A large section of America is in mourning. The rest of the shocked world community is coming to terms with the fact that Donald J. Trump will lead United States of America. A man better known for his misogynistic comments and his exclusionist policies for minorities is now in the highest office of the Star – Spangled Banner country. His ascent from loose cannon to a President was well documented by the media. An average consumer of the western media, in whichever part of the world, would be convinced that prior to November 9th, , Hillary Clinton would go on to become the 45th President. The mammoth attention to Trump’s shortcomings and his basic inability and lack of temperament to be even considered qualified for a post of this nature made it appear that America will go for a wiser decision. But somewhere, somehow, the media got it very very wrong.
It was a glorious morning on June 15th , 2015 when billionaire Trump took a slight detour from his shady entrepreneurship route and announced his candidacy for the Presidency. The period of 513 days till November 9 was marked by a mud-slinging campaign between the Republican and his opponent Hillary.
Donald Trump’s behavior and conduct during the course of the campaign belittled the stature he was rooting for. The media did their best to highlight how important was it to realize the gravity of his dangerous ideology apart from his lack of policy vision. Hours and hours of prime time television was dedicated to remind people that it must take a bigot, sexist and racist mind, of all the least, to vote for a man like Trump. The message was clear.
Several opinion polls conducted by ABC/Washington Post, CBS/New York Times, Fox News, among many others, gave Hillary Clinton a favorable projection with point leads varying between 1 and 6. Even few days before the elections, Opinion Polls by the leading media houses gave Hillary an average of 4.5 points lead over her opponent. The results, however spoke for themselves.
The fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote does not validate media’s accuracy. In fact there is every reason to question the collective media’s approach. The corroborative data propelled media houses to make debates hinged on Trump himself and not his supporters. It was a mistake shaming Trump supporters without trying to understand what drives their rationale and how important their vote was too. There was a popular bubble that no person in the right mind would support a man as vitriolic as Trump. And yet there were. The silent majority that helped Trump succeed are very much a part of the American society, and a product of their own media’s discourse. There is shock because the mainstream media did not take into account a narrative that proved to be the key factor in the result. Rights are given to all since democracy doesn’t discriminate, but people do. Why was this allowed to happen? Was it not the cloak of complacent liberal outlook that overlooked the deeper issues that ran in society? Does it not suggest that there is a vacuum between the political commentary and the voters on ground?
There are lessons to take and India should look closely. Most exit polls and media rhetoric was giving the BJP led NDA power in 2015 Bihar Assembly Elections and the result sang a different tune. A party would establish absolute majority in Lok Sabha and win 73 out of 80 seats in a State like Uttar Pradesh was something that was also not anticipated by political pundits. We may assume penetration of information is taking place in remote villages but the effort is a half hearted one.
It is not the role of the media to play prophet and predict exact results. Their role is to highlight the mood of the nation and give every possible fact to help people make an informed choice. But if it appears that the two are working in isolation, then there are recalibrations that need to take place. UP and Punjab elections are round the corner and the media already has a lot of muck to sieve through. But the challenge is to gauge what goes on in the mind of that one voter and his anonymous vote.
Amil Bhatnagar, Journalist