"It's the sense of taking part in one of the great public rituals of world history. I don't think it changes if you do it by absentee ballot or by mail-in ballot or by voting two weeks early. But if you were making a movie, you wouldn't do it that way," says Cornog, dean of the School of Communication at Hofstra University.
He sees the changes fitting into our increasing ability to live in an on-demand culture of "time-shifting," where we DVR our favorite TV shows to the point where nobody dares talk about this week's episode of "Homeland" in case your cubicle mate is still gorging on the first season.
Such evolution does, for sure, take us away from some very longstanding notions about drama that go all the way back to classical Greek culture: the idea that a story — Election Day, say — should unfold with a unity of action (electing a president), a unity of place (at the polls) and a unity of time (on one given day).
"We're losing that unity," Cornog says. "In terms of narrative, it's not that exciting."
It also poses operational questions. If you're a candidate considering a targeted ad buy in the campaign's waning days, how do you figure out what to spend if an enormous chunk of the electorate has already cast its ballots? How are you sure where to spend your valuable time in the final weeks?
Those who do vote early certainly find it a compelling alternative. In 2008, the Pew Research Center polled Americans who had voted early and found that 79 percent of them did so either because it was more convenient or to avoid long lines. However, a 2006 AP-Pew Research Center poll found that 66 percent of adults either opposed or strongly opposed the nation switching entirely to a vote-by-mail system.
And what about the other end of Election Day — the far end? What if on Wednesday — or next Wednesday, or even some Wednesday in December — we don't have presidential closure because the outcome is still too close to call or legal challenges are holding it up? That part has already proven deeply frustrating for Americans: Witness the tense, sometimes hair-pulling weeks of power jockeying and angst that followed the Bush-Gore contest of 2000.
"The American people see things starting and finishing in very nice, neat fashions. It doesn't work that way," says Lou Manza, who heads the psychology department at Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania.
In other words, the world of literature may have 50 shades of gray, but the world of politics is a different beast. "Life is messier," Manza says. "You have to condition people to accept more complicated outcomes, not just quick finishes."
EDITOR'S NOTE — Ted Anthony writes about American culture for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/anthonyted
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