In a recent column, Michael Barone commented on the closeness of recent elections and wondered what may be behind it. He concludes that it is a trend resulting from technology, which has made it easier to target undecided voters and those with soft allegiance to the other side. Yet he notes that close elections were the norm in the 19th century, long before computers and sophisticated polling came along.
I think a more important thing that has changed is the flow of information. In the 19th century, there were thousands and thousands of newspapers in this country and people often read several a day. Many were openly partisan and may have been formally aligned with a political party. People could easily find the facts and information that suited their philosophy.
But beginning around the turn of the century, this sort of openly partisan journalism fell out of favor. Journalism schools were established and reporters were taught to report the facts objectively. At the same time, economics compelled a long process of consolidation in the newspaper industry, to the point where just a handful of American cities have more than one paper today.
In this new atmosphere of professional journalism, with most reporters having college degrees in the subject, liberalism steadily became dominant. As a consequence, certain facts damaging to Democrats that once were easily available could no longer be found anywhere. Certain notions about truth and what was good and right in society that paralleled liberal political thinking became universal in every newsroom. In effect, the entire mass media became a de facto arm of the Democratic Party.
I believe that this restriction of information was behind the long era of Democratic success. Republican challengers to the Democratic worldview now had enormous difficulty getting their message out and obtaining the facts and information they needed to mount an effective challenge.
This was especially a problem at the congressional level, where it is prohibitively costly to use advertising to break through the liberal media filter. At the presidential level, it was much easier. Newspapers had to cover what the Republican candidate was saying, and he could get his message out. Also, political advertising was more effective and it was easier to raise the money for it. This explains why Republicans could take the White House from time to time, but had enormous difficulty getting control of Congress.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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