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The Media of Choice In Appalachia


There has been a lot of speculation about why Barack Obama lost by such a wide margin to Hillary Clinton in West Virginia and probably as big in Kentucky. TalkPointsMemo.com posted a piece by Jonathan Tilove of the Newhouse News Service who suggests it's a Scots-Irish problem of "fighting" people who "migrated directly to the wilderness of the Appalachian mountains" and that these people are today in "...the lower rungs socially and economically."

In a New York Times Op-Ed Column, Charles Blow suggests that Obama has an Appalachia problem that includes counties from New York State down to Tennessee - a region that is "whiter, poorer, older, more rural and less educated than the rest of the country, and seems to be voting like a bloc."

The reasons Appalachia does not vote for Obama very well may include the people's fighting Scots-Irish heritage or the fact that they are poorer, older, more rural, and less educated. But I believe that another reason for their voting behavior is that they live in the "wilderness of the Appalachian mountains" where broadband Internet access is very low.

I searched via Google for cable television (the main provider of broadband Internet access) penetration in West Virginia and other Appalachian states, but was unable to find any recent statistics. Therefore, I'm going on a hunch and on my assumption that cable and broadband Internet penetration tends to be lowest among "poorer, older, more rural, and less educated people." If my hunch is correct, then the success of Obama's campaign and fund raising efforts is as much related to media access and usage as it is to race, age, income, or education.

People who get their news from and are heavy users of the Internet are probably more likely to support Obama than those who get their news from the dinosaur media - radio, newspapers, and broadcast television. These people probably tend to be older and mired in pre-1960 media habits.

As Joshua Green points out in his excellent article in the June Atlantic titled "The Amazing Money Machine," the "...story of Obama's success is very much a story about money," which was made possible by his brilliant use of the Internet. If Obama is elected in November, he will be the country's first Internet president, and he will owe his victory to a generation (mostly younger) of Internet-savvy voters and donors.

Not only was Obama able to outspend Hillary on television advertising ("six-to-one" as Hillary whined), but probably the video with the most impact was will.i.am's "Yes We Can" which has had over 7.5 million views on YouTube.com alone, which doesn't include the millions of views from its viral distribution, views on Obama's and other's Web sites, and coverage on television.

Another reason for the voting behavior of people in Appalachia, I believe, is anxiety - something close to the "bitterness" that Obama mentioned in an interview, referring to blue-collar workers in small towns in Pennsylvania. In an interview on the Harvard Business Review "IdeaCast" podcast (available on iTunes, in "Podcasts" and in "Business"), Robert Rosen, author of Just Enough Anxiety, said that modern Americans tend to be "...shackled by an outdated mind. Change and uncertainty is dangerous, it makes us anxious. We see anxiety as bad, as a sign of weakness." He also went on to say, "We do one of two things. We deny or resist the anxiety, which gets in the way of us changing and moving forward, or we try to attack and control anxiety - we get hijacked by it..."

I think the "whiter, poorer, older, more rural and less educated" people of Appalachia are anxious because they are anxious about the future and about change, and thus, stick with old ideas and old media. They not only more than likely do not have broadband Internet access, but are also more than likely anxious about using it if they did.

I can't imagine the folks in Appalachia grooving to will.i.am's "Yes We Can" video. They are probably watching re-runs of "I Love Lucy" on TV sets with rabbit-ear antennae and listening to "The Grand Ole Opry" on Saturday nights on WSM-AM radio - the king of Appalachia media. And they more than likely won't watch Obama's inauguration speech, which is sure to be a humdinger. But I can imagine that the majority of Obama's ardent young, post-racial, post-Appalachia supporters watching their president's inauguration address on their computers - the media of choice of a new, young, educated generation - not the media of choice in Appalachia.