As politics moves to the big screen, are we just being given a large spoonful of illusion?

 

As technology develops, politicians are in the public eye more than ever before, and this year is no different as Obama begins his final months in office.

The electoral campaigns are already making a difference by playing a large role in the media. This focus on the election could be beneficial to voters, educating them and helping them to understand what their vote means.

Of course, the reverse can also be argued. Televised debates and speeches provide but a snapshot of the candidates. This does not translate to an accurate portrayal of the various parties themselves, including their policies, members, or even their respective leaders. Therefore, a more comprehensive and unbiased political education is needed. Televised debates and speeches do not showcase politics and the parties involved in a comprehensive way, and so cannot be relied on as a substitute for a good political education. The debates and speeches do not necessarily cover all the concerns voters are interested in, and they make the election campaign seem like an extravagant performance that politicians now feel obliged to participate in.

This effect is most evident in the USA given the huge amount of media attention gained by Donald Trump. His election campaign has become a performance, highlighted by Sarah Palin who expressed her support for Trump in a way that can certainly be considered theatrical, since she literally sang his praises. Moreover, Trump is proving to be a great performer, delivering his speeches in a dramatic and convincing way.

Still, it is unlikely that those voting for Trump will be basing their vote entirely on his personality. His extreme right-wing policies are clearly in view. However, the popularity of his speeches has made it possible for him to suggest that his policies are the best ones for the USA. He has achieved this primarily through scaremongering and the persuasive way in which he delivers his speeches. Evidently, the ability to manipulate the media has become a very useful tool for politicians.

In recent years, the benefits of televised political speeches and debates have been questioned, especially by nations who have more conservative campaigning systems, such as Britain. After all, it was only last year that we had the first televised election debates. Some argue that this kind of publicity only makes politicians become aggressive and rude to one another. It encourages them to criticise each other’s leadership, rather than concentrate on the merits of their own policies. Moreover, televised speeches and debates are likely to favour the more charismatic and persuasive politicians, hence encouraging the promotion of personality politics.

A personality-based, rather than policy-based vote is detrimental to the values of democracy. A personality-based vote will not help voters steer the country in the direction it needs. For that to happen, the voting public must be given all the correct information to make an informed decision.

Though televised debates and speeches can and do provide useful information about the ways in which party aims and objectives differ, the fact remains that a politician’s performance during these sessions becomes an integral part of the voters’ decision-making. The best and most persuasive speaker is likely to become favourable in the eyes of voters, even if their policies are not as beneficial as they appear.

It is undeniable that having a strong and charismatic leader is an aspect that voters should look for. A weak or unpresentable leader is unlikely to be highly successful in the world of politics, making it more difficult for them to achieve policy aims. This is especially important in the electoral system of the USA, where it is possible to vote for different leaders in each party. However, despite representing the same party, the values and aims of candidates often differ considerably. For this reason, policies should come first rather than personality. This of course becomes even more consequential when candidates represent different parties.

Televised debates and speeches should not be publicised as a definitive introduction to political parties. Alongside a sound political education they can be useful and certainly interesting, but not more. For educated voters, the added publicity will have a positive impact; but for those less experienced, televised speeches could lead to mistaken assumptions and dangerous voting outcomes. A good political education is vital to ensuring voter intelligence, otherwise, televised politics could become the biggest risk to the democratic future of elections.