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John Ziegler Headshot

Why Mitt Can't Reach That "5-10%" and Obama Will Win

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After the 2008 election I made a documentary about the news coverage of that historic event called Media Malpractice. It was based on the notion that the media played a integral role both the electoral victories of President Obama that year as well as the destruction of Sarah Palin. For reasons having nothing to do with me, the film got about as much "mainstream" news coverage (including live spots on the Today Show and The View) as any "conservative" documentary in history.

One of its primary objectives which was to educate swing voters about what really happened in 2008 so that the same phenomenon might not occur again in 2012. Despite all the "once in a lifetime" luck we had in getting the message out to the "middle," it is clear from the current circumstances that I failed dramatically in that objective.

While, since he is still below 50% in every key swing state, it is still theoretically possible that Obama could lose, it is becoming rather obvious to anyone not named Dick Morris (whenever I find myself agreeing with him I immediately know I must be wrong) that Obama, barring something really dramatic happening, is going to be reelected.

This is going to happen for reasons that are somewhat similar to what occurred in 2008, but in ways that are not immediately obvious to even most keen observer.

First, while Republicans will tell you that the polling is off because conservative turnout is being underestimated and liberal turnout is being overestimated (which is indeed plausible), most of those on my side of the political divide are not basing their analysis that Obama can't win on science. Instead, it is founded almost entirely on a gut instinct that it just wouldn't be possible for a president to be reelected after having done as poor a job as they perceive him as having done. Quite simply, they just can't wrap their heads around the notion that Obama could possibly be a two-term president.

However, one of the many things these conservatives fail to realize is that the small segment of people who are still undecided in this election (a group Romney will have to win the vast majority of in order to overcome his current deficit) do not see Obama through remotely the same prism as they do. They also don't understand that there is almost no way at this point for Mitt Romney to reach those people (the "5-10%" he specifically references in the Mother Jones video) effectively.

As I tried to prove with my two post-election scientific polls in 2008, most political junkies have no idea how narrow the knowledge base is of the average, modern day, "undecided voter." These people do not watch/read much, if any, real news and they are highly influenced by fragments of headlines they may happen to catch and stuff they hear from their friends. In short, they are far more likely to vote based on their feelings about a certain candidate or political party rather than any firmly held philosophical belief system or actual "issue."

Comedy Central, SNL and the network late night comics all have far more power over these voters than the New York Times or the NBC Nightly News (though clearly the comics still get their narrative/material from "mainstream" news sources). In this realm, Obama has absolutely nothing to fear.

Even his biggest fan would have to admit that Obama has benefited from an unprecedented and almost universal "hands off" policy when it comes to comedians (the dramatic reaction to those rare minor exceptions like Jon Lovitz proves this rule). These modern-day "news" sources have made it clear what the 2012 narrative is: Obama isn't as great as advertised, but he is still cool, while Romney is an out of touch, total square, who can't control the anti-female nut jobs in his party.

Effectively, these key voters are sealed off from any successful rebuttal from the Romney campaign. Television commercials are avoided or discounted, and no one in this faction bothers to watch the conventions any more (except for a random snippet of Clint Eastwood being made fun of). Neither the "mainstream" new media nor the comics will attack Obama and then when Romney himself tries to do it (i.e. Egypt/Libya) he is the one who suffers the blowback.

It won't surprise you that I blame the media for this reality. What will probably shock you is that I fault the conservative media more than any other entity.

A lot of conservatives (including, apparently those within the Romney campaign) like to think of this election as a repeat of 1980. On paper, such an analysis makes sense, but in reality it ignores the massive changes which have occurred in America since then. Obviously the demographics of the nation have shifted significantly in the favor of the Democratic Party, but the media landscape has been even more radically altered since Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter.

In 1980 there was no Fox News, no talk radio and no internet. I laugh when conservatives hail the advent of these outlets as the salvation of the movement. I then enjoy watching their faces lose their naïve optimism when I explain to them that those platforms are a huge part of the reason why it is almost impossible for Obama to lose.

The arrival of these outlets which allow for "conservative" news to flow freely to a relatively small segment of the population (as well as the remarkable fragmentation of all media in general) fundamentally changed how the news business operates.

The first thing it did was it made "news," unquestionably, a business, which must compete hard just to survive, rather than the license to print money which most news outlets still were back in 1980. The great irony (contradiction?) of the conservative media is that it is just a business which is merely cynically disguised as a cause.

Since the conservative media is now essentially working outside of the "mainstream" in an effort to promote their own economic agenda (both individually and as outlets) its members often act in ways which go against the best interest of conservatism.

In short, many people laughably think that the goal of the Bill O'Reillys of the world is to the save the nation and get conservatives elected. In reality, his type couldn't care less about either and often has a ratings self interest in conservatives losing elections. There is no doubt that this is an election where the conservative media would be far better off if Obama wins than if he loses.

Obama has been an economic/content God-send (maybe they really should consider him "The One") to the conservative media and if he were to lose, barring a major celebrity being accused of murdering another celebrity, they would go into instant recession.

But it isn't just this economic conflict of interest which has created this electoral conundrum for conservatives. Because the conservative media has no need to appeal to non partisans (since they are not reliable consumers of their product), it has almost no influence over the "undecided voter." So instead of being a small part of the "mainstream" as they were in 1980, conservatives have happily ceded influence over the center in order make more money by appealing to the fringe.

In fact, because the left has done such a through job of destroying the perceived credibility of the conservative media, often having a negative Obama story originate there means that it is instantly discredited even if it happens to somehow miraculously reach these "low info" voters (does anyone really believe that the New York Times would instantly pick up on a poorly verified clandestine video like it did with the Mother Jones/Romney video if had been about Obama and come from Hot Air?).

Finally, because the conservative media has no fear of letting its partisan hair down, it has had an (perhaps subconscious but very significant) influence on the mainstream also allowing its true colors to come out in their news reporting. So what was already a center-left "mainstream" media in 1980 has now become, at times, more openly liberal/pro-Obama.

Making matters worse for conservatives is that massive fragmentation has created a powerful and vastly underrated brand new weapon in the arsenal of media bias: omission.

In the past, with limited news outlets and no internet there was no plausible way for major news organizations to efficiently ignore stories which didn't fit their agenda. It was just too obvious and our attention spans weren't yet to short so that there would be no accountability for such blatant errors (for instance, the Today Show would have fired someone for omitting the 9/11 moment of silence in favor of Kris Jenner's new boob job).

Today, bias by omission has never been easier. Since everything get reported somewhere, it is only what gets repeated which matters. This gives news outlets inherent plausible deniability by being able to say they did a 20 second story or posted something largely hidden on their website (consider for a moment the number of "gas price" stories the media could be doing right now if they had even a remote desire to do so).

This is how ardent conservatives end up mistakenly thinking that "everyone" knows about the dozens of Obama "missteps" that they could easily recite from heart. In reality even fairly engaged voters have absolutely nowhere near enough negative Obama data points to be able to create a narrative in their head which would lead them to vote for Romney.

The bottom line is that all of this leaves Mitt Romney with only one last chance to win this election. That will come in the first half hour of the first debate. If he doesn't deliver a knockout blow that shows these low info voters that Obama can actually bleed, it is over. The problem for Romney of course is that, even if he was capable of pulling this off, because of the many charges the media will instantly have at their disposal ("unpresidential" "disrespectful" "mean" "racist") he will have to deliver the attack with the precision of surgeon and with absolutely no margin for error.

The chances of that scenario happening are exceedingly slim and that is why Obama will be reelected. It is also why the conservative media will be partly to blame, even as many of their members will be secretly smiling all the way to the bank.