Bigger Picture: Only a Few Days Left in Election Season

Politics is a contact sport – especially when it comes to campaign ads. With less than a month left in the race to the White House, TV-watchers are being bombarded with political attacks.

Bonnie Brennen, journalism professor and guest lecturer at Marquette’s political panel “Media Coverage of Modern Campaigns” mentioned that of the 1.2 billion dollars spent on campaigns, most of the money goes to thirty-second commercials that undermine the opponent. Many people no longer feel as if they are voting for someone but rather against someone else because the negative ads present viewers with few choices– either vote for X and watch our country fail or vote Y.

CBS correspondent Ben Tracy, another guest lecturer at the panel, explained that of the three to five percent of swayable voters, most are turned off by the negative ads. According to the article, “Going Negative”, by Ansolabehere and Ivengar, attacks ads produce the highest drop in voter participation with Independents feeling the pinch of negativity most strongly.

“­I’ve grown up in Wisconsin my whole life and I thought all states had negative ads,” Rebecca Norgord, one of the 60 people that attended the event, said. “But Tracy said in California there aren’t any negative ads because Obama’s already won the electoral vote.” Political ads are most prevalent – and negative – in swing states like Wisconsin.

The most recent development in political mudslinging are the Super PAC ads which are sponsored by political action committees, organizations that can engage in unlimited campaign spending and are known for being more negative than traditional ads.

“The most negative ads are the Super PAC ads on both sides,” said Brennen. “They’re terrible. They’re just terrible.”

Do the ads really serve their purpose? Research has yielded conflicting results. Some studies suggest that negative ads are more easily remembered and influential while other studies prove otherwise. There are also conflicting conclusions about the effect of negative advertising on voter turnout.


Who are YOU voting for?
Image taken from Google Images

Here’s the bigger picture: Political campaigning began appearing on television over fifty years ago. But historical analysis shows that politics has always been bad. But WHY? Why has our political decision making become a popularity contest and a game of who said what? Is there hope for future elections? Brennen does not offer an optimistic outlook:  “They wouldn’t do negative advertising if it didn’t have some kind of an influence.” Negative campaign tactics will remain. Don’t lose all hope: the mute button will as well.

Want more? Media history expert Brennen said the dirty politics in this election is nothing new and has happened throughout history. Here’s a link to a video that looks back on political ads throughout the years: