The results from a statewide telephone poll conducted earlier this month by Winthrop University showed that of the eight 2010 gubernatorial candidates only Lt. Governor Andre Bauer was well known by nearly 50 percent of the people. Winthrop pollster Dr. Scott Huffmon says he was not surprised by the results because a majority of voters don’t get focused until about six weeks before an election. Huffmon is a Political Science professor at Winthrop. Huffman says a number of factors will affect voters in a number of campaigns moving toward November, not the least of which will be the continued bombardment of information and misinformation from the 24 hour news monsters and political talk shows on television, radio, and the Internet.
“There has been research that has shown that as people are bombarded with more and more information, that have to use a heuristic to figure out which information should I listen to and which information I shouldn’t. What they ten to do is taking pieces of information that agree with their world view and say, ” I’ll listen to this and ignore everything else,” so they tend to get reinforced only about their view of the world.”
Huffmon says the myriad of political messages flowing through the air waves and on the Internet has worked to create some interesting political dynamics among the electorate. For some voters the constant din of talking heads and bloggers have pushed them toward apathy and disillusionment with the political process and government in general. For the most ardent politically-focused members of the electorate, these messages have tended to be more polarizing, as witnessed in part by the growth of the Tea Party movement.
“One is people are bombarded so more and more stuff is just washing over them without taking note. On the other hand the people that do tune in are getting more and more polarized and angry. So now we have a general population that is disconnecting and of the slice of the population that is plugged in, they’re getting moe ramped up in support of their side and hating those who disagree with their position and viewing them as the enemy. These things seem like they’re in conflict, but they’re both existing within the population.”
The U.S. Supreme Court in a January decision, struck down a major portion of a 2002 campaign finance reform law, saying it violates the free-speech right of corporations to engage in public debate of political issues. In a landmark 5-to-4 decision, the high court overturned a 1990 legal precedent and reversed a position it took in 2003, when a different lineup of justices upheld government restrictions on independent political expenditures by corporations during elections. The decision opens the gates for what campaign reform advocates warn will be a flood of corporate spending in future elections. Huffmon suspects that the decision will work to erode some of the advantage of being an incumbent.
“What we will see in this election cycle is the new Supreme Court rules as they apply to outside money flowing into campaigns. Those monies could affect primaries, so we may see incumbents challenged and to the degree that they are kicked out in the primaries, then you have in essence an open seat and you could see some real change there. We actually have a lot streams coming together in South Carolina for those paying attention that is going to make this an exciting year.”
Huffmon says ironically voter apathy during this election cycle may be created by an always important political issue, the economy. Huffmon says as people continue to struggle to make ends meet during the recession they are not pay close attention to political events because they are in survival mode.
“People have their heads focused on their problems. An overwhelming majority of people who participated in the recent poll said they thought the economy was doing poorly and they thought it really wasn’t going to get better any time soon. There is a disconnect for many in the general population for the political events that are unfolding in the news that they should be tuning into, but being worried about your job, being worried about the economy just means that your head is somewhere else.”