Image for post
Image for post
Photo source: Joy Mayer. Poynter Institute. “How to make fair, accurate information stand out on social media during election week.”

One of the most contentious elections in this nation’s history is just around the corner and you may be, like many people, fatigued by politics in general. The news and commentary can be downright suffocating at times. You’ve probably gotten countless phone calls from national and state organizations affiliated with the two major parties, even after you’ve already voted early or by mail. It feels never-ending and it seems to only get more heated the longer it all drags on.

And as usually the case with politics, there has been a deluge of perspectives and narratives crafted and there’s only going to be more of them once the election is over. There is an incentive — whether it is monetary, political, or psychological — to believe certain stories about why elections or other events are happening the way they are. But for many citizens — including those not voting — the sheer volume of noise just makes them want to throw their hands up in the air and give up trying to understand what’s happening. While a lot of people are already primed to take to certain narratives because of their biases, many others wonder how much of all the political talk is useful information and what is just noise. …

Image for post
Image for post
Source: Alabama Political Reporter. “Wednesday is Term Limits Day.”

You’ve probably heard it before: A candidate for Congress ostensibly espousing the passage of term limits on members of Congress. They talk about how broken, corrupt, and entrenched government is and see term limits as a way to put a check on such officials from abusing their station for personal gain. It isn’t necessarily a key issue of an election (in fact, it usually isn’t), but you almost always hear it when election time is rolling around.

But are term limits a good thing? Will they happen for Congress? Or maybe the U.S. Supreme Court? Certain state governments?

First of all, it’s easy for a candidate to earn a few easy political brownie points by saying they support and will fight for term limits on members of Congress. The chances for it to happen, however, are highly unlikely (some would argue never). It’s easy to call for term limits when you aren’t actually in Congress. That doesn’t mean that none of these congressional candidates mean it when they say they support term limits, but we should have a healthy dose of skepticism when we hear it. …

One of the most interesting and important aspects to politics and political science, for myself at least, is political reform. It’s a common topic for all sorts of political observers. Just about nearly everyone — activists, politicians, academics, regular voters, and more — believes that one or more major laws, programs, fundamentals of politics and government, etc. needs to have a major overhaul. I count myself among these people. In fact, I believe that there are many, many things that need to be reformed and amended. It’s one of my biggest passions.

But one of the things about reforms is that it implies something is in serious need of improvement — and there isn’t necessarily agreement that that thing, such as a government program, needs to be fundamentally changed. You’ll usually see a different set of buzzwords based on where somebody stands on an issue. For example, what someone sees as a deeply flawed “welfare” or “government assistance” system may be just fine in the eyes of someone else. Someone who uses the term “welfare” likely thinks such programs are in need of serious revamping. Someone who uses the phrase “government assistance” or something similar might also believe that some sort of reform needs to happen, but probably not as often or to the same degree. …

Image for post
Image for post
Source: NJ Spotlight. “Changes in Vote-by-Mail Ruled Null and Void, Unfunded Mandates.”

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to hold the world economy in its grip and grind normal life to a halt, COVID-19 fears have spread throughout just about every facet of life. And as we have seen in states such as Wisconsin, the conversation has included voting. While many states postponed voting thus far into 2020, states including Wisconsin and Florida chose to hold their elections as normally scheduled, heating up a debate as to whether in-person voting should still be held in the time of coronavirus — and the feasibility of transitioning elections nationwide to be all vote-by-mail (VBM).

Regardless of any debates about ethics, safety, freedom, etc., transitioning all elections to just vote-by-mail is not simple. There is no metaphorical switch to flip where elected or appointed officials can designate all voting to be done through a post office. Still, a lot of states have some measure of VBM in place, so it’s not impossible. The possibility of coronavirus dying down through summer not withstanding, how viable is it to transition all upcoming voting to VBM-only? Some factors that support the expansion of VBM, while others are a hindrance. …

The actual voting to determine the Democrats’ candidate to run against Donald Trump has finally kicked off as the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary are in the books, with the Nevada primary underway. As is their wont, many commentators in the media (and many voters) have already taken to hard narratives about the state of the race. For some, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg have been declared the clear frontrunners. Joe Biden being in serious trouble is another popular story. And on and on.

