EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this essay was published here. Mateo is a regular contributor to Latino Rebels and he gave us permission to publish this piece.
When it comes to voting red or blue, there is an optimism that compels us to approach presidential elections like a football rivalry between two teams. And, equally as bad, there is a cynicism that makes fueling our two-piston political engine seem logical—not because it is optimal, but simply because it runs. But if neither optimism nor cynicism are on our side at such a critical juncture in the timeline of our democracy, What can we do?
The truth is, our political psychosis is conquerable. We can begin remedying the situation by paying ever more critical attention to candidates outside the two-party system. The hope is to elect a president that is neither Democrat nor Republican, nor delivered us by big money, private interest, or capitalism. Moreover, the hope is no longer to have to choose between the likes of Trump or Hillary.
By now, the 2016 elections have made it clear to us, and to the world, that supporting either species of the two-party system amounts to aiding and abetting tyranny—the same harbingers of tyranny that Thomas Jefferson warned us about when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. But if we do not pay greater attention to the ways in which third-party candidates are being communicated to us (that is, if we do not pay attention to the texts and messages that invoke third-party candidates), How will we know if they are being treated with even a modicum of reporting fairness, or journalistic due diligence? Although we read the dailies and fancy ourselves informed, if we do not keep an ever more critical watch, Who should we expect to disabuse us of misinformation?
Paying attention is on us, and if the 2016 elections have demonstrated one thing, it is that we the people have been paying much closer attention than usual. This, moreover, has set the powers that be quaking in their boots. Going forward, the hope is thus to drive a steak directly into the heart of the two-headed monster that would divide and conquer us every four years. We can do it, but we are going to have to redouble our watchful efforts.
I posed this challenge to myself and asked how I could pay better attention to the language used to communicate Dr. Jill Stein, this year’s Green Party presidential hopeful. Using an online research database, I decided I could perform a content analysis of numerous newspaper and web-based publications. My guiding question was: How were the newspapers handling Jill? Specifically, I wondered if publications were communicating positive, negative, neutral, or mixed messages about her.
For my search, I chose articles containing “Jill Stein” to be the appropriate data for my analysis. Albeit a specific name, I kept the search broad because I wanted to explore as many publications as I possibly could. I ended up analyzing dozens of US newspapers from around the country, a couple hundred articles, and at least 50 web-based publications. These online ones were just for kicks.
A word on content analysis: According to Klaus Krippendorff, this is a research technique that allows us to make “replicable and valid inferences from texts (or other meaningful matter) to the contexts of their use.” The data gathered from content analysis can be powerful because, supposedly, it provides practical evidence that researchers can use to test their hypotheses or answer questions. I hope my content analysis allows readers to know something about the communicator or the text—that is, in the data I analyzed, Was the context surrounding Jill Stein’s name positive, negative, neutral, or mixed according to my criteria?
One pitfall is that readers will have to trust the validity of my findings in order to appreciate the values I have generated. After all, I was the one reading and evaluating the data, determining whether the context surrounding Stein’s name was positive, negative, neutral, or mixed. Nevertheless, my analysis, which I believe anyone can do (given the luxury of time, or perhaps an anarchist penchant for doing research on the clock) is highly repeatable. So, were there any doubts or concerns (and skepticism is encouraged, if not, welcomed), readers could perform a similar analysis and judge for themselves the validity of my findings.
I am confident the measures I used to gauge the positive, negative, neutral, and mixed nature of the articles were accurate enough to satisfy my own pro-critical curiosity. At least, that is what I hope the distribution of the numbers in each category indicate. If not, perhaps the numbers indicate that I merely maintained a consistent opinion of the texts while reading them. Others should feel encouraged to do a kind of content analysis of their own.
Categories: Positive, Negative, Neutral and Mixed
For my analysis, I focused on the text immediately surrounding Jill Stein’s name. Sometimes, for clarity, it was necessary to use a sentence or two either preceding or following Jill’s name in order to discern the right category deserving of a tally. A note on the count: Each text was awarded one tally; then, all tallies were counted up for the four categories and totaled together for a final value. The categories and their respective qualifications are as follows:
- For the positive category, I discerned the text surrounding “Jill Stein” to be either clearly pro-Jill, or at least favorable, rhetoric.
- For the negative category, I discerned the text surrounding “Jill Stein” to be either hostile towards, or dismissive of, Jill.
- “Neutral” tallies were by and large awarded to articles that reported on polling statistics.
- For those texts falling into the “mixed” category, Jill’s name was mentioned, but the text invoking her name really did not have anything to do with her or the Green Party.
Overwhelmingly, the words “Jill” and “Stein” appeared in conjunction only once in the articles I read. In only a handful of articles did “Jill Stein,” “Jill,” and/or “Stein” appear in an article more than once. Her name seldom appeared more than once and was usually apparent as “Jill Stein.”
Examples of Each Category
An example of a “positive” text surrounding Jill Stein’s name might look something like William Frenger’s letter published by the Spokesman Review:
“In the interest of promoting true democracy in this country, I am writing to ask that you include coverage and the voice of Dr. Jill Stein and the Green Party in your newspaper.”
Also this quote, from the Hartford Courant:
“‘As the challenges and problems facing our nation grow, Jill Stein is the smart, articulate leader who can help move us forward,’ Pelto said… ‘People are looking for a third choice in the race for President and Dr. Jill Stein is exactly the type of person who provides voters with the positive option we need.’”
