Monday, November 5, 2012

Sneaky Slogans

It’s truly amazing the effect that a simple slogan can have on a political campaign. Since William Henry Harrison began the trend in 1840 with “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too” the slogan has been a vital tool in capturing the minds of Americans. In the current election we can track the popularity of slogans using social media to see how often they are mentioned. Since everyone and their mother are involved in some sort of social media it’s fairly easy to see which slogans the American people are getting attached to, but why? What makes a slogan effective?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Memes Erme Gward

A meme as defined by Merriam Webster Dictionary is “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.” These pictures, videos, slogans, and more have swept the internet and made us all gawk and say “Erme Gward Intrenert.”

Pressure on the Videographer

Videographers and video editors in today’s society have a lot of pressure put on them, and not just professionals, but amateur videographers as well.  Professional videographers and editors are pressured by their companies to put out a good product that people will enjoy.  Amateur videographers who post on sites like YouTube want to have videos that will receive a high number of views because often times they can be paid for ads on their videos based on the number of times the video is viewed.

A Heated Debate Indeed!

As the election grows ever closer and closer, I am sure all of you are asking yourself, which of the two candidates should I vote for? Which one's ideals align most to mine?

Wason’s Task and Confirmation Bias
Chris Duerschner
Confirmation bias shows up pretty much wherever you find opinions.  Some would even say that opinions are only possible because of confirmation bias, or at least a precursor to it.  The basic gist of the concept is that people tend to filter out those things that conflict with their convictions and only perceive those that reinforce them.  The focus of this post is not, however, to explore the extent to which confirmation bias occurs or to detail its underlying mechanism, but to explain the experimental evidence that shows it does occur.  Because confirmation bias is such a simple event; it makes sense that the most well known study that demonstrates it is also simple. 

"The Party of No"?: Considering the Contemporary Manifestations of Raum and Measel's "Monolithic Opposition"

Over the course of the semester, we've learned of countless specific polarizing rhetorical techniques.  In order to contextualize their often technical definitions in the academic pieces we read, it seems necessary to consider their manifestations in the contemporary political climate.  Monolithic opposition, as described in Raum and Measell’s study, is the way in which an entity perceives or attempts to portray an oppositional force itself, rather particular elements of its ideas as unequivocally and consistently unreasonable.  As a rhetorical strategy of subversion, it derives its effectiveness from other polarizing tactics that work to establish the perception of a clearly defined battle in a political debate.  In presenting the interactions of his or her political party with another as militaristic, a politician tends to use motive disparagement (presenting the opposition’s motivations as despicable), and artificial dichotomy (portraying debate as having only two distinct positions).  These various tactics work in concert to present the same war-like picture and begin to create a frame of reality wherein the idea of a monolithic opposition is a natural extension of logic.    

Kerrey vs. Fischer: The Lesser of Two Evils?

Kerrey vs. Fischer: The Lesser of Two Evils?         
By: Andrew Nelson

           The other day I was discussing the upcoming election with a friend of mine. She raised a very interesting point in regards to the Senate race between Bob Kerrey and Deb Fischer. When I asked whom she was leaning towards she said Bob Kerrey, because her dad told her, “Deb Fischer is a land-grabbing crook.” Upon her bringing this up, I realized that I really don’t know much about either candidate myself other than that that Deb Fischer steals from the elderly and that Bob Kerrey is a carpet bagger.  Are politics in America becoming a choice between the lesser of two evils? In the following few paragraphs, I’ll address why voters in this year’s senate race oppose a candidate rather than favor a candidate and attempt to the question above.
            The campaign tactics used in the afore mentioned senate race are particularly interesting, because each candidate employs a very different style.  Bob Kerrey is practically a political celebrity in the state of Nebraska because of his extensive political experience within our state. Because Kerrey’s name is already established in the minds of voters, this election is far more about Kerrey than about Fischer. Deb Fischer has little previous political experience and before the senate race heated up, was not well known by many Nebraskans. Kerrey’s campaign supporters have used this to what they thought would be their advantage. Essentially, they saw that they were dealing with a clean canvas in the minds of voters. They could potentially frame Fischer in the minds of voters as anything they wanted. This thinking prompted the famous ad that accused Deb Fischer of attempting to steal land.

