Upsets in politics may have widespread consequences, new study says

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While upsets in sports are generally enjoyed by the masses (some opponents included!) and provide excellent fodder for inspirational stories and movies, the same is untrue in electoral contests — at least according to a new study out of the University of Georgia.

To the contrary, the study finds that people who had back a “surprise loser” in an election often have less trust in government and democracy following the loss.

 Barry Hollander, professor of journalism and mass communication, believes that this resulting skepticism and disappointment has far reaching consequences in American society, leading to the erosion of trust in the basic concept of democracy.

Hollander sees media as playing a particularly strong role in this disillusioning process, and pegs Fox News as the most obvious culprit of late.

Looking at the 2012 presidential election between Obama and Romney, Hollander found that news consumption habits had a lot to do with determining whether Romney supporters felt disillusioned, or just the same, following Obama’s victory.

“The more fragmented our media have become the more people are hearing what they want to out of their news and the more surprised they are when the outcome doesn’t turn out as they’ve expected, which could further erode trust in elections, democracy and government,” said Hollander. “As a journalist, I didn’t give any thought to my effect on people. The danger is if our media continue to become more fragmented, the more and more we tend to hear only what we want to hear and believe what we want to believe, but when the outcome surprises us that can have very real consequences not only in people’s own perception but also in the stability of democracy and government.”

It is not uncommon for partisans on both sides to believe that their preferred candidate will win an election — just look at the highly disparate Crist and Scott camps here in Florida, today.

Beyond the usual spinning that campaign camps do following any toss-up poll results, Crist and Scott supporters display exceedingly high levels of optimism about their man’s prospects in November. In other words, Floridians are being set up for a “surprise” no matter the result, and in turn, for disappointment and disillusionment beyond what we typically see.

If Hollander’s study holds water, it seems that managing expectations may be the biggest key to emerging from election day with both sides ready to accept their new leadership and trusting the process itself.

“Political theorists consider the acceptance and consent of election losers to be among the necessary ingredients of a successful democracy,” Hollander wrote. “You need the trust of those in a democracy for democracy to be successful. We have become more fragmented in our media diet and that leads to hearing what we want to hear and believing what we want to believe despite all evidence to the contrary, such as polls. Our surprise in the election outcome makes us angry, disappointed and erodes our trust in the basic concept of democracy-the election. And that can threaten our trust in government.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.