According to conventional political “wisdom,” independent voters are apathetic, don’t follow political news as closely as partisans, and are less likely to show demonstrable levels of candidate support. At Independent Voters of America, we have our own argument against academia, but if there was ever a year to be apathetic and not follow a campaign, 2012 would have to be it. Why?
The 2012 presidential campaign is the nastiest ever. It’s gotten so bad that even independent in name only Joe Lieberman has spoken up:
“There’s been so much nastiness all around, honestly, both parties,” the Connecticut independent told Fox News’ Sean Hannity Monday. “The whole campaign has been so negative that I think this is an election where most people are going to go to the poll and vote against somebody — not vote for somebody — and that’s not good for our country… “I wish the president would blow the whistle and really appeal to both parties to cut the negatives, the nastiness, the unfounded charges.”
How did we get here? Simply put, negative campaigning works, and attack ads filled with half truths and character smears are nothing new in American politics. However, the proliferation of outside money in politics and the rise of independent expenditure groups on both sides of the aisle has allowed for unparalleled levels of nastiness in 2012. Campaigns can rely on outside groups to do their dirty work for them – leading the attack without having to claim any direct responsibility — after all, coordination between campaigns and super PACs is illegal!
Yesterday, new attack ads released by both Democrats and Republicans may have brought the 2012 campaign to a new low. Priorities USA, the Democratic pro-Obama super PAC, put out a one minute ad entitled “Understands,” tying Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital business practices to the lost health insurance and cancer death of an Ohio woman. If it seems like a story line this negative had to be completely made up… well, it mostly was.
Not to be outdone by the left, the Romney campaign also released a new attack yesterday. “Right Choice” slams Obama on welfare policy – typical campaign fodder. The only catch? Romney supported the same policy as Governor of Massachusetts. Oh… the hypocrisy!
These attack ads will soon join their compatriots in heavy rotation across the country, especially in swing states. Examining the overwhelming negativity of the 2012 campaign that ads like these add to, the New York Times recently reported some staggering statistics that are enough to make any independent voter press mute during every commercial break:
Since April, after Mr. Romney became the presumptive nominee, Mr. Obama broadcast negative commercials 118,775 times compared with 56,128 times for positive commercials.
In the same time period, Mr. Romney ran negative spots 51,973 times and positive spots 11,921, according to an analysis from Kantar Media, which tracks political advertising. This does not include the Republican “super PAC” ads that are almost entirely attacks on the president.
What do you think? Is the race between president Obama and Mitt Romney the most negative in your lifetime? Do attack ads have to go this far to “cut through the clutter,” or is there a better way for our politicians to communicate with voters?