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When Civic Engagement Becomes Precarious Political Action, Part 2

article is the second of a series to be published on PA TIMES Online
during the month of February under the topic of “Social Media and Civic
Engagement.” To read part one, click the link in the Related Articles box below this piece.

We are still accepting articles for this topic and all
others on the 2012 PA TIMES Online Editorial Calendar. For more
information or to see the calendar, click the link at the end of this
piece in the Related Articles box.

Lauren E. McLennan

When Action Backfires
Neither paper provides totally balanced information and both have played a role in politics publically; and both newspapers today are being used by our legislators to deliberate about what the “American people” want. These polls are the opinions of a small group of citizens who have unwittingly managed to utilize some of the most powerful primary media groups in America. Realistically, together these two newspapers (loosely) represent only 1 percent of the United States’ population. Yet as debates mounted on the U.S. Senate floor about raising the debt ceiling for example, legislators—Democrats, Republicans, and independents—streamlined their facts with public polling results into a laundry list of why their words matter more than the next.

Knowing when to use the facts and when to use public polling to their advantage on a floor debate, legislators more copiously rely on the latter to get their arguments across. A quick flick to C-SPAN and coverage of any floor debate will bring about polling results, hyperbolical “fact checking” and references to some of America’s most recognized news media outlet polling results. The Washington Post polls, New York Times polls, and MSNBC polling results are all used to emphasize the wants and needs of the “American people”. Legislators can be observed streamlining their facts with poll results into a laundry list of why their words matter. Senator Kent Conrad (D), Senator Jeff Sessions (R), Bill Nelson (D), and Bernie Sanders (I) are only a handful of players who seamlessly legitimized poll results by using them in their floor speeches. A threatening tendency ensconcing today’s debates.

Why We Should Care
The polls taken by newspapers and TV outlets such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, and MSNBC are being legitimized by our legislators while determining the future of the American nation. This means that 99 percent of other Americans are being misrepresented while public polling results are being used in a misconceiving manner. In effect, some of the most influential independent civic actors (the American populist) are pigeon-holing themselves within the mass media—creating an illusion of representation that can be detrimental to effective public policy making in America.

Lauren E. McLennan is a graduate student of Public Affairs at Indiana University South Bend. She has been a panelist at the 2011 South Eastern Conference on Public Administration and a 2010 guest speaker on Program Planning and Assessment for AmeriCorps, Michigan. She is the president of her student body and is pursuing a career in public policy analysis and writing. Email: [email protected]

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