Thursday, November 8, 2012

And the winner is...

This week most American’s ‘gained’ an hour with the end of Daylight Savings time.  The ‘additional’ hour provided many the ability to get some more sleep but it doesn’t solve the fact that part of the US is always ahead of the rest of it.  For those of us who like to be in the know as events happen, some events happen in real time while others are held with the hope that those in different time zones won’t need a spoiler alert.
Major cultural or sporting events have an accommodation where people simply adjust to realities of a varied timeline.  Many reality competition shows are tape delayed to keep with the structure of prime time viewing habits.  ‘Major events’ are different.  The Oscars are presented in Los Angeles with people arriving on the red carpet at 4pm in the afternoon so that the show can begin at 5 – or at 8pm on the East Coast.  To do the show at the traditional 8pm on the West Coast would mean that a large part of the country wouldn’t see it since it would start after most have gone to bed.
Sporting events likewise occur so that those living on the West coast watch the games over breakfast – with many college and professional games starting on the East in the early afternoon. 
The 2012 Summer Olympics went the other way, much to the complaint of the Twitter universe.  NBC’s tape-delay decision to package events so that they aired in the U.S. during the evening when most people watch television riled the social media population accustomed to having everything right now.  The challenge of not reporting the results for hours before the event aired was evident with the network inadvertently revealing winners, defeating their own efforts.  Even though all of the events were available for streaming there were record ratings and viewership of the games via the tape delay presentations.
America decided this week on a new President, Congress and a slew of ballot issues.  Cable and broadcast networks began airing exit poll results in the late afternoon on the East coast – mid afternoon in many other parts of the country.  While the graphics and information was preceded by “it’s too early to tell, these are just preliminary…” the fact is that hours and hours of time was filled with conclusions about who was winning and losing.  Then as polls actually closed in the East and votes were actually tabulated and reported, this was reported as well – all the while voting continued in many other areas of the country.
It’s impossible to know how many people heard or saw that President Obama was ‘winning’ and then opted not to vote (or were then motivated to go out).  But it has an impact on whether somebody thinks that their vote has an impact.  There is one universal and consistent message on Election Day – from candidates to one’s Facebook feed:  vote.  That message is diluted and even eradicated by reporting the results early.  It may explain the nation’s shift towards ‘early’ voting.  Anything that might suppress the vote is unacceptable.  There are solutions – from multi-day voting that end simultaneously across the country to states not releasing their results until a synchronized time – maybe even the next morning.  Whatever the fix – there must be one.  Putting a “spoiler alert” warning is not enough. 

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