Negative Ads Discourage Voting

Tom Cardella

I don’t hate many things that aren’t spelled P-U-T-I-N. But sometime this spring it all changed. After a mind-numbing barrage of political ads, I have come to hate Susan Wild because “she’s wildly out of touch.” I also hate her opponent Lisa Scheller, otherwise known as “Lying” Lisa Scheller. According to some ads, Scheller sold out American factory jobs to China.

The only people I hate more than Wild and Scheller are those running for the Senate in Pennsylvania. I positively hate John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz. Fetterman is said to be soft on violent criminals and to have lived off his mommy and daddy. Oz is a celebrity doctor who supposedly wouldn’t last in Fetterman’s home town for a couple of hours and was directly involved in the inhumane treatment of laboratory animals.

Anytime I turn on the TV, I’m assured of being hammered by negative ads for all four of these folks. Why would I vote for any of them? If you were told over and over again for five months-and-counting that no matter which brand of bacon you purchased it wasn’t any good, pretty soon you would stop buying bacon. In the same way it seems to me, negative advertising has created cynicism about our political candidates to the point where we just want it all to end, no matter who wins. This electronic browbeating also worsens our belief in government.

My wife thinks the negative ads are a terrible waste of money — money she believes ought to be donated to a good cause. But political campaigns that spend so much money on ads to trash their opponents think they’re serving an even better cause: Getting their candidates elected. What’s worse is much of the content in negative advertising is either based on partial falsehoods and taken out of context or on outright lies.

Examples. Wild, we’re told, is “wildly out of touch” because she’s quoted saying hopeful stuff about the economy. But when were those remarks made? There’ve been times when the economy HAS been hopeful. Who hasn’t been wrong predicting the future course of our economy?

Scheller is charged with betrayal because she closed a factory, laying off American workers, and made a profit off the deal. But what were the circumstances? In our capitalist system, aren’t there any circumstances that allow for layoffs? Suppose the factory in question was inefficient and unprofitable? Suppose closing the factory allowed for her overall business to operate at a profit? In that case, closing and selling off an unprofitable part of the business could’ve saved jobs.

In the case of John Fetterman, the negative ads charge him with – among other things – being soft on drugs and allowing murderers to walk the streets. One ad associates Fetterman with scenes of a rundown neighborhood with hypodermic needles littering the streets. In reality, Fetterman is proposing drug injection sites to get rid of such ugly scenes. In the same ad, his opponent offers as a solution “cracking down on drug cartels.” Hasn’t that approach already been tried? Yes. And the cartels still flourish. Drug use is rampant. Deaths by drug overdose are a national shame.

Oz is charged with being rich and out of touch with regular people. Ads show homes he owns all over the world. Claims he’s really from New Jersey and not Pennsylvania. But the same carpetbagger charge could’ve justifiably been made against Hillary Clinton or Robert Kennedy when they (successfully) ran for the Senate seat in New York state. Democrats didn’t mind so much then about their sketchy residency requirements or celebrity.

To me, the question is whether these folks really are the terrible candidates portrayed in the negative ads. Maybe it’s the ads and the frequency of those ads that create the impression that “they’re all bums.” And if so, aren’t negative ads undermining the essential enthusiasm that citizens must have to get out and vote? It’s tough to muster such enthusiasm when you’re constantly told that neither candidate is any good. In fact, if you go by the negative ads, they ought to be in jail instead of running for office.

Our political campaigns are too long. And because of a Supreme Court decision that equated the free flow of money into campaigns as free speech, there’s too much cash to spend. And who knows where the money is coming from? The amount of money being spent on the Oz-Fetterman campaign is enormous. In the race to the finish, the side with more money figures it has the best chance to win. By running evermore annoying ads. By branding their opponent as a quasi-criminal unfit for office.

None of us are happy with the result. Months and months of the same silly ads. The negative advertising is so persistent, so outrageous that after a while it’s like watching a comedy sketch on Saturday Night Live. Money spent on the campaigns is money owed once the campaign is over. The successful candidate will owe people political favors. The loser will be left with debt.

Does anyone believe that the negative campaigns will give us any hope that the best candidate will emerge? Will all the negative ads just neutralize themselves? Or worse, have all these ads turned off prospective voters? Encouraged them to stay home unless they’re passionate one-issue voters?

It’s not as if both the Wild-Scheller race and the Fetterman-Oz battle for the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate seat aren’t important. Wild is defending a congressional seat in the 7th District that was redrawn. A win for Scheller, the Republican, is meaningful because the vision of the two political parties has never been so different. Whoever emerges victorious from the Fetterman-Oz race will likely determine whether the Democrats retain control of the Senate.

It’s up to us to filter out the noise and vote for the best candidates. The negative ads aren’t helping.