Obama to David Letterman: Media is dividing Americans

Key Points
  • Appearing on the debut episode of David Letterman's new Netflix series, former President Barack Obama discussed how media is changing domestic politics and addressed flaws in the U.S. voting system
  • "We're the only advanced democracy that deliberately discourages people from voting," he said
Former U.S. President Barack Obama on September 20, 2017 in New York City.
Yana Paskova | Getty Images

Americans are living in a political "bubble" by personalizing their respective media streams, according to former President Barack Obama.

People who watch Fox News are "living on a different planet" than individuals who listen to National Public Radio, the 56 year-old told David Letterman in a November interview that was released Friday under the veteran talk show host's new series.

"One of the biggest challenges we have to our democracy is the degree to which we don't share a common baseline of facts," the former leader said. "What the Russians exploited, but it was already here, is we are operating in completely ."

"At a certain point, you just live in a bubble. And that's part of why our politics is so polarized right now. I think it is a solvable problem but it's one we have to spend a lot of time thinking about," he continued.

Many commentators have warned of the , pointing to how news outlets spin events based on their respective ideological slants. That impacts social media, too.

If individuals get all their news off , "it's just reinforcing whatever biases you have, which is the pattern that develops," Obama said.

Obama himself relied on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter for his 2007-2008 presidential race, which he referred to as "the most effective political campaign in modern history." At the time however, his team didn't realize "the degree to which people who are in power, special interests, foreign governments, et cetera can, in fact, manipulate [social networks] and propagandize."

The former leader issued similar opinions in a .

America 'discourages people from voting'

Moving on to address voting issues, Obama told Letterman that the U.S. is "the only advanced democracy that deliberately discourages people from voting," and that the country has "some of the lowest voting rates of any democracy on Earth."

"We create all these barriers and difficulties and the reason is, that's all directly related to our history."

Only a small category of people — white men, mostly — were initially eligible to vote back in the day but even when that changed, a sense of exclusion still prevailed, he said. "Those vestiges of thinking that only some of us are worthy of having a say, that carries on ... The truth is that people opt out themselves because they just don't think anything can happen."

One of the biggest complaints about the U.S. electoral process is — the practice of politicians re-drawing congressional districts to suit their voter base. In the 2016 election, there were four times as many states with Republican-skewed state House or Assembly districts than Democratic ones, according to an Associated Press analysis.

Just this week, judges ruled that the district map of battleground state North Caroline was illegally gerrymandered by Republicans — the second time in a decade — and must be re-done.