The Washington Post has a story today about the Virginia governor’s race that reflects, I hope, simply how a headline writer can sometimes spend too little time actually reading the story. Of course, it could be that he or she looked for any story morsel that would reflect his or her opinion. If you have another theory, I’m all ears.
The headline on the front page of the Metro section reads “Recession’s Pains Dull Attention to Campaigns.” People have other things to think about. Even the head on the jump reflects the same message: “Struggling Residents Tune Out Governor’s Race.” In fact, the economy is cited as the reason for the poor turnout in the Democratic primary. At least that’s the inference of the story.
A deep nationwide recession has touched every corner of the commonwealth, from the depressed factory towns of the south to the high-tech corridors of Fairfax County. For many voters, the problems seem too big, too intractable for any governor to fix, which might have been a factor in the 6 percent turnout in Tuesday’s primary.
But in 2005, the turnout in the GOP gubernatorial primary was 3.98%. Granted, in that one, it wasn’t hotly contested. The 2001 Democratic primaries for lieutenant governor and attorney general were, however, and that turnout was only 4.23%. So on what basis does the reporter say that 6% is a poor turnout? It is in a cosmic sense, but when was the last time we were significantly above that for a gubernatorial primary?
Let’s forget, for the moment, that the opposite of what the headline reads is the conventional wisdom. In these tough times, the wise politicos tell us, people are looking to government for solutions, for help, for anything. Being against government is an argument only the diehard ideological Republicans will make. The rest of us are looking to it to help us catch a break.
So what evidence do the reporter and headline writer point to support their contention that voters are tuning out, or that “the problems seem too big, too intractable for any governor to fix”? How did they determine that “many voters” feel this way?
The lede is an anecdote about a woman who was at a school that doubled as a polling place last Tuesday. She was there to pick up her daughter. She didn’t vote, but nothing about what she said indicated that she was tuning out of the race because of economic difficulties. She may have never voted in a primary in her life. She may be a Republican who didn’t think it was her place to vote in a Democratic primary. She may think that voting for politicians only encourages them. We don’t know.
In fact, the only person quoted in the story that supports the headline’s contention is a recently unemployed multimedia producer.
"It just feels sometimes like you’re getting along, you’re able to maintain, but the little bumps in the road keep knocking you down a little bit more each time," he said. "I get the e-mails from all the candidates, from the Republicans or what have you. I delete just about everything."
[The producer], who calls himself a conservative Christian, said he is cynical about politicians. He said he believes that Providence, not the state, will lead him out of his troubles. It will be up to the candidates to persuade him otherwise.
Providence 1, Republicans 0, and the “what have you’s” a minus number. (This certainly has deflated the Democrats.)
Then you have a former USA Today editor who
…has not paid much attention to the governor’s race but will get up to speed by November out of necessity.
"I have never looked towards any government for any support, ever, until now," he said.
That sounds like he thinks it’s a necessity to follow the governor’s race, that is does matter.
So now we’re at 1-1 in the score.
So how did the writer of the headlines come to his conclusion?
Perhaps she, too, relied on providence.
With such thin gruel with which to write a story, was this one worth the newsprint and ink? Especially when there are such economic problems, wouldn’t it have been better to write a story about how state government can help? What is it that state government can do, and that a governor can impact, that would help people? If they knew, they might be in a better position to seek answers from candidates.
If you wonder why people are apathetic, maybe it’s because newspapers write stories to tell you that it doesn’t matter who you elect.
If it doesn’t matter who we elect, why does the local paper even cover the campaign?
Another story about process – without any real substantiation.