Thoughts On The “Super Bowl” of Politics

Over the last few days there were some emails traded back and forth internally about the 2008 US Presidential race. We’ve got an international team and some of the folks who do not live in the US, as well as some who have relocated to the US were expressing some level of bewilderment about the way we do things here. The following was my email response, written while watching the Republican Debate and subsequent coverage during my flight from NYC to Seattle (on Jet Blue, love those TVs!):

There is, without a doubt, a political “industrial” complex that feeds this style of our process. The networks could not survive without the advertising revenue created by political advertising. There are thousands of consultants and printers, and media buyers and autocall vendors and pollsters all who have a financial stake in the election being a very very big deal.

Hailu also has a point about the “self importance” factor, but I think if you asked many candidates they would much rather debate and discuss the issues, not things like who shakes who’s hand, or who tears up, or what color tie or suit someone is wearing.

Another thing to remember is that this year is, while not unique, a rare type of election: there is no incumbent and no presumptive nominee like a sitting vice president. Combine that with the front loading of the primary schedule, a strong field of Democrats, a week field of Republicans and no clear front runners after the first four contests (though obviously there are front runners now) and you have what we are now witnessing.

Each election cycle that I have watched has gotten more and more hyped up, but I think that can be attributed in some part to the new technologies (web and blogging etc…), to the decline of quality entertainment, decreasing advertising revenues from traditional businesses due to the proliferation of DVRs as well as declining television viewership in favor of other forms of etnertainment including web based video and gaming.

Basically, the networks (and cable stations to a lesser extent) can’t sell traditional advertising for what they use to be able to, but they know that politicians will pay for it. This is a big money game here, $1 billion will be spent by the nominees between the convention and the election. I think it is safe to say that another billion will be spent between primary spending and 527 and PAC spending.

A Huge chunk of that money will go to television ad buys.

Americans like nothing more than competition and entertainment: turn politics into entertainment, amp up the competition, and people get giddy, it is kind of like a super duper reality TV series, the season of which lasts for about a year (this year longer) and you can watch it any time and on almost any channel, and get the highlights and outtakes on the internet.

It comes with branding and focus group tested names like “Road to the White House” or “You Decide 2008” or whatever other silly names the 24 hour news networks think up to try to differentiate their “coverage” from their competitors. And here is one of the biggest rubs: the media does not really do much “reporting” in the traditional sense (you know where reporters go out, research a story, show both angles etc…) now they observe and provide their opinions, sometimes thinly veiled, other times completely overt. I imagine that we could trace a large part of this to the loss of the fairness doctrine.