Isn’t a lot of political journalism like sports journalism?
Most coverage is about who’s winning, who doesn’t have a show, and who might be the wild card. (OK, we all know ‘wild card’ is what journalists say when they’re tired of saying ‘Winston’ but you get the idea…)
How often do you hear an interviewer ask a politician not about their policy itself, but about how that policy might affect the polls?
How often do you read an analysis of political trends which doesn’t really talk about policy but which talks about whether Labour will achieve its deeply cherished goal of being the “long term party of government” or who Winston will go with and what portfolio he might want?
ALL the bloody time, that’s how often.
This bugged me for a long time. It still does, but a bit less so..
Most of the time, most people talk about politics in much the same way they talk about sport. OK, not rugby – nowhere as engaged as that. More like, say, the cricket or the netball. Or a horse race they might have a small bet on. The discussion is all about the various players, the handicaps, and so forth.
So in that sense the the way the media covers politics is driven by how people talk about politics – most of the time, anyway.
A lot of the debate of whether a vote for Act is a ‘wasted vote’ is actually about this mindset – the desire not back a loser.
The mentality is as basic and as unprincipled as that.
That changes when either (a) things are obviously going badly and there is a creeping unease (eg most of the 1980 except for a blip in the middle; the early 1990s) or (b) when people get disgusted with the antics and arrogance of those in power (eg 1997 when there was real outrage about Tuku’s underpants, the Parliamentary palace, etc).
There’s perhaps a bit of the second happening now and it will poison Labour’s third term (and yes I think they’ll get one).
It also changes closer to election time. People do focus on the issues if they are given a chance. There is still the sporting overlay, but people enough people do vote on the issues, and, mostly, they look to the future.
The sports thing is still there, which is why I think most people will think the legal decision requiring TV3 to have Jim Anderton and Peter Dunne to appear on the leaders’ debate is OK.
Tonight’s debate probably won’t inform very much. It might change a few minds, but it is unlikely to be on the issues.
But tomorrow people won’t want to know about any of that.
They’ll want to know who won and who lost.