Project Wonderful

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Chicken and the Eh-gg

One of my many qualms with the way our elections are covered is that in an attempt to report public opinion, news outlets inevitably contribute to shaping that opinion. A candidate X sends out a press release that he has received over a 1,000 grassroots donations, a paper reports that candidate X has a swell of grassroots support and in response, others donate to X's campaign, perceiving him as the grassroots candidate. Soon we're left with the question of the chicken and the egg. Although I can't find a working link, last week Jon Stewart pointed out very this phenomenon vis-a-vis Donald Trump's 2012 candidacy.

To me, one of the most frustrating examples the exit poll. Research suggests that "exit polls appear to cause small declines in voting in areas where the polls close late for those elections where the exit polls predict a clear winner when previously a race had been considered close." Although this situation is relatively infrequent and, of course, reporters have a right and a duty to provide as much information as possible, my stomach knots up any time anyone sends a message about voting that boils down to "don't bother." Imagine a population where students and the working class, by necessity of their vocations, vote markedly later in the day than the elderly or wealthy, and the potential of such reports to skew voting becomes clearer.

I'm not the only one who feels this way, and Elections Canada is taking it to the extreme by banning Canadians from posting election results to their facebook and twitter accounts in the upcoming May 2nd election, even to personal pages. As this article points out "Presumably Canada’s policy disallows early release of vote tallies, rather than posts about an individual’s vote, but if the organization doesn’t formally clarify the policy means a person can’t post who they voted for or are rooting for, Canadians might as well avoid all social media on May 2."

This has me thinking. Where do we draw the line between preserving the sanctity of elections and preserving our right to disseminate and receive information about them?

What do you think?

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