RateWatch #431 Election 2004

October 30, 2004 by Dick Lepre

What's Happening

Witches and goblins did not show up on Wall Street on Friday. GDP growth for 3rd Q 2004 was announced at +3.7%. This was below the seemingly inflated consensus expectation of +4.3%.  This is the initial estimate based, largely, on consumption. Better estimates of imports may revise this datum downward. Consumer Spending was +4.6% (annualized), The Chain Weighted Deflator - a broad measure of inflation weighted by economic activity - was +1.3% annualized.  Inflation remains contained. The Chicago Purchasing Managers Index was up and above expectation.  U Michigan Consumer Sentiment (predisposition to spend) was above expectation.

The picture remains the same:  moderate growth and little inflation. Job creation will be
addressed next Friday in the BLS Employment Situation Report.

Election 2004

This is a strange election.  While the choice is clearly between one guy who is liberal and another
who is conservative the main issue has been Iraq.

Voter apathy seems to have dissipated.  On Wednesday a 19-year old Marine recruit was arrested because he threatened to stab his girlfriend because she was supporting Kerry.  A guy in Florida tries to run over Kathleen Harris (of the Florida 2000 Bush/Gore thing) stating that "I was exercising my political expression."  That's one way to put it.

The media continues to describe the nation as divided.  Elections highlight divisions and the campaigning is always divisive.  The media highlights the divisiveness because that gets interest. TV is geared to competition and divisiveness.  Check out:  Survivor, The Swan, The Apprentice, The Benefactor, The Biggest Loser, Fear Factor and American Idol.  It's as if everyone wants to be Simon Cowell and dis either Kerry or Bush. 

I am going to vote on Tuesday and support whomever wins.  Period. I would respectfully
suggest that others consider doing the same.

As far as "worse than 2000, post-election, who-the-heck-won chaos" I don't think that it will happen.  I live by a simple rule: whatever disasters (except for hurricanes) the media predicts never take place. Newspapers are geared to reporting what happened yesterday not what is going to happen tomorrow.

This Election and the Media

I think that one outcome of this election will be the shifting in the effect that media has on voters.

Newspapers are less important than they have been at any previous time in my life.  Practically
speaking, no one reads newspapers to get the national or international news.  They get the
news from TV, the Internet or radio.  The real value of newspapers is local news. Newspapers
may better serve their interest by concentrating on what is happening locally.  I live in San
Francisco and, while the San Francisco Chronicle may have shortcomings as a newspaper, it serves as the only vehicle to report regional news and events.  Folks from the suburbs, wanting to
know what is happening in The City, pick up The Chronicle.

TV network evening news has lost its audience to cable news.  One problem is that the network
news is brief (a bit over 20 minutes) and makes no accommodation for the fact that there is
not the same amount of news every day.  Stories are covered with near-zero depth.

There are "national newspapers" such as the New York Times which do such a comprehensive job of reporting and have such status that they can "make" a story. This week's page one story about the missing explosives in Iraq is a perfect example. The NYT gives the appearance of having compromised its integrity for its political stance.

Media such as CBS and the NYT have been taken on by entities such as Fox News Channel and The Drudge Report.  The power that The Drudge Report has gained is almost frightening.  This is a web site with little accountability that has quite possibly become the most feared media entity in the U.S.

Perhaps the centerpiece of what happened in this election is the Memogate or Rathergate story.  I think that more folks than even now understand that main-stream media have a political bias.  This understanding is a good thing.  It means than anyone wanting to possess an enlightened opinion on an issue needs to do some work.

One thing that I most definitely do not understand is why newspapers endorse candidates.  I would be inclined to regard as objective a paper that made no endorsements but rather saw its job as reporting the news.  I think that the op-ed page of newspapers has less effect on public opinion now that it has ever previously had.

The things that newspapers have traditionally provided: classified ads, which theatres are showing
what movies, and at what times and regional weekend events are now all well-covered by web sites.  Sometimes I think that the only thing that sells newspapers is the fact that guys read the sports section over breakfast and women want to know what stores are having sales.

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