For those of you who don't know what I'm referring to, who haven't yet heard about the eye-opening report in the monthly magazine's September issue -- that's hard to imagine, given the media attention the story has generated -- allow me to re-drop investigative reporter/statistician Lynn Ferguson's bombshell: The hundreds of millions of dollars Presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush are spending on television advertising will, when all is said and done, influence exactly 11 votes. Yes, 11.
Here's the short version of how she arrived at that figure.
According to preliminary Census 2000 data, America's total population is 250 million-plus, but, because of issues like age, citizenship, criminal record, etc., only a little over 147 million are eligible to vote (precise, un-rounded figures are available in the article's full text). Within that group, only 34 percent (49.98 million) are currently registered to vote, with just 26 percent (35.28 million) projected to actually cast their ballots come Nov. 7. Among these likely voters, 57 percent are registered Republicans (25.2 percent) and registered Democrats (31.8 percent), groups to whom campaign advertising is little more than "preaching to the choir" and, therefore, without measurable impact.
Furthermore, according to figures supplied by the League of Women Voters (and confirmed by Mother Jones), of the remaining 15.17 million "independents," 73.3 percent have already solidly settled on the candidate they're going to vote for, making them equally immune to any advertising influence.
This leaves just 4.05 million "likely voters" yet to make their final presidential choice.
But anyone who thinks the hearts and minds of these citizens is the battleground where the vanquishing advertiser, uh, president-elect, will eventually raise his flag doesn't have all the facts. There's one more. A big one. One which most casual observers don't know. The same one most pundits, pollsters and politicians choose to ignore.
Turns out, among this "undecided" bloc, 99.999 percent actually have the minimum intelligence required to realize that any "facts" presented in a paid campaign commercial -- whether those facts tout a candidate and his plan or trash the opposition and his plan -- are, if not palpably false, so specious as to be completely irrelevant to the decision-making process. In other words, the campaign ads that both Democrats and Republicans craft so very carefully, refine so focus group-ily, target so scrupulously and run so redundantly, are, by and large, immediately distinguished as pure, 100 percent bullshit.
But "by and large" is not "unanimously." And it is here that Ms. Ferguson reveals the final results of her investigative computations. By multiplying her precise "likely voter" tally by her "not quite so stupid as to believe political ads" percentage, she's able to prove, objectively, statistically and unequivocally, that it is only on the votes of 11 people -- 11 complete morons, if you will -- that the candidates' half-billion dollars in ads will have any influence whatsoever. That comes to approximately $45 million per vote.
Now, normally, no one -- myself included --would care much about this preposterously poor return on investment. After all, no thinking American expects anyone running for president to have a sense of propriety or a fresh approach to campaigning (or anything else, for that matter). By the same token, in today's supercharged economic climate, it would be foolish to expect a vote to cost $10 and a pint of cheap wine like in the old days. And, besides, in the final analysis, who the hell cares about 11 votes, anyway?
Well, now that I mention it, I think I do.
Because, dammit, I think democracy is too precious for even a single vote to be bought or manipulated -- and I'd believe that even if the Electoral College weren't where elections were actually decided. Put another way, to disrespect one American voter is to disrespect us all. And we, as a nation, should be demanding that the disrespect stop.
I know, I know. Identifying the problem doesn't fix the problem. So how do we actually move toward accomplishing such a daunting goal? How do we reverse the tide of facile deception and, in the process, overhaul a cynical and corrupt political system? How do we send a clear message to the candidates, their organizations and their parties? How do we build a constituency of like-minded citizens?
Well, I've put together a three-phase, multimedia, national ad campaign ... . ©
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