Stop Reading the News Right Now: Why the Final Two Weeks Before a Presidential Election Is Always a Media Black Hole
When you run a presidential campaign that makes it through the primaries, you spend two years building a giant machine with many moving parts: messaging, policy, communications, field agents, transition. The last two weeks before Election Day, that machine finally lurches fully into motion and you find out exactly what you’ve built. We are right now living in that two-week window, the period where all the hard work of building a campaign is either paying off or blowing up.
What this means is that the campaigns shake off all the glitz and wheel-spinning and get down to the business of actually campaigning in swing states. The candidates mostly stick to their stump speeches, surrogates try to keep to their strengths, and the parties roll out their time-tested local teams. It’s very difficult to change a narrative at this point in a campaign—especially given that early voting has already started in quite a few states. So for high-level campaign staff, you rely on momentum and planning to carry you through, and you supervise how everything’s going, and you wait to see what America decides.
So, yeah. These final two weeks before a presidential election are always strange. I’ve lived through these periods both as an ardent political spectator and as a journalist. And I hope you believe me when I tell you a little secret: the media has no idea what to do with itself during this time. There’s rarely any proper “news” during the last two weeks of a campaign*: candidates are disciplined, messages are honed down to a sharp edge, and campaign staffers are unlikely to try anything especially crazy.
My point in all this is to tell you that your instincts right now are telling you to keep an eye on the news all the time. Ignore your instincts. All we’re getting right now are pedantic stories about the meaning of the word “landslide” and stories about celebrities and meta-stories about the media. This is because the media knows that nobody is interested in reading about anything other than politics, but they don’t have any news to report, so they’re spinning their tires and desperate for clicks. Virtually nothing published in this two-week dead zone is worth reading. All keeping a close eye on the news will do for you right now is ramp up your anxiety.
Instead, you should consider extreme measures. Stop endlessly refreshing the news in your browser. Maybe you should even consider deleting Twitter or Facebook or your other preferred news-gathering app from your phone entirely. You can always re-download the app on Election Day. Turn off cable news**. Try getting your news from a physical newspaper for two weeks; you might even find that you don’t miss the continual updates about nothing.
So say you follow my advice and mute the news for the next couple weeks. What should you do with all that time? Luckily, I have some advice for you:
- Take care of yourself. This is important. Go to bed early. Take a long bath. Prepare and eat a nice homemade meal. Go see a movie. Try to remember what your life was like before the name “Trump” was a daily occurrence.
- Vote early. Trust me: I always love to vote, but voting has never felt as wonderful as it did this year. Knowing that your vote has already been counted is one of the best feelings this wretched year has to offer.
- Make sure your family and friends are voting early. Talk about the issues with folks you love. The next time someone says “did you hear about [insert the latest dumb thing Donald Trump just said]?,” you should respond, “no, and I’m good, thanks. But, say—have you voted yet? Do you need any help with your ballot? Do you need a stamp?” Don’t get into arguments, but do offer to be a resource. Ballots are complex, and many people are too embarrassed to ask for help. Offering assistance and information in a non-intrusive way can be just the push your friends need to do their civic duty.
- Volunteer your time. Those machines I was talking about at the top of this piece? They’re made out of people who care. And they could really use your help. Even if you just contribute one night of phone banking for a candidate or an initiative you really believe in, that could make a huge difference. Campaigns need all sorts of help from all sorts of different kinds of people: door-knockers, drivers, envelope-stuffers. Whatever your special talent is, they can likely put it to use. And along those lines…
- Contribute your resources wisely. Figure out where you (and your last-minute donations) can be of the most use. Pick one or two local campaigns you really care about and focus on those. In Seattle, I’d say you should consider working to get the word out about Sound Transit 3—strong conservative anti-tax backlash arrived late in this race, and the future of Seattle is hanging in the balance. But no matter what, you should get behind the candidates and causes that most speak to you.
This has been the longest, most grueling presidential campaign I’ve ever seen. It’s been emotionally taxing and mentally frustrating. The good news, though, is that we’re finally coming up on the end. After a year and a half as a bystander, you have a chance to speak up and to do your part. Nobody benefits when you refresh Twitter twelve times an hour, but if you’re smart about it, you can make a real difference in the real world. It’s your time to shine.
* Of course this is an oversimplification. There will often be a surprising bit of news in the last few days of a campaign. The archetypical version of this is George W. Bush’s drunk driving record surfacing just before the 2000 presidential election. And I fully expect there to be a Late-October-Early-November Surprise in this election; you can’t have a candidate as unpredictable, undisciplined, and media-friendly as Donald Trump without some ugly truths hiding in plain sight, and there are thousands of miles of video tape that have yet to be completely scoured. Odds are good we’ll see something break in the next 13 days. But staring at Twitter won’t cause the news to break any faster. Trust me: if shocking news breaks in the next two weeks, you’ll hear about it almost immediately. Set the notifications on your phone to alert you the minute big news happens and you’ll learn about it with everyone else.
** Turning off cable news is always a good idea, no matter where you are in the news cycle. Cable news is less about information and more about endless regurgitation and it should be avoided at all costs.