A screenshot from an Obama political ad, which criticizes Mitt Romney for his record at Bain Capital.
“If Mitt Romney wins, the middle class loses.”
“President Obama’s agenda promised so much… Promise broken … We need solutions, not just promises.”
Add dramatic music, testimonies from patriotic Americans, statistics and big claims.
As election season comes into full swing, campaigns, super PACs and third-party groups are flooding TV markets and mainstream media with negative advertising. These ads are infamous for their less-than-true statements and unfair attacks on opponents.
“If you want to cast an informed vote, you have to do better than listening to those 30 second ads,” said Brooks Jackson, director of FactCheck.org — a nonpartisan and non-profit organization that aims to reveal false claims in political ads.
A new USA TODAY/Gallup poll found that in swing states, more people reported seeing negative TV ads than positive ones. And for most, the ads only confirm their beliefs. Only 8% said the ads have changed their views.
Jackson added that politicians will spin the truth more as the stakes in the election become higher.
“The rhetoric becomes more shrill,” he said.
Early in the 2008 Democratic primaries, FactCheck.org found almost no false claims from Hillary Clinton when she was confident she was going to secure the nomination.
“Everything out of her mouth was factually accurate. We couldn’t find anything to criticize and it was starting to look as though we were biased,” Jackson said.
It all changed when Clinton realized the nomination wasn’t going to be an easy clinch, and then came the exaggerated claims and misleading attacks on Obama.
The current presidential election has kept fact-check sites busy, as there have been a deluge of misstatements from both sides, Jackson said.
A study from the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s FlackCheck.org – a sister site to FactCheck.org — at the University of Pennsylvania found that between Dec. 1, 2011 and June 1, 2012, 85% of money spent on campaign ads by four top-spending third-party groups showed ads with claims deemed false by FactCheck.org, PolitiFact.com, the Fact Checker at The Washington Post or The Associated Press.
According to USA TODAY, Obama and allies have outspent Romney by almost a third. As November nears and the stakes get higher, the ads will get more intense. Over the next month, the two sides are expected to spend around $100 million.
Chris Sponn, a 23-year-old Iona College graduate from Rochester, N.Y., said advertisements do play a huge role in the public perception of the election.
“Oftentimes, people don’t pay attention to what’s going on so they don’t know all the facts. They’ll then watch these ads and see it as true,” he said. “Super PACs can just throw out these bullet points and people will believe them.” He said he believes that with super PAC and big corporation spending, amplified negative rhetoric in elections will continue to be the norm.
“A democratic system will always build an incentive for someone in power to tell people what they want to hear” to get elected, even if that means muddling with facts, Jackson said. In just 30 seconds, politicians have to oversimplify and over-dramatize their message and to break through the clutter.
For the foreseeable future, voters will not dig into the issues as much as they should and the short TV segments will be the “dominant political speech,” Jackson added.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that the country needs now, more than ever, an honest candidate to tell us things we don’t necessarily want to hear. The honest candidate would directly address how he or she would fix the most pressing problems of the country and would gather support not by attacking his opponent, she wrote.
The USA TODAY/Gallup poll also reports that in swing states, 80% of respondents say they can’t wait for the campaign to be over. Seventeen percent can’t wait for it to begin and 3% had no opinion.
Rising junior at Rice University Amol Utrankar would consider himself part of that 80%.
“It is depressing. When you turn on the TV and see the same old partisan involvement going on,” he said, “it makes you lose interest in the entire process.”
“People have felt this way for a long time,” Jackson said. “Campaigns go on for too long.”
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