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The Problem with Campaigns: Excerpts from Public Affairs Professional Ken Chawkins’ Podcast Episode

Public Affairs professional Ken Chawkins’ take on how candidates promote themselves for the upcoming 2024 US Presidential Election on an episode of Civic Encounter.

Spoken by Ken Chawkins

Edited by Olivia Shrager

There's a difference between governing and campaigning. I think the electoral mechanisms are designed to get the attention of the majority of Americans. That's different from [governing]: people who align with what you want to get things done in the world. But people don't want to have to deal with all of that, so they get shorthand signals.

In the past, parties have done that for you. They have created and selected people, one way or another. They have vetted people and then they have put up a party representative that you would vote for. You may not know a lot about them, but you know that the party votes for them and that's shorthand.

People are now voting for candidates who are advertising, like they advertise soap.

People are happy to say, “Yeah, I like that guy. Now leave me alone. I'm busy raising children and going to the supermarket or whatever.”

They're selling an image that is being sold on a superficial level because people don't have the time or inclination to really assess things.

Campaigns in the Age of Social Media

And that's the challenge, but it’s becoming more and more complicated because of the impact of social media and the speed and depth of information that gets out and now on top of that, we've got AI. However, I don't know if that dynamic is any different than when the first radio came out, the first television came out, or when any of the first technological changes accelerated.

I think the platforms themselves are innocuous. It's just like any technology. It can be used for good or evil. It can be used for accentuating or tearing down going back to the beginning of this country when pamphlets spread misinformation. You can go back and look at the history of the United States that was written in pamphlets, and you could get it in your town.

Whoever could read would read it and say, “Oh my God, that guy is a blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, right?”

But did people take the time to say, wait a second, how do we know that? And do I trust that source? Mm-hmm. At this point, the social media platforms and then AI on top of it make it harder for humans to actually get into what's really going on. The people making the selection [for president] have to wade through a lot more stuff. But it's the same dynamic as before. Again, 200 years ago, you still had to get information somewhere, whether it was at a pub or next door, and you had to evaluate the information and then you had to make a decision about who you were voting for.

The Problem with Campaigns

You have people who are making decisions, and again, as they always have in the United States especially, we are leaving it up to people who don't necessarily want to spend the time to evaluate their own values, to evaluate the values of candidates, and to dig deep.

Instead, they would prefer the shorthand and and prefer to vote with either a party or an image [rather than someone’s policies], so they can move along and feel better and then move along with their lives. It's problematic because sometimes, those don't match.

The question is beyond the image: who are you voting for to make the government work for you?

The Solution

Our education system is really the foundational system that can cut through this. What we teach our kids and how we teach them to think about whether they're studying and about data that they're receiving, what they're supposed to do with that data and how they make conclusions based on that data is key. If you pivot that into the civic responsibility of being a voter and being a citizen, we teach young people how to take information in, how to assess, how to evaluate, and how to make good decisions.

Note: Civic Encounter is a monthly podcast posted on Spotify and produced by JCI Worldwide. Follow us on Instagram @CivicEncounter, Twitter @CivicEncounter, and Spotify for all of the best insights into the world of public affairs.


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