A Collective Sigh…Thank Goodness The Campaigning Is Over

Nov 12, 2014 by

Thank goodness the election is finally over. Florida voters were tired of TV ads filling our screens, direct mail pieces overtaking our mailboxes, robocalls interrupting our dinners and an insane number of emails flooding our inboxes.

While candidates, parties and advocates were pleading with registered voters to cast their ballots, many of us who had already voted were ready to get our TVs and computers back without all the clutter.

Take your pick. Which was harder to ignore? The endless TV ads that brought you back to reality from whatever program you were mentally escaping to? The relentless buzzing from your smartphone as campaign emails, texts, tweets and Facebook statuses cluttered up your device? The robocalls from has-been politicians that interrupted what little downtime you had at home? Direct mail pieces were easier to glance at and file in the circular bin.

And we wonder why the voters weren’t more interested?

Perhaps it had something to do with the quality, quantity and tone of the barrage of messages. Let’s take the Florida governor’s race as an example.

The majority of the TV ads were decidedly negative and more focused on a personal attack than either a vision for their candidacy or a truthful discussion of issues. Same with the debates.

And there was just too much. If you live in South Florida or along the I-4 corridor, you might think television stations were giving away airtime. The number of ads was truly astonishing. It was hard to escape them. You can only get a snack or visit the restroom so many times. My mute button is worn out. And viewers rightfully complained that campaign ads were too negative.

So why do candidates, parties and political consultants spend so much time developing negative ads? Because they work.

Two examples: Former Gov. Charlie Crist was polling strong, with his positives higher than his negatives in early summer. That changed drastically with $20 million worth of unanswered negative ads courtesy of the Scott campaign and its allies. The result: Crist’s negatives shot up and his positives dropped. Soon he was underwater. Scott’s numbers stayed about the same. The strategy was to weaken the opponent. The negative ads accomplished that.

Another example where negative ads played a major role was Amendment 2, legalizing marijuana for medicinal use. Polls showed that public opinion was astronomically high in favor of medical marijuana with support cutting across almost every demographic: age, race, gender, and party affiliation. Opponents developed a strategy of attacking the language of the amendment instead of the issue itself and turning the issue into a partisan one. The unanswered ad campaign created fear, doubt and suspicion. Effective, yes. Honest, not so much.

So don’t expect negative ads to go away as long as they continue to move the numbers.

What I don’t understand was the strategy behind the email solicitations. They must work because the parties and candidates are successful at raising money — too much money in my opinion. My computer was overtaken with them. I’ve heard from every Democrat you could imagine and even some celebrities. I was told, “All hope was lost,” which I found deeply distressing. But if all hope truly was lost, why would they still be writing me? And why would I want to throw good money after bad? I want some hope.

And while the Democrats seemed to take over my email, the Republicans were taking over my mailbox and my landline — yes, I still enjoy a landline. And fortunately for me, or I would have missed the calls from Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich.

Both parties employed tactics I found strange. Maybe others are more motivated by fear and desperation than I am. And perhaps I’m silly, but I would prefer a positive message and a specific plan to address the challenges of the day.

It’s hard to blame good people for not wanting to run: It’s become too nasty and too expensive. It’s hard to blame voters for not voting: The candidates and parties aren’t really speaking to them in a sincere or meaningful way.

My hope is that future elections will be more civil, more informative, more inclusive and less expensive. But the campaigns instead seem to get longer and the periods between them get shorter.

Like I said, thank goodness this election has come to an end. We all deserve a rest.

What’s that? The first presidential primary debate has been set for September 2015?

Good Lord, here we go again.

Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She can be reached at PBDockery@gmail.com.

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