Here comes the plethora of mail, radio, television, emails, blogs, YouTube ads and Facebook posts designed to win over the uninformed, the misinformed, the naive, and the truly rare undecided voter.
The vast majority of voters who claim to be tired and sickened by negative advertising are routinely dismissed. This information is not meant for you—the reason you get these messages is a result of “spillage,” the in-artful term used to describe advertising messages designed for a target market that gets seen or heard by people outside the demographic such marketing is intended.
These messages are important, believe it or not. Many voters simply do not have the time to play an active role in looking up the positions, issues and records of the politicians for whom they must vote. But caveat emptor; democracy is a participatory sport—please ensure what you are reading, hearing and seeing is the truth.
It takes very little time or effort to validate information in today’s world. Unlike commercial advertising, there is not “truth in advertising laws” in political spots. Many people don’t know this and assume that if something is untrue it can’t be printed or shown on TV. Political speech, even though deceitful and sometimes hateful, is allowed under the Constitution, as we just saw from Mitt Romney in last night’s debate. That’s why it is important to critically evaluate the messages you are receiving.
The most important standard is truth: Is the information true, regardless of who is providing it? Facts are easily Googled. If a candidate says crime went up or the incumbent voted for special interest legislation, it is easily confirmed. Please vote against people who lie with the facts.
Distinguish between facts and opinion. Whether the crime rate went up is a fact. Whether a person is “soft on crime” is an opinion. Opinions may be drawn from facts, but it is important to understand not all opinions have supporting facts. A good ad will give you facts and let you draw your own conclusion. But know the difference.
Is this the whole story? If the President is accused of causing the nation’s bond rating to go lower, go online and read how such an occurrence happened. You will find only one bond rating company that lowered the nation’s rating; more importantly, you will note it was not the President, but the Republicans in congress who caused the crisis. Read the whole story.
Is the information relevant to the office being sought? Once there was a candidate for Assessor in another county who failed to pay his property taxes on time. For that office such information may be relevant, but who really who cares if somebody was late paying their taxes? Different story if they didn’t pay at all. If a candidate committed a felony it is usually relevant. If they filed bankruptcy, what were the circumstances? There are no perfect people running for office; everybody has something in their past that is not flattering. It is the totality of character that counts, not usually a single incident.
Also note who is funding the ad. Many times politicians are blamed for messages they did not create or endorse. If the mailer comes from a committee, find out who funded the committee. If it is insurance and big oil, take that information into account. They don’t support issues that don’t directly benefit them. That said, remember rule No. 1: Is it the truth?
Not all positive information is the truth and not all truth is positive. Evaluate positive information just as critically as if it were a “negative” ad. Some people lie on their resume—even in the private sector. If they do so as a candidate, don’t vote for them.
Finally, politicians are a reflection of our society. Most people are generally honest and have good values, even if you disagree with them on issues. However, there are those candidates who run for office who don’t belong near the public trough. A little effort on the part of voters and most of these people would never be elected.
At the end of the day, it is the voters who are most responsible for the current crop of officeholders, the policies being advanced and the even the tone of our elections. If lying didn’t work, candidates wouldn’t use the tactic. Like I said, the truth isn’t always positive.