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OPINIONS

Looking forward to 2016: Combating the knowledge gap

The “second term curse” is no secret. For almost every president who has served two terms, their presidential approval rating has dropped in the second term. President Obama has not been insulated from this particular trend and is now faced with currently declining levels of support from the U.S. public.

Many people claim that Obama’s ratings spell trouble for the Democrats in both the 2014 midterm elections and the 2016 presidential election. Historical studies indicate that every 5 percent increase in a president’s net approval rating increases his party’s candidate’s margin by 1 percent in the following presidential election, with the trend also holding in the opposite direction.

Considering that fact, it’s true that what is happening now in the government will undoubtedly shape public approval of the two parties. However, the 2016 election is not riding on something as simple as the general approval rating of the president. What matters most is the misinformation that forms this public opinion.

One setback that Obama has faced in his second term is the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, more commonly dubbed Obamacare. The law itself passed, fulfilling Obama’s promise of sweeping healthcare reform to get all Americans healthcare coverage. However, according to the latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, 48 percent of people still have a negative view of the reform. The chaotic technological launch of HealthCare.gov in October 2013 has left people associating dysfunctional technology with the quality of the whole law.

Because of this, 57 percent of people still believe the administration fell short of its enrollment goal, despite the fact that healthcare plan enrollment under the ACA has far surpassed the administration’s projection of 7 million additions. Combatting this entrenched lack of understanding will be crucial for the Democratic candidate in 2016 to gain more support from moderates and independents.

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How can Democrats eliminate this knowledge gap? Advertisement is an important tool that can be used for shaping public opinion. While it is difficult to pin down the exact effect that advertising has on election outcomes, Ken Goldstein, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, explains that “advertising very, very much matters at the margin,” especially as Election Day approaches. The swing votes at the margin are what could make or break the next presidential election.

That is why the Democratic Party faces a huge challenge dealing with the Koch brothers as the 2016 election approaches. The Koch brothers have spent tens of millions of the $41 billion attributed to their name to push forward their libertarian views in politics. They are notorious for their anonymous political giving – a method that circumvents standing campaign finance laws by funding “groups that are not required to disclose donors – groups that work to determine the outcome of federal, state and even municipal elections.”

This money is spent on opposition campaigns directly against Obama administration policies. It is funding advertising by groups touting the need for drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy and much less oversight of industry – especially environmental regulation. The challenge to the Democratic Party in the ad wars does not come from the fact of opposition, but rather from the amount of money being spent. The founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, is concerned about the “pattern of law-breaking, political manipulation and obfuscation” that is on a “whole different level” than anyone else. The Kochs “are the Standard Oil of our times,” he said.

The Democrats must be prepared to face and combat the obscene amounts of money pouring into opposition advertising in the 2016 election. Money is not the only thing that matters in elections, but it makes a crucial difference. It tilts the balance of what ideological messages the public will see and exacerbates the effects of income inequality, increasing the potential for vote buying through political donations. While the Democratic Party may not have the means to match the money being spent on the opposition campaigns, they must be able to spend enough to combat growing misconceptions in order to make 2016 a successful year for their candidates.

 

Contact Aimee Trujillo at aimeet@stanford.edu.

About Aimee Trujillo

Aimee Trujillo (‘15) is a political columnist and a current senior majoring in Political Science with a minor in Spanish. Originally from San Diego, Aimee is currently pursuing her interests in research and law. Her passions in life include immigrant rights, running, reading, photography, cats, and hummus.