August 16 2013
This morning, representatives at the RNC Summer Meeting voted not to work with NBC and CNN during the 2016 presidential election. Prompting this decision are documentaries on Hillary Clinton each network intends to air, which Republicans view as a sign the networks are not in their camp.
Yes, we all know the mainstream media is liberal. Yawn. Let’s move on.
Cutting two of the biggest networks out of the mix is a huge mistake for the GOP. If Republicans should have learned anything after 2012 it’s that they failed to engage adequately with voters, perhaps most notably with women.
They didn’t lose only because the media wasn’t on their side. They lost because there were too many instances when — and too many issues on which — they failed to communicate.
But that’s exactly why turning off NBC and CNN is bad strategy. Extensive literature in the field of political science — led by John Zaller, author of The Nature and Origin of Mass Opinion — suggests that mass opinion is largely influenced by elite discourse. Voters form opinions about everything from immigration policy to whom to elect president based on a narrow group of “experts” in the policy community, media, and in their own families and communities.
The consensus among researchers like Zaller is that people rely on the beliefs that are “at the top of their head,” meaning the beliefs they heard most recently. What one hears on the “Today” show or “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” the night before can entirely determine one’s opinion on complicated policy issues, a candidate, or even a political party.
Too often when it comes to communicating with voters, the GOP seems to want to stem the flow of information, rather than broaden it. But for the millions of Americans who get their information from the mainstream media, they must receive a competing message — a competing viewpoint — and a two-sided flow of information.
Choosing to disengage from major networks more than two years in advance of an election seems a sure-fire way to ensure that conservatives not only don’t reach millions of Americans with their message but also that they alienate them before they can even try.
Schaeffer is executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum.