Vote For Me Because the Other Guy Is a Bigger Schmo Than Me

A favorite local columnist, Donna Fielder, wrote on a topic in her recent column that shares an insight into the black hole that negative political ads have become.  She received a robo-call from an old local celebrity, Pat Boone, encouraging her to vote for one of the conservative candidates in the Republican primary run-off to replace retiring U.S. Senator Kay Bailey-Hutchison.  Boone attended college here at Denton back in the 1950’s at what was then known as North Texas State University (my alma mater), now renamed the University of North Texas.  He appeared at the grand opening last September of the new UNT football stadium singing the national anthem for the Mean Green’s opening home game.

The phone call brought to bear for Donna a disturbing aspect of politics here in Texas and around the country – the demeaning assaults of some politicians on political foes in a campaign that attempts to persuade voters, NOT how competent they are, but how truly vile and incompetent their opponent is.  Here’s how Ms. Fielder so artfully described this obnoxious experience.

I was so excited to hear [Pat Boone’s] voice that I paid no attention to the office or his choice for office. But it was the one, you know, one of those guys who is always on TV telling us what a nasty jerk the other one is.

I’ll bet you’ll be glad, too, when Tuesday is over and we can stop being subjected to stories of how Ted Cruz takes money from the evil Chinese and what a huge toady liar David Dewhurst is.

Each one of those guys has convinced me that the other one drowns puppies, holds the world’s largest collection of midget porn and wets the bed.

I personally believe we should run them both out of Texas, all the way, say, to Oklahoma City, where they put up with such wickedness.    SOURCE  

The point that Ms. Fielder raises is one that gets repeated over and over again but which apparently falls on deaf ears.  I suspect though that this concern is ignored by political consultants because deep down, they know most people are still enthralled and drawn to the surly attacks of perceived enemies who many voters believe are in league with evil doers and will remove untold freedoms once they are in office.  But a recent story in the NYTimes by political scientists Larry Bartels and Lynn Vavreck suggests that such ads are less about appealing to undecided voters and more about keeping committed ones in the race until the polls close on the evening of November 6th this year.

The one fact everyone seems to agree on is that there aren’t many [undecided voters remaining]. Using its latest polling data, The Wall Street Journal writes that “American voters are growing more polarized and locked in their views.” The Washington Post describes the election as “a settled issue for nearly nine in 10 voters.” The race is “tight and stable,” according to the Post’s Ezra Klein, who adds that “Romney and Obama are realistically fighting over three or four percent of the electorate.” And Paul Begala says “there are about as many people in San Jose as there are swing voters who will decide this election” – 916,643 people in six swing states, to be much too precise.   SOURCE 

An analysis of all the polls are showing that of those who have already decided between either major-party candidate, 51 percent chose Obama and 49 percent chose Romney.  Polls usually have error margins of plus or minus 3% points so it is critical that this gap doesn’t widen for Romney or narrow for Obama.  This leaves about 3% of the electorate left to determine the fate of the nation with their selections.  These remaining undecided voters “are rather less knowledgeable about politics, and much more likely to say they follow news and public affairs ‘only now and then’ or ‘hardly at all.’”

This translate into voters who are more poorly informed about the candidates and the issues making them susceptible to the less than factual information in many of the negative attack ads being used by both campaigns, with a preponderance of them however within the GOP.  Fear is the primary message that these negative ads convey in their messages.

What you will seldom ever see or hear in any of these ads is any hint that the person seeking your vote has a real clue as to how best to address those issues the electorate is most concerned about.  They’re designed that way.  Negative ads work because most humans can be easily duped into believing things they have already made up their minds about or have been led to believe have vital national security interests or dire consequences for economy.   Seldom do any details ever accompany these alarming statements.

The spin gurus within political campaigns are showing more signs of caring less about being caught in a lie or distortion than ever before.  Any attention, negative or positive, is likely seen as a win for some candidates trying to get their candidates identity out in front of as many people as possible.  As Bartel and Vavreck point out in their report, partisan ideology is so thick today that one person’s lie will likely not dampen a voters decision to elect him or her anyway simply because political partisanship represents an delusional idea that says the alternate choice is to always be denied, regardless of any legitimate qualifications and leadership skills

With such low numbers of undecided voters who don’t follow politics that much, negatives ads are not likely to have a big impact on these people in ways that would normally discourage informed and thoughtful voters.  The Cooperative Campaign Analysis Project who has been surveying 1,000 people each week since January, providing a much larger pool of respondents than any single survey can offer, has additionally revealed some important findings about “independents”

… despite the marked over representation of independents among undecided voters, most undecided voters are not independents. The accompanying figure shows the distribution of party identification among our 592 undecided voters, as recorded in a C.C.A.P. baseline survey conducted with the same people in late 2011. Only three in ten were “pure” independents (those who denied leaning toward either party), while another 7 percent said they were not sure about their party identification. Four in ten were Democratic identifiers or leaners, while the remaining 23 percent  were Republican identifiers or leaners.

