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5 Dishonest Ad Campaigns Coming Your Way For Election 2012

These five themes will dominate the airwaves as the election season heats up.

Making Americans angry, pretending they’re political outsiders, fanning race-based fears, attacking liberals and unions, and casting Obama as a "failed" and "illegitimate" president will be cornerstones of the Republican road to retake the White House, according to an analysis of the first wave of GOP political ads in the 2012 campaign.  

These five themes can be found in the Republican television and radio  ads seen from last year and into next Tuesday’s Florida primary, as broadcast by the GOP’s presidential candidates or their allied super-PACs. Whether candidates have since dropped out is irrelevant, because this first wave of ads is a test-marketing phase to see what sticks.  

“You will need to wait until the end of March, maybe April, before it starts getting really negative,” said  Shanto Iyengar, a Stanford University professor of political science and director of the Political Communication Laboratory. “What the advertising people do is treat the first month or so almost like a test laboratory.” 

Theme 1: Incite and inflame voter anger.

The 2012 GOP candidates have broken new ground in seeking to inflame voters—and not just the Republicans who will vote in their caucuses and primaries, but independents who voted for Obama in 2008. There’s Ron Paul,  seeking to blow up federal government agencies and comparing people who would not do so to lapdogs. There are super-PACs  saying Obama is Jimmy Carter in disguise. There’s Karl Rove  slamming Obama for the administration investing half a billion dollars in Solyndra, a solar energy company that failed. There’s the supposedly reasonable Jon Huntsman  comparing the US economy to Greece and telling people they may soon lose their jobs. There’s Rick Perry  attacking gays in the military and saying liberals are targeting school prayer—which has gotten nearly 8 million hits on YouTube. No one needs to convene a focus group when the Internet tells you that millions are watching that loose-lipped screed.  

“It is probably the one campaign that I have seen, in the Republican base at least, where there is an overwhelming sense of resentment and anger,” Iyengar said. “I wouldn’t want to use the word hatred, but there is clearly a lot of ill will out there. And that is really what is propelling Gingrich to the forefront of the opinion polls. He is responsive to that desire for a combative candidate who 'puts the president in his place'.” 

Theme 2: Run as anti-Washington outsiders.

The next big trend is an oddity in Republican political circles: the candidates running as outsiders who claim to be somehow unattached and independent of Washington’s halls of money, power and influence. Ron Paul  called Gingrich a serial hypocrite for his inside-the-Beltway connections. Rick Perry  boasted of his politically incorrect stands. And Romney  described his mission to save the “soul” of America from a bad detour—needless to say under the Obama administration.  

“You tend to think of Republican candidates who are disproportionately conservative, and therefore they don’t need to have to establish any kind of credentials on how close you are to Washington,” Iyengar said. “I can’t think of any previous race where we had this kind of dynamic, where you have the two principle Republican contenders attempting to position themselves as being sufficiently distant from Washington.”  

Theme 3: Fan racial fears while attacking Obama.

You would expect any party out of power to criticize the president. But the way GOP contenders are fomenting anger toward Obama, and also his supporters, is filled with messages telegraphing racial fears and the cultural superiority of Republicans. 

Gingrich’s ads have drawn the most attention for racist undertones,  saying, for example, “More people have been put on food stamps by Barrack Obama than any president” and then telling a South Carolina debate audience that he would show liberals how to create jobs for poor people. Paul Harris, the UK Guardian’s astute political ad-watching columnist  called the ad “dog-whistling” to southern whites. “He means Obama is black and he is helping other black Americans freeload off decent white people.” 

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