Picture this: your football team is down by two touchdowns and there is only a minute left in the game. Statistically, you know it’s almost impossible that your team will win … but you watch anyway. Of course you might be a diehard fan never willing to give up, but there is another force at work here. The broadcasters calling the game are all talking about how the losing team might actually win. They are sharing obscure statistics of the unlikely comeback that your team had back in 1984. It could happen again, they promise. So you keep watching. And then your team loses, just like the odds predicted they would.
Sound familiar? What is interesting about this weekly scenario isn’t that the miraculous come back never happened. It is that over and over again we still hope for it, despite knowing how unlikely it is. And our hope is reinforced by the live commentary from the media. There is a business model behind fabricating this hope – and it is based on keeping each of us watching.
This necessity to keep us watching goes far beyond sports as well. During the recent storm coverage, there were dozens of hours of media coverage devoted to the “the hurri-crane,” as some news outlets called it. This same phenomenon has also led the political media around the upcoming election to focus their endless speculation on the views of a character that they have all dubbed with the same name: the “undecided voter.” This conveniently described undecided voter sways back and forth between who they will vote for based on the media of the day. They pay intense attention to every piece of “news” from both campaigns. They are intelligent and thoughtful. There is only one problem with this person … he or she doesn’t really exist.
We are living in the most polarized and partisan society of the last 25 years. So in this world where half the USA thinks the other half are just out of touch … how is it possible that we have this large block of undecided voters who haven’t yet decided which side they are on? The answer is that it simply isn’t possible. But everyone from the political parties to the news media use coverage to fuel a belief in the myth of the undecided voter to make the election seem close, and keep everyone paying attention on election day. There may be a small group of people who still haven’t decided who they are voting for, but this number is sure to be far smaller than it appears from all the media frenzy around them.
Instead, there is a far more important and critical type of voter that we all should be focused on. Let’s call this type of voter the “unmotivated voter.” This is the person who has a pretty good idea of what they believe, but they just don’t see themselves reflected in any of the candidates. They are tired of politics as usual. They don’t want or need to pay attention to politics every day. They may be attracted to the sensational headlines, but their interest wanes fast – because they have better things to do. Does that person sound familiar?
It should – it probably describes more than 50% of the eligible voters in the country. And unfortunately many of them won’t show up on election day to actually follow through and cast their ballot. If you think about it, it’s the same challenge that any business faces. It is the difference between belief and action. Just aiming to change belief isn’t enough to inspire action.
In every election, victory or defeat comes down to who is more able to inspire unmotivated voters to actually show up and vote on election day. They will decide the fate of the nation … not the small and overappreciated population of undecided voters.