In Jeffrey Alexander’s The Performance of Politics: Obama’s victory and the Democratic Struggle for Power, he provides a framework through which we can view the actions of candidates during their campaign performance through tapping into realms outside the civil sphere to connect with certain segments of the audience (walking the boundaries) or convincing audiences that they are more “civil” than their opponent (working the binaries). Alexander’s main point is that what determines the outcome of a political contest is not demographics of the public, but the performance of the candidate. Although I believe that his argument is not true in all cases, the most crucial thing that Alexander failed to emphasize clearly enough in his framework is the importance of media in elections.
Alexander focuses his argument on United States national election of 2008, it would be interesting to take his framework to another realm and assess its validity. Student body elections at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will serve as this other realm. Sure, performance matters. But how the media captures and disseminates moments in the campaign can magnify or twist ways in which each candidate is walking the boundaries or working the binaries. This will ultimately affect the outcome of an election.
The media at UNC — The Daily Tar Heel, The Carolina Review, blogs and even parody news sites such as The Minor — provide a filter through which students view each candidates’ attempt to walk the boundaries, work the binaries, and even speculate and make public the candidates’ political affiliations. While all media matter in the relation of campaign information, an especially abrasive blog post from the blog “sbpmatters” surfaced on Facebook after the Young Democrats student body president forum. The author contends that Summers’ call for “ONE Carolina” and main platform values of community, growth and empowerment are voided by his vote for Thom Tillis in the fall Senate race. Summers’ platform and comments during debates champion community, one of Alexander’s binaries in the civil sphere, but simultaneously opens his campaign up for criticism by media.
Similarly, the blog attacks Walker for hosting an “anti-feminist forum,” accusing her of hypocrisy in her campaign slogan: “Bringing Carolina Together.” Walker’s effort, even before her campaign, to walk the boundaries between the civil sphere and the “gender” sphere was twisted by the media (even an unofficial student blog). Upon further research — an article from the Daily Tar Heel, another media filter — it is evident that the event was not “anti-feminist,” but a speaker conducting critical discussion about the feminist movement hosted by the UNC College Republicans, of which Walker is a chairwoman.
Although Election Day has not come, how can we look at the impact one media source has already made on the perceptions of candidates’ performances in this student body election and not factor it heavily into what determines the outcome of a national election? Especially when the politics and media of a national election are on a much larger scale. Alexander should have put more emphasis on the media’s role in his framework, because once the media are factored in to voters’ decisions, holes begin to emerge in his logic.