With so much riding on this election it is nauseating to come to grips with the idea that a small number of less informed and politically connected people may be unduly influenced in their votes by fear and lies rather than solid information.

In this day and age of rapid communication and the ability to fact check the claims of campaign ads you would think that voters would punish the dishonest users of bogus negative ads.  But the mere fact that not only are campaigns turning to such ads more and more but that private ownerships of radio and TV stations air them so nonchalantly says a lot about a society that is more controlled by those who value profits and ratings more than they do a common sense of morality.

Morality and other virtues are becoming tools to fool people with by those trying to get their person elected to office.  In red-sate Texas, the thicker you can lay God, the flag and family values on a candidate, the more easily people seem willing to accept any alleged bona fides.

We have some serious problems here in Texas.   We have the highest rate of uninsured people than any other state, many who are children.  We generate the greatest amount of hazardous waste and much of that toxic crap goes into our drinking water.  Education in the state is dead last with the lowest percentage of population 25 and older with a high school diploma .  We spend less than any other state on mental health and for a big pro-life state we’re number 50 of all the states with the lowest percentage of women receiving prenatal care in their first trimester.

And yet the negative ads by the predominant GOP Party here has promised to repeal the recently enacted Affordable Care Act they derisively refer to as “Obamacare” offering nothing to replace it with to help control sky-rocketing health care costs.  They also want to prevent the EPA from monitoring toxic emissions from the state’s many oil refineries and power plants.  Many that are sources for thousands of lung diseases and cancers with people who are amongst those 1 in 4 uninsured in this state.

Governor Rick Perry falsely touted that “we cleaned up our air in Texas more than any other state … during the decade of the 2000s, but revealed that this was “based on homemade statistics compiled by Texas officials, who only counted measures from Houston and Dallas and left out cities where there was less improvement. State officials say their method is ‘scientifically defensible,’ but EPA and environmental groups disagree.” 

Governor Perry has already informed the federal government they will not participate in expanded Medicare coverage with the newly elected GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate in his camp.  This expansion would benefit some 1.4 million people who fall just outside the income limits established for regular Medicare but still remain unable to provide adequate coverage for themselves and their children.

Texas has always been and will likely remain in the GOP column each election year but all Texans deserve to have accurate and honest information coming from those expensive ads that deluge the air waves during the campaign season. Most people really care less about what you think your opponent is or is not capable of, wanting only to know the facts about what we’re faced with and effectively how you’re going to handle it.   Using a platform that only lets voters know what you won’t do hardly makes a case for people to find you qualified to represent them.

“Knowledge is no longer widely felt as an ideal; it is seen as an instrument. In a society of power and wealth, knowledge is valued as an instrument of power and wealth, and also, of course, as an ornament in conversation.”  –  C. Wright Mills, “The Power Elite,”


7 responses to “Vote For Me Because the Other Guy Is a Bigger Schmo Than Me

  1. We are a nation of gossip mongers first and fact finders second. Of course, the negative ads work. Positive ads laden with facts have no effect on people; they are not juicy enough. The voting public needs something they can spout indignation about. The more negative it is; the more informed they believe they are after all no politician is going to try and give out false info about their competition! HA HA!

  2. This election is boiled down to the lowest common denominator…..the other sucks. There is no discussion about the future of this country, only the past and that makes this election a pathetic exercise.

    • It seems so frustrating Hans but we have to continue to call these charlatans out, even when it seems like such efforts merely slide down the political rabbit hole.

      • I am having mixed emotions about this election…..if this same thing keeps up there is the possibility of a 3rd party sneeking into the fray in 2016……

  3. Yeah, it’s depressing as hell. I boggles the mind that anyone could be undecided, until you realize that they are barely awe yet of who is running. And they will decide, and we will live with their rock paper scissors approach. Some democracy huh?

  4. With so much riding on this election it is nauseating to come to grips with the idea that a small number of less informed and politically connected people may be unduly influenced in their votes by fear and lies rather than solid information.

    Yup. And we have those SuperPACs to thank for funding over the top ads. Historically, speakiing, though, haven’t the Independents always decided the elections? I mean most Liberals would vote Democrat and Conservatives, Republican. I loved that first cartoon BTW. 😆

    • “Historically, speakiing, though, haven’t the Independents always decided the elections?”

      Yes they have Sheryl but there also use to be many, many, more of them. Now, based on these more detailed polls of the electorate it seems that only 30% of that group that called themselves Independent, when prodded further, were really a serious Independent.

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