Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Of Partisanship and Participation

A fascinating piece in The American Prospect analyzes the civic decline debate and asks whether political parties and partisanship should be written off as important factors in increasing political participation. At its heart, author Henry Farrell argues theorists failed to understand the power of technology, particularly the Internet, to foster participation.
Political blogs don't fit well with deliberation theory. They are rough, raucous, and vigorously partisan.

In many ways this is a defense of blogs and blogging. Hell, I can hardly blog an attack on a defense of blogging, plus there is a navel-gazing aspect to doing so that irritates the senses. Not going there. Finally:
That said, however, there remains a tremendous inequality in participation and political knowledge. While millions of Americans are engaged as never before as volunteers and debaters, millions more lack the time, the passion, or the patience for such intense engagement. We may be moving toward two economies of political information, one in which voters are intensely involved and informed, and the other in which they are not and are perhaps turned off by the strong opinions and intimidating voices of the well-informed.

I buy into the argument above. The red state/blue state dichotomy is becoming less geographic and more an individual difference. Huge chunks of the country will care less and less, or be less and less involved. But, and this is key, that leaves them open to all kinds of nasty little persuasion tricks. A Republican who looks at the Obama campaign and, if well read in Elaboration Likelihood Model of persuasion, sees the success as a case study in low involvement persuasion can work. Peripheral cues and emotion play well in low-involvement, low-knowledge audiences. The GOP has used this as well. We're going to see a helluva lot more by the next election.

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