Gates: Presidential elections should not dominate news


Matt Gates, Columnist

Last week, Ted Cruz became the first major party candidate to announce his bid for the 2016 presidential election. A full 594 days before Americans decide who the next president will be, they can identify at least one contender.

Election season seems like the holiday season: It gets longer each time it comes around. The media begins to focus on politicians that are rumored to be in the running for future candidacy long before politicians announce any intentions of becoming president. Speculation that Hillary Clinton will one day sit in the Oval Office has existed for most of my lifetime.

Presidential elections manage to fascinate not only experts in the political field and political junkies outside of it, but also a broad portion of the American public. Just as Dillo Day dominates Northwestern students’ attention during Spring Quarter, elections consume America for more than a year before an election happens. Presidential elections are a vital component of our nation’s political system, but their eminence in mainstream media and public attention detracts from other important parts of the political process.

The presidential election manages to overwhelm the media while congressional elections, despite being at least as important, receive far less attention. Many experts believe that the legislature has the most influence in a three-branch system of government because it makes the laws, while the executive merely executes them.

Yet America remains fixated on the presidency. Politico reported only 18 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 can name even one of their U.S. senators. Meanwhile, after President Barack Obama’s election, some people, like The World Post’s Dee Dee Myers, speculated Obama was not only the most famous person alive, but perhaps the most famous living ever. Even Sasha Obama’s yawn at her father’s second inaugural address received widespread media coverage. The president’s family members have virtual celebrity status while senators who play a crucial role in the political process are ignored. Perhaps America’s addiction to celebrity news plays a role in its fascination with the Oval Office.

The focus of the American public and the media it consumes correlates with the disparity in voter turnout between presidential and midterm elections.

Voter turnout is always significantly greater during a presidential election than during a midterm election, with the difference hovering at or above 10 percent of the voting age population over the last 70 years, according to the Pew Research Center.

The media speculates about the identity of the next president of the United States long before we even know who will run. Despite the long-standing speculation that Hillary Clinton would become the Democratic candidate in 2008, Obama surprised many Americans by winning the nomination. Despite the relative unpredictability of each major party’s presidential candidate, there were already 2014 polls trying to determine the potential results of the 2016 general election. Meanwhile, immediately after Ted Cruz declared he will run, publications already began speculating he could not gain the support of Wall Street, which would instead go to Clinton if she opposed him in the general election. Isn’t it too early to speculate about potential matchups more than a year away?

Presidential elections have a large effect on Americans, but so do congressional elections and numerous other events. As the beginning of the lengthy process of determining who will next hold the Oval Office arrives, daily political events and other happenings should not be overshadowed by speculation about who will be our next president.

Matt Gates is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].