Friday, January 22, 2010

Do this Week's Key Political Events Signal the Real Growth of the Long Tail in American Politics?

This week, two interesting things happened in the political world that made me realize that the fundamental restructuring of communications may be having a profound impact on our political system. These are: the election of Republican Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts (lots of articles reference this); and the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to allow corporations to spend whatever they want in support of candidates (one article about this from the New York Times:

In the U.S., we are, of course, based on a two-party system. There are a lot of reasons for that, which I won't describe here. (There is always a lot of debate on the subject; I also won't address that here.) The events of this week, however, call into question whether that system can continue to be the de facto foundation of our system.


-In the Massachusetts election, though many are simplistically arguing that it represents a clear referendum on the current government approach (that is, the electorate has come out clearly and said no to what they see happening in Washington). But, I have heard a number of people talking about different issues about which they cared that ultimately influenced their votes. The result may have been a seemingly binary decision. But, in reality, as a result of widely accessible real time communications, I would argue that this election doesn't signal binary decision at all. Rather, it says that people will vote on their issues -- not the candidate or party.

-The Supreme Court decision will add to this non-binary evolution of American politics. If many entities can spend what they want advocating their own individual positions, the weight of one party vs. the other will be reduced. It is likely that many individuals will vote very specifically on their own issues rather than on the compilation of issues.

Surprisingly, when I looked up "the long tail" and politics, there is relatively little written about it. But, just as today's ability to communicate easily about multiple issues surrounding a product or service has led to a long tail in markets, it is likely to have the same impact on politics.

I am not sure I know what all this means, but I hope that some thoughtful political scientists will think hard about it.

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Blogger Loring Wirbel said...

Good observations. I am bothered about the inability of either major party to be completely frank with the electorate and say "We have some real problems coming up in the next few decades, some of them intractable, that may lead to the U.S. simply having to deal with reduced influence in the world and a changed (not reduced, really) standard of living." But that implies people being willing to listen to someone giving them inconvenient truths. People love myths and fairy tales, so getting the voters to sober up will be almost more difficult than getting the Repub and Dem parties to be honest.

10:51 AM  

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