As we take the turn into the home stretch to the mid-term elections, most of us will continue to be bombarded by campaign ads. Most of the campaign ads thus far have been the typical variety that features the platform and strengths of the candidate or focuses on the issues that may be of interest to voters in the specific area. Even though we may tire of viewing or hearing these political ads, they may be the most effective way for the candidate to gain name recognition and inform their audience. Usually they are thirty second “sound bites” that can only present the most memorable aspects of the candidate’s platform.
In order for a voter to become fully informed, it requires more work on the voter’s part. Unfortunately, most voters will not take the time to educate themselves on the candidates’ background, track record, political beliefs, and other things that will allow them to go to the polls and make the best decision. Often, the choice is the lesser of two evils based on the buzzwords that they’ve gained from the ads.
There are ads that I categorize as the “negative-lite” ads. These are the ads that focus more on what the candidate is against more so than the things that they promise to support or implement if elected. These ads will list all the things that the candidate will not do if they are elected or did not do if they are an incumbent running for reelection. These candidates know that if they convince the voters that they will not tamper with the status quo or controversial or complex issues, they might get the votes. These ads are usually the stepping stones to the fully negative ads that begin to appear as the election date draws near and depends on a candidate’s status in the polls. If they are trailing or if their once sizeable lead is slipping, the negative ads begin to appear. For many candidates, they will only run negative ads once the gauntlet is dropped by their opponent. An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth. Unfortunately, engaging in negative campaigning only lessens the stature of the candidates that sling the mud.
Negative ads are one way for the candidate to play on the fears of the lazy voter who will not take the time to learn more about each candidate. The contender can throw mud and stir up confusion among the voters and many will accept the allegations for the truth. The negativity usually causes doubts among undecided voters and depending on the elements of truth in the mud that’s being slung, it could cause voters that favor the accused candidate to switch their support.
Most times the negative aspect of the ads may introduce some element to the campaign that is not even relevant to the office that they are pursuing. It often focuses on a personal issue that is used to discredit the other candidate’s reputation and show that they are unfit for the office. It may also attempt to characterize the other candidate as being out-of-touch with the constituents by making them seem too affluent or high brow to understand or care for the “common man” or in the case of some incumbents, portray them as using the political office to line their own pockets. Other features of negative ads may attempt to link a candidate to another unpopular politician, controversial issue, or political belief. Usually the linkage is often nebulous and convoluted but an uninformed or lazy voter will not take the time to investigate this allegation.
For many voters, when both candidates are slinging mud back and forth, it fulfills the saying that both participants get muddy and it makes the voter disenchanted with the entire political process. This may cause some voters to lose interest and skip the entire election and not vote at all. In many cases, when several candidates in a race for a major or national office are engaged in mud-slinging, the candidates running for local or state offices may lose out because of this.
Running negative or attack ads is an act of desperation especially when a race has been congenial to that point. The trailing candidate may view the negative ad as a way to bring some parity to the race and allow themselves the chance to move ahead. Voters may fall for this if they don’t look past the rhetoric and find the truth in the information presented.
Some voters may see the negative ads as the uncovering of the “real” truth in a campaign. Most may be waiting just for the “smoking gun” to be uncovered since popular opinion declares that many politicians and aspiring candidates are inherently dishonest or corrupt anyway.
It’s time for candidates to suppress the desire to use negative campaigning and try to focus on the real issues that face them. It will be difficult since our culture has grown to the point where negative campaigns have become acceptable and a way of life. In order to restore some credibility with the voters, it is a must. There have been political races where each of the candidates has pledged to not engage in negative campaigning and they have maintained that pledge throughout the campaign and through the election.
To combat the negative campaign ads, voters should take the time to inform themselves about each candidate and wade through the negativity especially if it isn’t true or doesn’t have a bearing on the position the candidate will hold. We should also encourage others to do the same. Only then, will we be able to diminish the flood of negative ads that we endure each election.