The sad truth is that millions will simply tune out on Election Day.
Beware, oh ye readers of this column, I am writing about something you don’t want to think about. Together we are engaged in measuring electoral nanoseconds, seeing single point bumps in the polls as seismic and life changing, and watching a candidate’s support among independent voters go up and down like a seesaw.
The sad truth is that right now there are, and more importantly will be in November, millions of Americans who will simply not show up to the party on Election Day. And worse, they won’t even RSVP. Our friends and family, Super PACs, neighborhood committee people, union reps, and thousands of other cohorts will spend the moral equivalent of the GDP of a non-emerging nation to get these fellow Americans to the polls, but they just won’t do it.
I decided to do a bit of a reality check by asking some media consumption questions—a good way of helping me assess who cares, who doesn’t care, and who doesn’t care that he or she doesn’t care about this election. There are a number of disconnects in our polity, but among the greatest are what I would refer to as “The Palm vs. The People”—i.e. the center of gravity in Washington for the conventional wisdom versus a large number of our fellow taxpayers, citizens, and erstwhile voters.
Take for example “The O’Reilly Factor.” It’s what I call the Cecil B. DeMille production of the American right. Seventeen percent of all likely voters and 26 percent of conservatives say they watch it either every day or a few days a week. But 78 percent of independents and 84 percent of political moderates watch it rarely or not at all. Seventeen percent of voters in key swing states watch O’Reilly very often, but 68 percent completely ignore it, as do 70 percent of Catholics and 71 percent of investors.
Now, I am not picking on any one person here. Only 14 percent of all likely voters listen to Sean Hannity’s radio show with any frequency—surely an impressive number if you are advertising consumer products, but not if you are trying to persuade voters. Only 8 percent of independent voters, 7 percent of moderates, and 15 percent of swing state voters tune into Hannity.
The numbers are even similar for Rush Limbaugh. He has a huge radio audience among conservatives who need no persuading. They are the choir and he is the high priest. But take a look at those who say they rarely, if ever, listen: 87 percent of independents, 90 percent of moderates, 79 percent of swing state voters, and 85 percent of young people and women.
But enough about the right. How do the icons of the left fare? Barely any key voters—those who are likely to be undecided—ever touch the New York Times, listen to NPR, or watch “The Daily Show.”
About three in four independents, moderates, and swing state voters rarely or never read the New York Times print or online edition. Over two thirds of each group never watch “The Daily Show” and over three in four rarely or never listen to NPR. And these are people who say they are definitely or very likely to vote come November.
But if they don’t like the choices, how the issues are addressed, or if they think the system isn’t really working for them anymore, they may not vote. They also happen to be among the new and growing majorities who eschew old media news.
This is hardly a new topic but let’s face it—none of us are really talking to these folks, at least none of our colleagues mentioned above.
John Zogby is a veteran pollster and author of “The Way We’ll be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream.”