If you’ve been paying attention to politics these past thirty years, or more importantly, this 2016 election in particular; you might have noticed an interesting trend. When you’re sitting there watching a debate, or catching highlights in the news, or even just snippets of information through a social media timeline, you might notice these debates are a whole lot more interesting and fun to watch than any debates before. Why? Because each debate is less about policies, and more about entertainment, and more or less, who has the best PR up their sleeves as far as the media is concerned.
Sit and think for a second what running for President meant before television was around, or even less than twenty years ago, the presence of social media. The importance of a candidate’s image and relationship with the public wasn’t as significant then as it is now. Ever since presidential debates have been broadcasted for the public to watch, Public Relation’s have studied what gets the crowd roaring; what brings in the most views. You can look and reflect on this year’s candidates solely just to validate this point. We have memes for almost every candidate, can you imagine people making memes of President Lincoln during his inauguration? Hey, I’m not saying poking fun of our candidates is a bad thing, but it just goes to show that we have a lot of more amusing content to work with now compared to any presidential elections before.
“In short, PR points started being a part of the electoral process as soon as a visual connection was made. Before that, it was about qualifications, resumes, and achievements in the political circle. Then came TV and people were swayed to vote for the guy who spoke eloquently and had a certain swagger versus the other guy, whoever the hell that was.” – Shawn Paul Wood
Donald Trump is the perfect embodiment of what running for president during a time period where Journalists put showmanship first can be like. The media has chosen to focus on his theatricality approach to the debates, to his entire campaign, rather than validating his actual policies. Donald Trump, is what I do find unfortunately hard to admit, a genius in terms of knowing how to play into today’s media culture. If Trump believed that speaking more wholeheartedly about his policies, (and frankly putting more investments into his political campaign rather than his communication plans) would work in winning an election, he would have done that. Donald Trump is a business man who is aware that running for president in 2016 isn’t just about who actually has the best ideas in running a country that will affect it’s people, it’s about who can build their brand and grab the attention of the media the best. But, is it ethical for Journalists to focus more on ratings than substance? Is it ethical to treat these political campaigns more like an entertainment industry?
I mean, can you imagine George Washington hosting Saturday Night Live? Again, I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad thing that our candidates with each passing year continue to become more personable, and that each election becomes more seemingly like a reality show…I just don’t want the public to lose sight of focusing on what really matters. While I think there are benefits to treating politics as a form of entertainment, I personally do think there are downfalls. They as candidates have every right to focus and invest in efficient PR tactics, just as we the public have the right to form these relationships and be entertained, just as long as we develop a critical eye. Majority of the media is going to be more concerned about what gets ratings rather than substance, it’s up to the public more so than ever before to take the responsibility of being informed about the real reasons we want certain candidates to win. Not because they have a “way with words” or have excellent Public Relation’s specialists on their teams, but because of what they have to offer to this country collectively as a whole.
I’ll keep this question in the back of my mind, will the best PR actually win the Presidential election? I am really anticipating what this election year will demonstrate for the future of politics, for the future of Journalism and PR, and most importantly; our country. What I’ll leave off with is encouragement for people to develop an analytical and questioning mind about everything the media presents to them, we can’t forget who actually makes decisions for us; ourselves.