This is former White House senior adviser (and fellow Georgetown Hoya) Dan Pfeiffer talking to New York magazine's Jon Chait about persuasion in the modern age of politics:
“There’s very little we can do to change the Republicans’ political situation because they are worried about a cohort of voters who disagree with most of what the president says. We don’t have the ability to communicate with them—we can’t even break into the tight communication circles to convince them that climate change is real. They are talking to people who agree with them, they are listening to news outlets that reinforce that point of view, and the president is probably the person with the least ability to break into that because of the partisan bias there.”
I don't always agree with Dan's thoughts on media and politics -- you can read some more of those thoughts here -- but on this one, I am totally with him on this one. (Ron Fournier of National Journal does not.) And, while Dan is obviously a partisan Democrat, I think (he might not agree) that you could put a Republican in the White House, switch "Democrat" for "Republican" in his words and have the meaning -- and truth -- of his statement remain largely unaffected.
The fracturing of the media means many things for how people consume information but one of the most important is that partisans can now read, watch and listen to only news and assorted punditry that agrees with their point of view. That development probably doesn't impact people who were hard partisans to start with; they distrusted (and ignored) the other side long before the media splintered into a million pieces. But who it does impact are people who are, for lack of a better word, soft partisans; people who generally side with one party but, in the days before the silo-ing of the partisan media, would regularly be exposed to arguments from the other side. Those soft partisans are now, almost exclusively, hard partisans.
This GIF -- via an amazing 2014 Pew study on polarization -- tells that story incredibly vividly.
Take that GIF and combine it with this chart from an October 2014 Pew study of media consumption habits.
"When it comes to getting news about politics and government, liberals and conservatives inhabit different worlds," the Pew study concludes. "There is little overlap in the news sources they turn to and trust. And whether discussing politics online or with friends, they are more likely than others to interact with like-minded individuals."
So, yeah. Is it possible for someone to be elected who can break through across the various, partisan media outlets to speak in a persuasive way to "the other side"? Sure, in the sense that anything is possible -- and, somewhat more hopefully, because the one consistent in politics is change. Simply because something is true today, tomorrow and a year from now doesn't mean it will be true forever.
But, what's clear is that the ability of a president to persuade is deeply hamstrung by the current political-media climate. That's not to absolve President Obama from some blame. When you run on your ability to change unchangeable things, it's not unreasonable for you to be judged, at least in part, on how and whether you succeed or fail in that regard.
But, it does suggest deep, structural challenges for Obama and for whoever -- Democrat or Republican -- who follows him into office to become the 45th president of the United States. In other words, don't expect the next election to radically transform the partisanship in the country. It's hard to imagine any single politician who can do that.