Candidates for senator or governor routinely used to participate in two or three debates. Now some are skipping them altogether. Retail politicking at diners and state fairs is no longer the cliché it was for generations. And town-hall-style meetings, where citizens get to question their elected leaders and those running to replace them, have given way to the online echo chamber.
In midterm campaigns across the country, direct political engagement has been falling away, victim to security concerns, pandemic-era workarounds and Republican hostility to the mainstream media.
Many candidates are sticking instead to safer spaces: partisan news outlets, fund-raisers with supporters, friendly local crowds. The result is a profound shift in the long traditions of American campaigns that is both a symptom of and a contributor to the ills afflicting the country’s politics.
Campaigning used to force candidates to engage up close with the public, exposing them not only to supporters but to those who might disagree with them. Avoiding those tougher interactions cuts down on the opportunities for candidates’ characters and limitations to be revealed, and for elected officials to be held accountable to those who elected them. For the politicians, it creates an artificial environment where their positions appear uniformly popular and opposing views are angrily denounced, making compromise seem risky.