The F Word: Winner Take All Media Coverage

That was some bonus material from our convention coverage this summer. You helped to make it happen, so thank you. You can find our full episodes from the conventions at our website.


Americans, especially at election time, are given the message that their vote matters, and that they can have an impact on the result of elections, so they get busy. But the U.S., almost alone among Western democracies, conducts winner-take-all elections, so on the day itself, win 50.1% of the vote and you win all the representation. Losers, even those who gain lots of support, are shut out. That would be bad enough, but alongside our winner-take-all elections, we have winner-take-all media coverage. That, when it comes to making change like the people behind me want, is arguably even more of a problem.

Let's recap: In countries with systems of proportional representation, candidates are elected in proportion to their party's share of the vote. In the U.S., we don't do that, in office or in the media coverage. On November 8th, Americans are electing a president, and all his or her appointees. For the last year, we've heard about little else, but we'll also be electing thirty four senators, four hundred and thirty five members of the House, governors of twelve states, and thousands, literally thousands, of candidates to state legislatures. How many of you had to check those numbers? I know I did.

That's no surprise. For twenty years, every study of media coverage has shown that Congress, which was intended by the framers of the Constitution to be the most democratic federal body receives the least amount of serious media coverage, and mayors and governors aside, unless they're in star-studded or particularly contentious races, local candidates have an even harder time getting covered.

I tend to agree with progressive-left reporter Arun Gupta on what is stake at the top of the ticket this year. "Trump and Attorney General Giuliani," wrote Arun, "would relish using the National Guard to crush blockades of oil pipelines and trains. White supremacists, Neo-Nazis, the Klan, and the Alt-Right would all be welcome into his administration, overtly or covertly. There'd be an all-out assault on reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood," writes Arun Gupta. You can find his entire story at our website.

Vote for the presidency, by all means. Your vote counts, but unless you're in a critical part of a contested state, it is down ticket that your voice can really be decisive. Clinton or Trump, whoever wins the White House this time around, your state legislators, attorney general, and governor will either fight with them or against them. Right now, Republicans control sixty percent of those state legislatures and governorships. Think Trump is the only problem? Think again.

But don't look to the money media for prodding.

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