Christensen: Attack ads exhausting, effective

rchristensen@newsobserver.comOctober 27, 2012 

North Carolinians have never been exposed to such a concentration of political palaver as they have since spring.

More than 100 TV political commercials have been run in the presidential race in the state, totaling at least $60 million. Dozens of governor ads have been run totaling at least $15 million. Millions more have been spent on congressional, legislative, judicial and other races.

We’ve had political commercials on everything under the sun, including, believe it or not, one featuring a vaginal wand, which is apparently not something Tinker Bell waved about. Can proctology exams be far behind as a subject of ads?

In talking with voters in recent weeks, one of the recurrent themes is that voters are suffering from political-ad fatigue.

Many are Tivo-ing through the ads, hitting the fast-forward or the mute buttons. Or they are heading to the refrigerator for refreshments like Coke or something stronger. Anything but watching another ad.

That is particularly true for the presidential ads, where voters have been bombarded by commercials by the campaigns of Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and assorted political action committees supporting Romney.

Voters almost universally say they hate negative ads and say they pay them no heed. But when asked in focus groups about what they think about candidates, they often play back the negative messages they have subconsciously absorbed in commercials.

Negative commercials work because it reinforces a deep-seated American skepticism about government and politicians.

The barrage of presidential ads have dominated the airwaves and made it more difficult for other candidates to have their voices heard.

The glut of presidential ads, may be one reason that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Walter Dalton has shown no movement in the polls since he began running his TV commercials. He started little known and has been unable to break through the clutter of political commercials to close the gap with his far better-known opponent, Republican Pat McCrory.

It may also be a reason that supporters of N.C. Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby ran a folksy, “Beverly Hillbillies”-style ad. A sober-as-judge ad would have been ignored. Newby’s supporters needed to be creative – or even outlandish – to be noticed in this ad-filled environment.

While people have decried the political ads, one shrewd political observer, veteran Republican strategist Carter Wrenn, notes that TV political advertising drives voter interest. Which may be one reason why we may be headed for a record voter turnout.

Christensen: 919-829-4532

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