It might sound obvious, but the presence of the World Wide Web makes a monumental difference in how we view candidates today. We have infinite options when it comes to getting our information, and this affects our relationship with political candidates and with politics. We can expect that with each notification from Twitter or The New York Times app, we will get a different opinion of who will make the best commander-in-chief come 2016.
“Today you are constantly inundated by whatever social media platform you choose to get information from. No one used to point out how one candidate was a half-an-inch different than another on immigration, or anything like that,” Ann Burgess, a University of Illinois alum and mother of Northwestern junior Emily Zanetis, said. Burgess was a college junior during the 1976 presidential election when Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford.
“There was not enough information. Now we have too much. I mean, what a candidate ate for breakfast and whether or not that’s environmentally sound becomes something that is relevant to people during an election these days,” Burgess said.
In 2015, 65 percent of all American adults used at least one social-networking site. Americans are are not only able to peruse through various online news sources, but have infinite opportunities to share what they see on social media. On top of that, they can complement their posts with their own opinions and commentary that they might have previously only reserved for the dinner table.
Though many Americans still pay attention to their local news sources, the majority of Americans use multiple national sources to get their news. More than half of all Americans report using between three and five news sources throughout the day to get their news.
“Local news has dropped off. People consume local news less, especially local political news. Politics has become nationalized,” Thomas Ogorzalek, a Northwestern University political science professor, said.
Sorry, Chicago Sun Times.
CNN, the first channel to provide 24-hour news coverage, wasn’t founded until 1980. Fox News wasn’t founded until 1996. Although cable television existed in the 1960s and 1970s, many homes did not have it. Today, 62 percent of Americans use 24-hour news sources as a means of getting information.
“We didn’t have cable. You wouldn’t watch one station to hear a conservative perspective and another station to hear a liberal perspective,” Rick Ferm, the father of Northwestern sophomore Rachael Ferm, said. “There just weren’t that many options. We had CBS, NBC and ABC.” Ferm attended the University of California Berkeley and was a freshman during the 1976 presidential election.
“It took a lot more effort to get information. You would only be able to hear the news for an hour each day. If you missed it, you wouldn’t always know what was happening,” Ferm said.
Our parents’ generation unplugged at the unimaginable hour of 7 pm, when the three main channels were done with their nightly news reports. There was in fact a time when insomnia was not remedied by flipping through the late night movie channels.
The 1960s saw major protest movements on college campuses, stemming from issues like the Vietnam War draft to the Civil Rights Movement. These protests took a national stage and influenced many political campaigns.
Ferm recounted stories told by his older brother at the University of California Los Angeles, who was in college during the late 1960s.
“I remember him taking me to the UCLA campus where he was a student and there were all kinds of exciting things going on. The Black Panthers were active on campus, and the whole student protest movement was incredibly powerful,” Ferm said.
The presence of student protests on campuses today for campaigns like Black Lives Matter is continuously growing larger, suggesting that protests may once again soon have the impact that they did in the 60s.
Presidential primaries are not a new concept: major parties began using them as a part of the candidacy nomination process in the early 1900s. The reason for their creation was so that regular party members who were not delegates at conventions could have a voice in choosing their candidate. By 1968, only one-third of states used primaries, and primaries were not institutionalized until the 1970s, according to Ogorzalek.
Primaries and caucuses are complicated. However, they give regular Americans a voice in the nomination process, and probably a headache as well.
The 26th Amendment was ratified in 1971, raising the national voting age to 18 years old. Prior to the amendment’s passage, some states did not allow citizens to vote until they turned 21, so some college students were not eligible to vote until their senior year of college.
“Students who were in college before the voting age was changed had a different experience with presidential elections because they literally could not vote,” Ogorzalek said.
However, the percentage of young Americans who voted has steadily declined. In 1964, 50.9 percent of Americans ages 18 to 24 voted in the presidential election compared to 38.0 percent in 2012.
Make the most of the 26th Amendment. Vote in the primaries. Vote in the general elections. Participate in democracy.