With the constant political media machine churning and candidates trying to capitalize on whatever possible advantage they can, the repetition of narratives becomes easy to believe. Sometimes it can feel like the trajectory of the race has already been decided by the media. But a healthy dose of skepticism is warranted here. We are only in the midst of the second primary (Iowa, being caucuses, is not technically a primary and operates by some different rules than a primary), yet it sounds like many pundits have declared the race far closer to being over than it actually is. …

Polls are all the rage in political commentary. They make for easy targets for news stories (even if they are bad or fake polls). One week, Joe Biden is leading the presidential polls. The next week sees Elizabeth Warren on top. Now suddenly Pete Buttigieg surges or Bernie Sanders makes a big push. And on and on. The “horse race” aspect of polling is what most people are interested in, but not so much the very nitty-gritty aspects. People tend to simply be more interested in a straightforward answer as to who is “winning.”

Polling is also a huge, expensive business. Good polls are critical for well-oiled campaign machines in heated races to determine campaign strategies. They’re also intricate, difficult, and expensive to make, which is why the highest echelons of the business rake in so much money from campaigns seeking their services. Well-crafted polls don’t always need a lot of money, but they are very limited in scope if there isn’t much financial backing. Each successive question asked gets a clearer understanding of the race, but it also requires more time and resources. …

Image for post
Image for post
Source: Architect of the Capitol. “House Chamber.”

Oftentimes, when there is some sort of policy issue being discussed in the news, it is talked about in black-and-white, straightforward terms. This is particularly the case with strongly partisan or ideological politicians and interest groups who see little to no grey on issues. Even when there is a more nuanced debate, those who have a highly vested interest in an issue may boil down the issue to general values that ostensibly seem clear-cut, such as “limited government,” “public safety,” “equality/equity,” or “efficiency.”

The crafting of public policy, however, is a complicated and intensive process. Politicians and interest groups often have a vested interest in depicting a debate as straightforward so that they can easily bring public opinion on their side or to pressure certain officeholders. Regular citizens don’t have the interest, time, and/or expertise to mull over the details of policy, which is why they will often rely on other sources to tell them about it. …

Image for post
Image for post
Source: Capital Media Solutions. “8 Social Media Strategies for Influential Political Campaigns.”

In this age of never-ending news, the amount of information bombarding our senses can feel overwhelming. There is so much to keep up with when it comes to politics. Sometimes, people will respond by simply tuning it out. When elections roll around, the sheer volume of races up for a vote can make sifting through all the relevant information — or even finding it — seem like an insurmountable task. That’s not even counting non-political influences taking up people’s time, such as careers, social outings, and hobbies (at least the non-political ones).

The reality of humans’ mental and time limitations means that there is only so much any of us can learn or search for. Even those who consistently consume political information have to rely on some multiple methods to access the knowledge they want besides simply researching it. Due to our limitations, there are information costs to consuming politics. Information costs are what we spend in order to get said information. This could refer to money, but it especially refers to time and mental effort. The time you spend to research a candidate could be spent on many other things, including other political information. The taxing of your mind in evaluating candidates is an effort that could be used on something else. …

Image for post
Image for post
Image source: The Texas Politics Project. “Polling.”

As the election season is ramping up, polling results are getting more and more media attention. They are part of the lifeblood of politics, a critical endeavor that can help tip the scales of an election by gauging where the public stands on candidates and issues. Campaigns rely on them so much to get a sense of what tweaks they need to make in a campaign to gain support, such as in messaging and which demographics they need to reach out to.

More and more it seems, polling also gets increasingly criticized and attacked when election results conflict with it. With recent high-profile misses, such as the 2016 presidential election, these calls have gotten arguably louder with each successive miss. …

Image for post
Image for post
Source: State Symbols USA. “The U.S. Constitution.”

Last year, Illinois became the latest state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), bringing the amendment to the cusp of ratification. When the ERA was first written and being considered by states in the 1970s, the momentum that it quickly gained made ratification seem imminent. Yet campaigns against the amendment’s passage, most notably by conservative activist and lawyer Phyllis Schlafly, would slow the momentum and the ERA would come up short of being part of the U.S. Constitution.

Since the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1789, only 27 amendments have become part of it. The last was in 1992, which concerned the salaries of members of Congress. The first 10 amendments — known as the Bill of Rights — were ratified in 1791, primarily meant to ease concerns about the new Constitution. Those hesitant or even outright opposed to it feared the Constitution would encroach too heavily on individual liberties and states’ rights. While many (if not all) of the Constitution’s proponents, such as James Madison, felt that they were unnecessary and already guaranteed, they worked toward getting these first 10 amendments passed to quell concerns. …


Paul Rader

Senior Page Editor - Sayfie Review, Assistant Staff Writer - Ballotpedia (my views do not express those of my employers), M.A. in Political Science

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store