This one, published by Brittany Ea in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, is another “positive” example:
“My pick for a third-party candidate is Jill Stein, from the Green Party. The party’s ideology is more than environmentalism. It includes nonviolence, anti-racism and gender equality.” Or this, from the Eurasia Review: “Laugh about it, wrote Paul Simon. Shout about it. When you’ve got to choose. Every way you look at it you lose. Unless you support Jill Stein and/or build a more principled peace movement.”
An example of a “negative” inclusion of Stein might looks something like Dahleen Glanton’s quip in the Chicago Tribune:
“The next president of the United States isn’t going to be Libertarian Gary Johnson or the Green Party’s Jill Stein. A vote for either one of them is nothing less than a vote for Trump.”
Or this rhetoric, published at Washingtonpost.com by David Weigel:
“Supporters of Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who has found support at protests all week, were outnumbered in the meeting of delegates. Some activists openly scoffed at the idea that the Greens could be a vehicle for Sanders’s cause.”
And this, from Eurasia Review (also posted by foreignpolicyjournal.com):
“Looking ahead to 2016 the issue of choice can be at this stage put as follows: vote for Hillary Clinton as ‘the lesser of evils’ or vote for Jill Stein of the Green Party as the most attractive presidential candidate, but someone with no chance to do more than enliven the debate and give alienated voters like myself a positive option that feels better than not voting.”
An example of a “neutral” context surrounding Jill Stein’s name might look like something else from Schoenburg in the State Journal-Register: “…Green Party candidates who filed Monday included Jill Stein of Lexington, Massachusetts, for president; William Kreml of Columbia, South Carolina, for vice president; Scott Summers of Harvard for the U.S. Senate; and Tim Curtin of Hillside for comptroller.” Or this, from CNN.com:
“Trump came out of his convention ahead of Hillary Clinton in the race for the White House, topping her 44% to 39% in a four-way matchup including Libertarian Gary Johnson (9%) and Green Party candidate Jill Stein (3%) and by three points in a two-way head-to-head poll, 48% to 45%, according to a CNN/ORC poll.”
An example of a “mixed” context surrounding Jill Stein’s name might look something like Bernard Schoenburg’s prose in the State Journal-Register:
“Sherman native and college student Mark Mangiaracina and friends Abby Poehls and Abby Clayton said they voted for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the Democratic primary, but they were deciding now between Clinton and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. Sanders endorsed Clinton on Tuesday.”
“There are certainly people who don’t like Clinton because they don’t like her record and her proposals. Marcella Aburdene, a 31-year-old market researcher in Washington, D.C., has a Palestinian father and is horrified by what she sees as Clinton’s hawkishness and allegiance to Israel. ‘She is disingenuous and she lies blatantly, but that’s what a lot of politicians do,’ Aburdene says. ‘It’s definitely more of a policy issue for me.’ She plans to vote for the Green Party’s Jill Stein in November.”
Or this bit, from Washingtonpost.com: “‘Never Hillary. Bernie or Bust. Jill Before Hill,’ read one protester’s sign, referring to Green Party candidate Jill Stein. ‘End corruption.’” Also this quote, from Eurasia Review:
“If the psychopathic war-monger Clinton is crowned the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, there is no way she can be considered the pragmatic ‘lesser evil’ to Donald Trump or any Republican – their bosses decide to spew out. At best, she might be the ‘equal evil’. In this case, more than 50% of the electorate will not vote. If, after being robbed of his growing movement for the Democratic Party candidacy, ‘Bernie’ Sanders does not break out with an independent bid for the White House, I will join the minuscule 1% who vote for Green Party candidate, Dr. Jill Stein.”
I have split my findings into three categories. First goes the university newspaper category; second, the professional one; and third, I have posted my findings for web-based news publications.
- Under a “university newspaper” category, which was comprised of dozens of collegiate newspapers, I analyzed more than ninety articles, ranging from as early as the beginning March, 2015, to as recently as the end of July, 2016. I have ranked the message content of the newspaper articles in four categories in order to total them in a simple numerical fashion. The criteria for each of the categories is the same as above. Multiple publications of the same article were excluded. The results follow below.
- Under a “non-university newspaper” category, which was comprised of the likes of the New York Times, Washington Post, local newspapers, etc., I analyzed more than one hundred articles from twenty newspapers. The articles date back as early as August, 2015, to as recently as the end of July, 2016. Ranking and enumeration are the same as the analysis above.
- Following similar timelines and the same category criteria, the results of my “web-based” publications analysis are as follows:
After reading through the above-mentioned publication samples, it became painfully apparent that the texts communicating Jill Stein’s name were biased towards the two-party system and its potential candidates in their overall message. Whether collegiate or professional, web-based publications or printed newspaper articles, the text surrounding “Jill Stein” revealed a few other telling pieces of information as I read: (1) Jill’s name was invoked most when communicators were making points about the two-party system’s nominees; (2) writers often invoked Jill’s name when making points tangential to her or the Green Party; and (3) oftentimes Jill’s name was used when writers would speak of Jill’s likely third-part candidacy as being a virtual impossibility, let alone a viable alternative to the two-party system’s candidates.
Perhaps most surprising is the number of “positive” tallies that accrued. I was surprised, and I think there might be something to this. Additionally, although it might seem encouraging that there were more “neutral” than “negative” tallies, it is worth considering that the neutral tallies were awarded largely for a contextual use of poll percentage; seeing an arguably small percentage number next to “Jill Stein,” as compared to a larger value next to, say, “Bernie Sanders,” may discourage readers from thinking that a third-party candidate, and Jill Stein in particular, is a remote possibility in 2016.
Mateo Pimentel writes for political newsletters and publishes in academic journals. He currently pursues a Master of Science in Global Technology and Development, and he composes and records music in his free time. Follow him on Twitter @Mateo_Pimentel.