Following the release of this commercial, Deb Fischer’s campaign fired back with the following video, bringing attention to the fact that Kerrey focuses more on attacks rather than ideas.

Ironically, Fischer’s campaign doesn’t propose many ideas in this ad either, but rather contributes to the hate culture that exists in American politics.  Thankfully, television ads aren’t the only method by which to examine a race.
            The Omaha World Herald’s website ran a story in early August concerning the campaign styles of the two candidates. In this article the writer interviewed many residents of Burwell, Nebraska shortly after Fischer walked in a parade through the small town. Of the voters interviewed, “all preferred to talk about why they either supported or opposed Kerrey, rather than talk about Fischer,” (Tysver). And when those that supported Fischer were asked what parts of her plan they appreciated, many admitted to not even knowing what Fischer’s plans were (Tysver). Clearly, at least early in the race, Kerrey’s widespread political reputation appeared to be his demise as the polls showed him as a distant second place. Now, as we grow much closer to Election Day, Fischer’s name is much better known. And because of the aggressive Kerrey ads, people either know Fischer as the candidate who steals land, or as the candidate who is not great, but better than Kerrey. Furthermore, this effective framing by the Kerrey campaign has yielded them a huge jump in the polls, and what appeared to be a landslide election has turned into an extremely close race.
            Now, granted Kerrey’s campaign tactics are effective, are they really something that should be admired? I’ll let you be the judge of that. Because of campaigns like this one, it seems like politics are becoming more and more like a choice between the lesser of two evils rather than a choice for who we think will be a better leader for our government.
            This “lesser of two evils” thinking can be attributed to the polarizing techniques used not only in this election, but in elections across the board. The two primarily used tactics in this case are framing and the creation of a common foe.
            Framing is a strategy employed in this race by both campaigns. Kerrey’s campaign attempted to frame Fischer as a land grabber, and Fischer’s campaign tried to frame Kerrey as a carpet bagger. What is sometimes over looked though is that when framing is used so early in an election as it was, it simply creates more framing. In an online article on, George Lakoff puts it, “The only response [to framing] is to reframe,” (Lakoff). When considered in context this theory makes a lot of sense. Because if a candidate is framed, but fails to reframe, they are essentially fighting for their reputation the entire race and therefore fighting an uphill battle. This framing and reframing inevitably leads to further polarization in our political system.
            The second tactic we see prominently displayed in this race is the creation of a common foe (my main intent for this blog post was not to examine the common foe again, but I kind of had to when talking about Kerrey vs. Fischer).  Both sides of the campaign tried to paint their opponent as someone that couldn’t be trusted. They employed the age old tactic of creating a common foe intending not just to win over undecided voters, but to rally their own supporters and party members. After all voter turnout is extremely important in campaigns.  
            These two tactics when used in this campaign are inevitable leading to more polarization in American politics. These attacks also contribute to the feeling that undecided voters always have to pick between a lesser of two evils, which honestly is kind of depressing.
            Is there a way to lessen this feeling? That question is extremely difficult to answer. I’d like to say yes, but for the voters whose only source of campaign information is advertisements, the answer is inevitably no. Those voters need to research on their own, seek multiple viewpoints, and try to decipher the ideas that are hidden behind aggressive attacks. So if you haven’t voted in this election yet, I strongly employ you, ignore the TV ads, do some research, and hopefully you’ll find a candidate you actually support.

Who Cares?: An Analysis of Nonvoting

To start, a brief consideration of Freakonomics.  As Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt point out, there is pretty much no economic incentive for someone to actually vote.  A single vote is worth very little in any election, but in a general election, such as that for president, where upwards of 130 million votes are cast.  In fact, as they point out that, in the last century there has been only a single election where the outcome has been decided by a single vote.  As such, considering the increasing size of the nation, is it any curiosity that voter turnout (as a percentage) has dropped considerably from its inception?  As disenfranchised voter Luke Banda states, "A simple understanding of statistics shows that my vote does not matter."

