Brace yourselves, the elections are near!

With Nov. 8 right around the corner, there is no doubt that election anticipation is tense. The presidential race has been the focus of media attention, but local elections also are important for voters.

Much buzz has been generated on campus with events and activities encouraging our dutiful participation in electoral matters. From ice cream to discussion panels, Washington State University Vancouver has offered many opportunities to help students become informed about politics and voting.

The Media, Politics and Culture event, hosted by the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication last Tuesday, gathered four experts in their respective fields for a discussion on politics, media and polling.

Liz Candello, a communication professor at WSU Vancouver, opened up the floor for Chancellor Mel Netzhammer to deliver his opening remarks about the topic of the discussion.

Netzhammer said that “the health of our democracy depends on us, as citizens, to wade through all of that and to make informed choices as we go into the voting booth.”

He was referencing the recent political divisiveness and the need for civil discourse, which has been seemingly lacking this election cycle. Netzhammer also raised concerns about younger voters and the lack of interest in the choices available.

At the podium, Mark Stephan, a professor of political science at WSU Vancouver, introduced the four panelists.

The first panelist was Michelle Cole, who works for Gallatin Public Affairs and has experience in political consultation, along with a background in journalism at The Oregonian newspaper.

Next was John Horvik from DHM Research, which is a public opinion research firm. Kaitlin Gillespie, a reporter from The Columbian newspaper, was also present.

The final panelist was Jim Moore, a professor of political science from Pacific University.

The first question Stephan asked all of the panelists was “How is the media landscape different in this presidential election year than previous presidential election years?”

Cole responded by saying she was astounded by the statistics of where the public receives its information; “20% of Americans often get the news from newspapers.”

“Meanwhile we have 68% of the people in this survey getting their news from social media,” Cole said.

Cole’s focus was on how social media has affected the landscape of where the public receives its information and how news has adapted to that trend.

“We’re able to have a four-screen experience from a variety of different voices and takes,” Gillespie said, commenting on the changing landscape of modern media.

Stephan then asked about the link between the media environment and its affects on public ideals of civic engagement and a well-informed citizenry.

Horvik said that the media does have something to do with why citizens are so misinformed, especially when it comes to the basics of government.

Horvik also said that the public is very articulate “about the values and concerns that they have,” and added that despite the high voter turnout of the Vancouver region, people are just not informed enough about the local ballot.

Stephan then asked the panelists if they perceive the political culture becoming more polarized, or if such a feeling is just the result of higher profile political conflict.

Moore said that he does not really know if the political culture is more polarized, but given that the public insulates themselves from viewpoints they do not want to hear, “we’re living in a more polarized way.”

The panel ended on a positive note by having each member state what their respective expertise offers for political discourse.

Cole replied that her experience has relied on gathering the facts correctly.

Horvik said that polling is actually a small part of what he does. His job was to “ask people what kind of communities they want to live in.” Polling can be used by community leaders to help them understand what concerns the average voter.

As a reporter, Gillespie said that her organization is the vessel by which the local community gathers information about the down ballot, and noted that the public cannot find such local political information in larger media outlets.

“So, I’m an educator, and when I do the media stuff, it’s basically, I’m putting out models that you can use to understand the world and make sense out of it,” said Moore.

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