Another election cycle has come and gone, and once again in states with some key electoral races, the public was inundated with political ads, some more than others.
In this cycle, Alabama’s U.S. Senate race featured Sen. Jeff Sessions running unopposed for reelection and has the notoriety of being the country’s least expensive senate contest according to data compiled and released by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation earlier this week. The price tag on that uncontested campaign still came in at a cool $1 million.
In nearby North Carolina, however, the contest between incumbent Democrat Sen. Kay Hagan and her Republican challenger Thom Tillis comes in at a whopping $108 million.
That’s a lot of junk mail, attack television ads and the generic radio spots featuring just a couple of regular folks discussing who they’re voting for because that’s what voters do – they sit around kitchen tables, sip coffee and have contrived discussions about why a Democrat or Republican politician is bad for us and bad for our state.
It’s the same thing every cycle – same junk mail, same ads, etc. Just change out candidate X for candidate Y and you have a campaign.
Doesn’t that sound like the political consulting class has gotten a little lazy in the last few election cycles?
Residents generally end up tuning out political television and radio commercials as background noise. Junk mail flyers get ignored or tossed in the trash right away.
The dirty little secret in the dark underbelly of American politics is that it has inspired this cottage industry of political consulting where the desire to earn the maximum profit has practically superseded winning elections.
In most other businesses, the payoff in marketing is selling a product, which will return a profit. But in politics, the money is paid out win or lose and there is little regard for the long term impact beyond the day after Election Day until the next election cycle swings into gear.
That’s why Americans have such a low regard for politics and politicians.
A Gallup poll from last year found that 77 percent of Americans believe Washington politics cause serious harm to the country.
I would imagine the lion’s share of the remaining 23 percent view politics like it is some sort of sporting contest that is mildly entertaining and then the remaining of those respondents are just completely oblivious.
Some on the left believe the solution to this is to take the money out of politics with laws and regulations. In an op-ed penned for The New York Times last weekend, Duke professor Daniel Schanzer went as far as suggesting the cancellation of the midterm elections altogether, with a constitutional amendment as way to weaken the influence of money in politics.
Money would still find its way into American politics. It’s just human nature and the laws of economics would make stricter government control of electoral politics a near impossibility.
But the status quo isn’t working. Certainly there is some electoral success on local levels. But for whomever can think outside of the usual campaign gimmicks like generic TV/radio ads, mass amounts of glossy inserts in mailboxes and newspapers and campaign signs littering every busy intersection and highway median, there are electoral victories to be had.
Barack Obama seized upon it in his first run for president in 2008. Remember “hope and change?” It was nothing fancy, but it was something different. Four years later, it was back to the usual politics – inventing the so-called anti-GOP “war on women” meme, making his opponent Mitt Romney out to be this robber baron incapable of empathizing with the downtrodden. But it worked and it will probably be the model for 2016, especially if Hillary Clinton is on the ticket.
Two years after Obama won, the Tea Party movement had a little of that idea as well, which centered around getting back to the basics of government defined by the U.S. Constitution. That excitement waned as Republicans were swept into power in 2010 and were somewhat of a disappointment, the loss of the presidency in 2012 and this whole negative connotation the Tea Party movement acquired by letting some of the most vocal members of the movement hijack it.
In a few months, we’ll have an idea of who will be running for president in 2016. It’ll be crowded on the Republican side and probably not so crowded on the Democratic side. And it will be the same slugfest in New Hampshire and Iowa as it always is. In six months, political reporters will be all over Ames, Iowa sweating it out right before the results of the straw poll at the state fair are released.
If there is a candidate that can pull off a strategy that isn’t heavy on saturating the market with political advertising and just promote a simple message, I would say keep an eye on Ben Carson on the GOP side and Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the Democratic side. There are a lot of unknowns with Carson and we’d likely have to relive the validity of Warren’s Native American heritage claims. But both have that ideological vision for the country.
It’s just determining how to market and package that ideological vision in a way that goes beyond primary, runoff and election days. Then you’ll have truly a dominant political movement.