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Jim Worth

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Unfocused Groups

Posted: 10/31/2012 8:23 pm

After each debate, focus groups created more questions than answers!

Television has gravitated to the use of focus groups -- gatherings of undecided or uncommitted voters -- as a tool to evaluate the candidates' performance in the debates.

With a straight face the sober moderator asks them who they think won the debate, who they'll vote for, and other questions about the performance of each candidate then, asks follow up questions to clarify their answers.

How valuable are these focus groups?

After watching nine of these groups on Fox, MSNBC, CBS, and CNN following all three presidential and the vice presidential debates, they are of little intrinsic value.

One thing was evident -- we have a grossly uninformed or misinformed electorate.

As Ron Allen and Frank Luntz shuffled through their series of questions -- the whats followed by the whys -- it became abundantly clear that these undecided voters knew very little about the issues or the candidates. And, as Erin Burnett summarized the participants' views in CNN's focus group it became obvious that all of their conclusions were the product of snap judgements and perceptions from the debate.

Not the best way to pick a president.

Focus group participants gave no weight to the validity of the candidates' statements, no credence to honesty, and showed deference to the truth in the facts the candidates presented.

These individuals were, of course, undecided or uncommitted, therefore, were less informed than the general electorate. They couldn't be expected to be knowledgeable of each candidates' positions or history. There are just too many factors and issues to be considered. Surely those that have already decided would be better at selecting a president.

Would that that were true!

But, after two years of campaigning the general electorate appears to be no smarter, no more aware, than these focus groups.

There are reasons for that.

One is that information from the candidates and their surrogates has been reduced to soundbites repeated endlessly. Another is the invasion of deceptive ads produced by unlimited outside money. The other is the media -- their weaknesses and failures at presenting a factual narrative of the candidates and their positions.

Thomas Jefferson explained that the most important aspect to preserve democracy was an informed electorate. Part of that responsibility falls to a qualified and unbiased press. A press that will check facts and report their investigative findings clearly and honestly to the voting public.

But that is not happening. We currently have a media that fails to provide the participants in these innocuous groups and the general population factual information from which to draw reasonable conclusions.

The predilection to appear unbiased has cost this country dearly, creating the most uninformed citizens in the world. This failure is manifest in the practice of false equivalency.

Every lie that goes unchallenged or unreported is damaging to our elections and our democracy.

By far the worst -- the biggest offender of the tenets of a free press -- is Fox News. Their bias puts a greater burden on the rest of the media to make up for the abyss Fox creates. Unconcerned with facts and unencumbered by truth Fox is a leader in the race to the bottom; the Palinization of America.

The most disturbing groups were those Frank Luntz and Sean Hannity conducted for Fox.

The Luntz administered groups received, by far, the most biased and directed questions of all the groups. Even the selection process Luntz employs is questionable! They claim to select with 'great care' but imply that you must be the 'right' fit. A disturbing function of the Luntz philosophy.

The Luntz impaneled groups are always the most vitriolic and consistently contradictory to consensus of the general population.

Watching Luntz conduct the panel it is easy to see why Americans are grossly uninformed. Many of Luntz's self-serving, right-wing semantic changes have been the most destructive to our national and political discourse.

Are focus groups a waste of time and energy? Are the debates irrelevant?

Debates are of less importance than they were 30 or 40 years ago. What is more important is the quality of information voters receive during the endless months of campaigning.

At a time when we have more available information at our fingertips than ever before -- the ability to research even the simplest of statements or positions -- the focus groups prove that Americans have become lazy.

Those claiming to have already decided have proven to be no better, no more informed, nor more willing to research the reasons for our political and economic demise.

We're falling far short of the expectations of Thomas Jefferson and our democracy is suffering as a result.

Yes, these groups were unfocused, but so are many of the so-called decided voters prepared to vote in this important presidential election.

Unfortunately, this may be one of the dumbest electorates we've had in the history of this country. And, their vote could destroy the fragile economic recovery and political quagmire we're working so damn hard to overcome.

The wrong choice could be devastating to this country for decades.

 

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