The donut beats the vote every time
Yet, to be completely accurate, voter turnout has not dropped but instead risen over the past decade.  Rather, if the general election is any indication, the turnout has only increased from 1996 to 2008.  More people are voting in terms of number and in terms of percent.  And the reason?  It may well be the very factor that many have demonized as the degradation of modern politics: the increasing polarization of the political spectrum.

Polarization in Prediction


The ability to predict the outcome of future events is a well storied pop culture trope. And it's understandable why precognition is such a popular storytelling element, surfacing in history from MacBeth to That's So Raven. The world is an unpredictable, frightening place and knowing what will happen next gives order to it. This base level  human desire to see the future and use this knowledge to your own advantage is endlessly appealing and is a major factor in the rise of statistician and predictive political polling in the US. The use of polls to gauge political leanings is certainly not a revelation but the increased focus on formulas and demographic data has changed the way races are predicted. The sweet science of predicting who the next president will be has become much more of a personalized numbers game. In theory this would lend itself to more accurate predictions among the various prediction services. In actuality polling and prediction has become as mired in political polarization as the races themselves.  

A Number's Game

"Numbers never lie." This phrase, repeated as an endless mantra by my middle school Pre-Algebra teacher, should be fact. Numbers can never lie. But numbers can be skewed, manipulated and distorted for political motives. Leading the charge for stat based prediction is the New York Time's Nate Silver. Silver is not a pollster in the typical sense, he doesn't call potential voters or even interact with voters at all. All of Silver's predictions are a result of a complex formula that crunches millions of numbers to find the most likely outcome of an event. This method of prediction first gained attention after Silver used it to correctly predict the winner in all 35 of the 2008 Senatorial races.

This approach is far from perfect. Although Silver uses the results of dozens of polling sites and the stats of past races at the end of the day, he controls the formula. Silver can choose to lend more weight to a particular poll or factor in greater state polls if he chooses to do so. The best way to illustrate this point is by underlining the disagreement between Nate Silver and Scott Rasmussen. 

Pundits and Polarization

Scott Rasmussen, cofounder of ESPN and President of Rasmussen Reports, is one of the most highly regarded men in the political prediction industry. So when Nate Silver criticized his results as having an inaccurate and  conservative bias, people took note. Silver accused Rasmussen of using shoddy data and ineffective methods to garner results. Mr. Rasmussen predicts races in a much more traditional sense, he utilizes an army of employees who make constant polling calls, but his methods are still incredibly number reliant. America is becoming more diverse than ever and polls must adapt to account for this. After years of gross inactivity the youth voting demographic is slowly becoming more politically involved and the Hispanic and non-english speaking voting demos are also gaining in numbers. To show a true picture of America, a pollster must account for these changes and factor their numbers slightly to reflect this. 

Two Men, Two Far Different Results

One example of how two different men can produce such different results can be seen in the November 4th prediction results for Rasmussen and Silver. Rasmussen predicts a perfectly tied race while Silver predicts an 85% chance of an Obama victory. These are vastly differing numbers, not even in the same ballpark yet both can be backed by detailed and exact methods. And the battle between the two men is far from over, partisan lines have been drawn in the sand. NBC pundit Joe Scarborough recently called out Nate Silver saying that “[a]nybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue…they're jokes.” Both men have come under fire from the other side and their own personal allegiances have only made it more intense. Nate Silver's blog, FiveThirtyEight is hosted by the New York Times, a paper often accused of liberal leanings and Scott Rasmussen is a consistent contributor to Fox News. This begs the question, do people seek out polls with a history of accuracy or polls that will only confirm their own preconceived biases? The disputes in accuracy between stat based polls and traditional  polls will only increase as time goes on and political punditry becomes even more of a big business. The age of easy access to voters and rise in number crunching prediction should have eased the variances between polls but instead has done the opposites. Numbers and polls, previously trusted to be infallible, have been corrupted with the stain of political bias. November 6th may mark the end of a strenuous campaign cycle but it'll only mark the beginning of another stress cycle for those who stake their credibility and livelihood on the accuracy of prediction numbers.,0,1129852.story

Compulsory Voting: A Solution to Polarization?

