Mass media outlets, political pundits and day-to-day social media users alike are all trying to crack the code on what seems like 2016’s unconventional political pattern. Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders practically swept the New Hampshire primaries on Tuesday compared to the razor-thin win by former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, at the Iowa caucus last week. On the Republican side, Ohio Governor John Kasich secured a surprising second, and it appears as though Donald Trump’s catch-up campaigning in the Granite State made up for his missed opportunity in Iowa.
The unique nature of this political race is undeniable. On one side a 74-year-old from Brooklyn has an impressively large youth following, and on the other a real estate mogul with a foul mouth stole the spotlight. The question on everyone’s mind is quite simply who will be the next president, and the infatuation with candidates as people before their policies, as entertainers and soundbite-grabbers before leaders, has spun the news coverage on this election cycle into dangerous territory. Sometimes it can feel like people have completely lost touch with the issues and tune in just for a show.
“She shouts,” legendary journalist involved in uncovering the Watergate scandal, Bob Woodward, said of Clinton on MSNBC’s Morning Joe last week. “There is something unrelaxed about the way she is communicating, and I think that just jumps off the television screen.” In what has now been referred to a pointed, and even sexist, attack against Clinton, a panel of experts engaged in a heated discussion on how she appears and sounds campaigning.
Woodward added, “There is something here where Hillary Clinton suggests that she’s almost not comfortable with herself, and, you know, self-acceptance is something that you communicate on television.” This conversation exemplifies the problem with how the media is analyzing politicians. It is important to scrutinize our government officials and hold them accountable, but this idea of politicians as characters and entertainers has put too much emphasis on likability when there are important issues to worry about. Woodward uncovered Watergate, Clinton has plenty to criticize with her latest batch of emails containing classified information, but instead entertainment is overshadowing policy.
Additionally, many people have literally turned to prominent presidential hopefuls for entertainment. Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and now Bernie Sanders this past week, have all appeared on NBC’s Saturday Night Live. It’s not the first time in history candidates have appeared on the show, however, videos of the funny performances can spread farther and faster on social media than ever before to an even wider audience. Is it important to humanize and even laugh with potential presidents? Yes. But the perfect storm of growing social media, and the tendency for people to classify politicians as characters is distracting from the important issues we should be focusing on in this election.
If this pattern continues, people will vote for the “shouting” woman, the goofy 74-year-old or the shrill businessman who doesn’t play by the rules. Social media spreads these images like wildfire and uninformed citizens looking for a show eat it up. This is not to say everyone falls for these distractions, however, if the cycle continues in this historically unconventional election, coverage of candidates might permanently change as well.