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Election brings respite from attack ads

Published on November 12, 2010 3:01AM

Last changed on December 10, 2010 6:21AM

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press

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It's difficult some times not to believe that the most satisfying result of any election is the temporary end to the bitter broadcast advertising that has become the hallmark of the modern political campaign. The past election did nothing to change the minds of those in the country who have grown cynical about politics and politicians.

More than $3 billion was spent by campaigns and affiliated partisans in the past election cycle. Most of that went to television commercials. Rather than telling viewers why they should vote for a particular candidate, the majority of the commercials instead demonized the opponent or the opponent's positions.

Negative advertising is one rare area of bipartisanship in American politics. The Wesleyan Media Project performed an analysis of 2010 congressional campaign commercials. It found that 49.9 percent of Democratic ads were pure attack ads, while 56 percent of Republican ads were attack ads. Democrats tended to make personal attacks, Republicans tended to attack policy choices.

Now there's nothing new about this. Smearing political opponents during the campaign is as old as the Republic. The mud that was slung at some of our most venerated Founding Fathers makes today's stuff seem pretty tame.

Modern campaigns, however, are able to keep up a round-the-clock barrage on radio and television. From Labor Day through Election Day the airwaves are filled with slow-motion images of sinister-looking politicians set to eerie music and foreboding narration. It's impossible to escape.

To be sure, political sausage making is not a pretty sight.

Political operatives live by the axiom that negative commercials work. Maybe. We suspect that there are so many of them not so much because they work, but because they are easier to produce than a thoughtful, 30-second spot on the virtues of the candidate.

If it all seemed a bit worse this year, that's because it was. The analysis judged the most recent campaign to be the most negative in the last decade. It is perhaps inevitable, given the polarized nature of politics these days. By that standard, the 2012 presidential and congressional campaigns should be real corkers.

We should all enjoy the respite -- however brief.


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