           Tuesday night, when the election is called, whoever is elected by the next President of the United States, one thing is for sure: it won't be by majority. With a 63% voter turnout, in the 2008 election, only 33% of eligible voters voted for Barack Obama. Futhermore, according to the Pew Research Center anyone who cast a ballot is disproportionately likely to be white, over 45, and have a college education. The result? Americans voting are not representative of the demographics, and potentially opinions of the rest of America. The solution? Compulsory voting.

A Whirlwind Election: The Effects of Hurricane Sandy

President Obama onlooking the devastation of Hurricane Sandy
The warm winds of the red Republican’s campaign garners strength as it comes to a collision with the cool blue tones of the Democratic campaign. Obama seems to epitomize the social issues of America, whereas Romney seems to focus on the fiscal and economic issues. They circle each other in a calculated, mechanical, and biting Viennese Waltz. Growing closer and closer, until the impact is inevitable. A hailstorm of biting rhetoric, memes mocking both candidates swiftly breeze through the net, chaotic showers of them discrediting the other, and overall calamity. Below this turbulent political storm is a nation storm torn and weathered. Is it irony that the political atmosphere and meteorological one reflect each other so perfectly? With the onset of Hurricane Sandy, many meteorologists expected the storm to escalate and manage to hit the Atlantic coast of the United States. With a speculated 90% chance of this happening, President Obama signed off on emergency declarations of various Northeastern states including Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. Some political scientists speculate that Hurricane Sandy will primarily affect the Romney campaign; whereas, others speculate that it will  affect the Obama campaign. Lastly, a few political scientists believe it will effect neither.

Does anyone care about the FACTS anymore?

By: Maci Lienemann

Vampire, Carpet Bagger, Osama, Welfare Rancher, etc.  What do these words have in common? They are all terms being used to describe various political candidates in the 2012 elections. As we are nearing the final stretch, candidates are bombarding the airwaves with the most campaign ads, thus far.  Most of the ads are, as usual, negative attacks on opponents.  However, what is not so usual about these ads is the main message. A majority of this election's ads have been focused on the candidates themselves and their character, rather than the candidates policies or plans.  This political tactic of attacking a person, instead of a person's ideas is called motive disparagement.  Motive disparagement can be seen today in ads ranging from presidential candidates to ads from US Congress candidates across the states.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Battleground We Call Facebook

                It is no secret that where there are thousands of young people in one location such as a college campus, there will be a few…less than wise things said.  A popular location to share these humorous and sometimes distasteful comments is a page on Facebook called “Overheard at UNL”.  Most of the posts on this page are from students at UNL and are meant to playfully poke fun at these amusing comments.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Do Liars Always Win?

Every action a person takes has motivation behind it. The motivation someone has for going to school may be to take that first step towards getting a job that requires a degree, it may be to become a more well-rounded person, or it may simply be because he or she doesn't quite know what to do with life yet. In the rhetorical and political arenas, the motivation of one’s opponent, especially if it is unknown, is like a weapon ready to explode. If an opponent is not well defined in every single aspect of a campaign, meaning that all of their policies and prevalent details in their personal lives are not clear to the public, there is room for the opposing group to disparage their character. The opponent is painted as a one sided person who's motives are questionable, and is shown as being out of touch with reality. He or she no longer has interest in the well-being of anyone, but will do anything to further personal success. Motive disparagement attacks an individual's character without discussing concrete policies or plans the opponent may have. What is being said doesn't need to have any truth to it. If there is even a shadow of a doubt, anything that is remotely fathomable can be inserted into the situation to make the opponent seem foolish. This is how  most negative campaign ads are formulated. Dirty politics have a certain appeal to the American public. Scandals sell, and a potential leader of the free world should be scandal-free. Presidential elections use motive disparagement frequently. The 2008 election had an interesting dynamic between Barack Obama and John McCain that can be seen as we examine their campaign styles and the results of the election.