Reaching the large audiences needed to win even local elections these days is a daunting and expensive task. Hence, the need to raise large amounts of cash to pay for sending messages over the air, online or in print to potential voters. When it comes to the content of these messages, hopeful office holders employ the know-how of experts in advertising and persuasion.
Messages in political ads typically have two tacks: build up one person while tearing down the other. Unfortunately, in today’s world, campaigning has taken on so much of the latter that it makes many voters feel like they are picking the lesser of evils when they cast their ballot.
Take, for example, a print ad I recently was made aware of from a candidate for local office. This candidate mailed a flyer to potential voters touting his own credentials and minimizing those of his opponent. I know this opponent and know that his resume is much broader than the mailer made it out to be. I don’t know about the resume of the person who sent the advertisement so I can’t speak to whether it was inflated, but I can speak to the fact that the opponent’s credentials are in fact much more impressive than were indicated on the ad.
Is this a form of false advertising? I would argue that it is lying by omission, but for some reason it is an accepted part of the political game. Would it be accepted in any other workplace? I’d say no.
In another bit of political chicanery I saw this week, a video on YouTube showed a local candidate making a speech in which he made a verbal faux pox, stating something about knowing where to hide the money when needed. Conveniently, the video cut off as soon as the words came out of this candidate’s mouth, leaving the viewer to wonder if any context was purposefully omitted.
I shouldn’t be surprised by any political advertising I see regarding a campaign on any level — from school board to president of the United States. Somehow, though, it surprises me more on the local level. Candidates seeking national office have a huge audience to reach and really aren’t just speaking to their constituents but to people all across the country as they try to galvanize support for their party or broader mission. Or should I say tear down the credibility of their opponent.
However, a person running for a seat with the city or county or even state-level government isn’t on such a grandiose mission. In my mind, they have the opportunity to be real people whom we might see in a restaurant or at a park on a normal day. We’d get to interact with them, shake their hand and possibly even have a real conversation with them. If I met a person in real life who tried to befriend me by cutting down others or telling me half-truths, I most likely wouldn’t give them the time of day, much less support them to represent me and my interests.
However, at least in these two cases, the priority was on misinformation and misrepresentation. It would be really nice if local candidates could agree to present themselves truthfully and ask voters to choose them based on who they are rather than ask them to dislike their opponents more.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to turn off the TV and then throw away my junk mail.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.