In case you haven’t yet been barraged by the $10 billion of ad spend fueling the midterm elections, the vote for the House and Senate takes place next week – and the tone is grim.
Democrats have leaned into abortion restrictions as a rallying cry for the base. According to research from AdImpact, in the swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania, Democrats spent 45% of their budgets on messages about the issue – nearly 20 times more than was spent against the topic in 2018, according to NPR.
Republicans, on the other hand, focused on inflation, taxes and crime to get voters on their side. According to CNN, in the first three weeks of October, Republican candidates spent more than $64 million on ads focused on crime. AdImpact found that, by the end of July, the party already spent more than $40 million on ads about inflation on TV alone.
Candidates need to appeal to voters in the most visceral way on the issues they most care about to break through the noise. But the blatant fearmongering and lies that persist on both sides is a shameful excuse for storytelling in the world’s premier democracy.
Republicans, seemingly emboldened by Trump’s ability to get away with pathological lies, have expanded on their full frontal embrace of the farce that the 2020 election was stolen by continuing to make misleading and false claims about their opponents without remorse.
Look no further than the Republican National Committee’s near $1 million ad buy claiming Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) voted for pandemic relief checks to “put money in the pockets of criminals” such as the Boston Marathon Bomber (false); Brandon Williams’ (R-NY) ads purporting that Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act was a ploy to “hire 87,000 new IRS agents to target the middle class” (wildly exaggerated); or the NRCC’s $400,000 ad buy spreading a message that House candidate Wiley Nickel (D-Ca.) wants to put criminals on the street and is a “defund the police Democrat” (incorrect).
While Democrats aren’t outright lying quite as openly as their opponents, they are certainly unabashedly attacking them and spreading doom and gloom throughout the nation.
In their pursuit to persuade voters by attacking competitors such as Mehmet Oz for abusing puppies and telling graphic tales of incest and rape that led to teenage abortions, they are missing opportunities to talk about passing a historic climate bill and highlighting the dangers of election denial on the right.
Political discourse in the U.S. is already polarized and vitriolic, and the current slate of election ads meant to motivate voters is just making us more exhausted and eager to tune it all out.
Yes, there is tons of historical research that suggests negative ads motivate voters to hit the polls. But in a world that is so saturated with hate, so utterly ambushed with negativity, I for one argue that bashing voters over the head with spite will drive us even further away from our waning desire to participate in civic engagement at all.
Call me Pollyanna, but advertisers and agencies can play a role in reshaping our political discourse by offering up new creative approaches for political messaging that don’t lean on the same tired, hateful tropes.
Don’t have the research to back it up? Get out there and prove my theory that perhaps Americans want something to suggest they are motivated by more than division – and are worthy of more than blatant lies.
There’s only so much hate and mudslinging the psyche can handle. It’s time for a new approach – before we push voters so far to the fringes, and turn them off so much from engaging with politics that exercising the right to vote becomes something to dread vs. a privilege.