Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Negative Politics Wins, America Loses in NY-23

It must be a wonderful day in New York’s Congressional District 23 … for after months of political television ads , their sets are finally returning to normal programming --- pharmaceutical commercials.

Although it might be easy to have empathy for the good folks of NY-23, Americans should be disappointed that they really rejected their role in representative democracy.
Voters did not show up !
While the final tallies are still being determined, what is known is that with a population of over 600,000 only an estimated 135,000 decided to cast ballots. To put that in perspective, in 2002 – an off-year election, John McHugh ran unopposed but still generated 124,682 votes.

For this special election, which was timed to run with local elections on a normal voting day, maximum media attention was given to this contest. Outside influence was prominent. The Club For Growth's television ad spots numbered 1,597 and in total it generated contributions of $1,022,040 for Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman (roughly about $15 per vote he received).

The National Republican Congressional Committee spent on the Dede Scozzafava campaign, is estimated to be close to a million dollars. That figure may be less if some of some of the anticipated $200,000 and $300,000 for TV ads scheduled to be broadcast in the final days of the campaign, were stopped after she terminated her campaign.

Bill Owens, the Democratic and Working Families candidate, received just about as many votes as McHugh’s previous Democrat challengers in the past three elections (roughly in the mid-60,000s).

As of April 1, voter registration in the district was 43 percent Republican, 31 percent Democrat and just 1 percent Conservative Party.
So, who did not show up and why ?

Clearly negative advertising worked.
Voters can get tired of hearing countless attacks on the candidates. Negative advertising is designed to reduce voter euthisiasm for the opposition in hopes of dissuading those voters from participating. Looking at the 60,000 or so regular Republican voters who did not participate, they opted to reject the Republican/Conservative candidates … but also to reject representative government.

These attack ads have other consequences.
Late in Minnesota’s 2008 US Senate race, Norm Coleman, recognizing the damage caused by negative ads, called a halt to his personal attack ads saying "I want folks to vote for me, and not against the other folks." However the RNC and outside groups keep their ads running. The damage was done … and still paying the price is Senator Al Franken and former Senator Coleman as both candidate’s overall image have been badly damaged. Coleman’s may have been hit harder as 63,203 McCain supporters decided not to vote for him and most likely opted for Dean Barkley.

Politics should not just be about winning elections, but instead be about building the trust of their constituents in their ability to serve our needs.
Negative ads may seem to work … but they don’t foster a better government.
No doubt if you frequent any of the political party websites, you will be requested to donate money. Considering how the parties are ineffectively using these funds and actually destroying representative government, I suggest that you tell them NO to monetary contributions and offer your time instead.

As a footnote, anyone who watches the AMC television series Mad Men are aware that the current time period is the assassination of President Kennedy. The characters were "crying and praying so hard there wasn't room for anyone else to feel anything." It makes you wonder when negative advertising is used so citically to “brand” an opponent, if we as a country can ever feel good about our elected leaders – regardless of the political party.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think your conclusion (that negative campaigning hurts democracy) is accurate, but your reasoning is not.

Studies show that the effect of negative advertising is essentially "zero-sum", it doesn't drive down turnout it changes it. Negative ads are meant to turn out your base, and keep independents from breaking for the other candidate. Therefore, what happens in a negative race is that independents don't like either candidate and don't turnout, but those on the extremes turn out in droves. In turn making the winner more likely to be a representation of a small portion of the electorate than the majority.