Visiting one of the swing states like Virginia or Ohio, the allure of US election season is revealed in all its wastefully commercial glory.
Ads bombard television viewers during every single day at every single opportunity. Two thirds of these are negative in tone. Supporters of such campaign expenditure argue that anything that gets voters to the booths is positive. For the parties, that may be true. But what is the point of an electorate who votes because they believe Obama is Kenyan or Romney a tax-dodger?
By November, $5.8 billion will have been spent by the parties involved in the US elections. Almost half of this total goes toward the presidential election, while an estimated $3bn of it goes through the TV stations to beam bile and lies into people’s living rooms. One-upmanship allied to Super Pacs means that, even with only the Republicans holding primaries thus reducing costs for the presidential race, this is the most expensive election year ever, again.
If the above doesn’t strike a chord, consider that each political party in Britain was only allowed to run a total of 11 televised commercials each during the 2010 general election. No payment for these was permitted. What this boils down to is election expenditure in Britain equating to 80 cents per person, compared with $18 per person in the US. A respective turnout of 65 percent and 58 percent for each country’s last national leadership elections does not show this to be money well spent. For US state and city level elections, turnout is routinely less than 40 percent despite such outlandish spending.
Benefits of all this money certainly aren’t going towards schools. Calling up the Democratic headquarters in California looking for a small presidential campaign stash totaling around $50 to help children learn and teachers will be told, “pay us.” The Republicans will be just as helpful, also denying the request citing California as a lost cause. Penny-wise and dollar-foolish.
Mo Money, Mo Problems
The more money that’s spent on commercials, the more that needs to be raised and this means more mingling with millionaires and billionaires. The consequence is less time to meet and speak with the less wealthy and the continued imbalance in influence of the privileged few. All the rest of us get is lip service.
Ann Romney or Michelle Obama talk about how great and humble their husbands are. While good news that their marriages are apparently healthy, an explanation of how such meager origins juxtapose with billion dollar popularity contests would have been more interesting. I suppose it could be reckoned that, in the 2012 voting environment, positivity is a rare enough commodity to be welcomed no matter how toe-curling.
A main purpose of the commercials isn’t necessarily to change people’s opinions but to remind them of the importance of voting for their preferred party. Given that evidence suggests such keen campaigning was a key part of Obama’s victory over McCain, to cease advertising would be a very risky strategy to adopt overnight. However, were one of the candidates to acknowledge the spending was out of control, and maybe scale back a little, it would speak far louder about getting the country back on its feet than another soundbite about how they will be more responsible in handling the economy. Put up or shut up, if you will.
If this is asking too much, surely the tone can be improved. The candidates pulled their attack ads to mark the eleventh anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks. Since such commercials are filled with lies and represent the presidential equivalent of two 6-year-olds shouting, “no, you stink,” at each other, it would be great to see both men abandon them for the long haul and show us why they are the right person for the job.
Going to vote for your president is a big deal. But don’t forget that unpleasantly fought elections at state and city-level are going on too. Go to a town hall meeting and ask about capping campaign expenditure. Sure, it’s not as sexy as getting to decide what color tie is worn in the Oval Office, but sifting between these purported saviors and shysters may have a bigger effect on how you get to lead your day-to-day life.
Image courtesy of CBS News.