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Mitchell: It’s Not Valid to Say Primary Votes Reflect ‘Real America’

There are high stakes in elections, including primaries, but when results are examined in the cold light of day, an extreme inaccuracy is exposed. How so?

On March 8, 182,477 Mississippians cast Democratic Primary votes for Hillary Clinton. That’s about six percent of the population. On the same day, 191,755 Mississippians cast Republican Primary votes for Donald Trump. That’s about 6.4 percent of the population.

Of course, not everyone is eligible or registered to vote. Of the 1.8 million Mississippians who are, 10 percent voted for Clinton and 10.6 percent for Trump.

Thus, it would be accurate to say four out of five Mississippians have shown no support for either Clinton or Trump.

Again, no sane person would say that elections are meaningless. The problem is the media and candidates themselves use small brushes to paint a big canvas. Seriously.

Imagine living somewhere else. All you know about everyday America is based on what you see and hear through the global news services of CNN, Fox or some other international provider.

You’d hear Trump trumpeting about quick, clear fixes to all the nation’s problems and you’d hear his critics label him a reactionary, a billionaire playboy, a fascist and, not least of all, a racist. Then you’d see media reports of him winning state after state. With no information to the contrary, the very natural takeaway would be that he embodies and represents the core interests and values of vast majorities of Americans.

And that’s just not true, or it at least falls far short of a valid conclusion.

Again, one out of 10 registered voters supported him in Mississippi. Only three of 10 voters cast ballots at all. Hardly a stampede.

In Iowa, his 45,727-person caucus total represented 1.5 percent of Iowa residents. The few may represent the many (and do, in fact, speak for those who choose silence), but who really knows?
Same thing for Clinton.

In addition to Mississippi, she won big in Louisiana. But her 221,000 votes out of the state’s 2.8 million registered voters calculated to 8 percent — one of every 12.5 voters.
In North Carolina, Clinton was also proclaimed the big winner. She polled 622,000 votes of 6.8 million registered voters. Less than 10 percent of those who could have voted for her did so. Ninety percent stayed home or voted for someone else.

Take any of the candidates in any of the primary states and view their vote totals as a proportion of registered voters and of populations. To inflate these figures into headlines such as “Kansas supports Bernie” — is flat dishonest.

Yet we hear it nonstop.

It’s clear enough that television coverage of this national election cycle is unprecedented in scope and duration. It’s clear enough why.

Excitement draws viewers; suspense draws viewers; over-the-top draws viewers. In today’s world, broadcasters compete with social media. And by all measures, the higher the shock factor, the greater the number who want to watch.

So, is this a trend? Will all the hype and histrionics pass into history as a fad? Will the masses, as they say, come to their senses?

Who knows?

Before that happens, it is likely that candidates who bait the media and the media who bait the candidates will both continue to bait the public. Coverage of campaigns will continue to be more similar to a season of professional football than to objective truth-seeking.

When the primary season ends, candidates — who are well aware of the vast numbers of non-participants — will court them with fervor. As more practiced pundits say, the nominees will move to the middle because they know vast majorities have yet to speak.

Candidates will have their work cut out for them. Millions upon millions do not vote. Nationwide turnout four years ago was 57.5 percent of the people registered.

Ronald Reagan and others have conceded that the presidency involves skills essential to actors in a performance. But none have considered it a farce — yet.

The best we can do is recognize the math doesn’t support the picture being painted of America — just those at the extremes.

In a more perfect world, more people would participate and more valid inferences could be drawn about “what Americans really think.” Perhaps there would even be more candidates with substance, records of accomplishment. They would offer ideas, not pander to prejudices or get by on empty rhetoric.

Meanwhile, the real America is on the sidelines, spectators at the circus.


Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at cmitchell43@yahoo.com.

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