Emotionalism
Every election cycle, voters hear a familiar refrain: “This is the most important election of your lifetime.”
Importance is subjective, of course, although one could argue that the present moment is more “important” than whoever won the election four years ago. Regardless, it’s easy to see how this line is meant to whip up voters to turn out on Election Day. If this isn’t the most important election of your lifetime, and you didn’t turn out for the last “most important” election, why should you vote this time around?
This is a common example of emotionalism in election rhetoric. Both campaigns and media commentators engage in this and other emotional appeals throughout the campaign process. As Election Day approaches, these appeals increase in volume and frequency.
Here’s another example: “The other side hates you and wants to make your life worse.” Maybe they do, maybe they don’t — but if you hear that a powerful political entity wants to hurt you, you’d naturally be much more invested in voting against them. Thus, both campaigns and partisan media ramp up this rhetoric to motivate otherwise apathetic voters to turn out and tune in.
This is part of a broader effort to create a perception of threat. Republicans warn of “socialism” and an “invasion” of “illegals”; Democrats warn of “Christian nationalism” and “bigotry.” Libertarians warn of “big government overreach,” and the Green Party warns of environmental dangers. And many have warned of threats to democracy itself.
Whatever the boogeyman is, real or not, you’ll inevitably hear about it more often, if for no other reason than that campaign workers and media commentators earnestly believe in them. Plus, fear is a great motivator.
Vote for Your Interests, Not the Media’s
As it’s been said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
Democratic government works when it represents the people. That includes you! Your vote is yours — not the media’s, not a political party’s, and certainly not a politician’s.
People fought to earn your right to vote — soldiers in the American Revolution, advocates who fought to expand the right beyond property owners, suffragettes, civil rights activists, and countless others. That right continues to change; this year, New York City tried and failed to allow 800,000 of its noncitizen residents to participate in local elections.
Don’t let your vote, for which so much has been sacrificed, be swayed by partisan manipulation. If you want to beat partisan polarization, insulate your vote from its sway.
Joseph Ratliff is a Daily News Editor at AllSides. He has a Lean Left bias.
John Gable is CEO of AllSides. He has a Lean Right bias.
This piece was reviewed by Julie Mastrine, Director of Marketing and Media Bias Ratings (Lean Right bias) and Clare Ashcraft, Bridging and Bias Assistant (Center bias).