Editorial: All noise, no substance



High on the list of things we are grateful for this Thanksgiving is the end of the constant, intrusive, frequently cringe-worthy barrage of campaign advertising we Mainers have been subjected to in recent weeks. No mailbox, television, radio, phone, web browser or roadside has been safe from the onslaught. Too often the messaging seems designed to turn stomachs, not win hearts and minds. Some is downright deceptive. Little is particularly illuminating.

The money spent on Maine’s U.S. Senate race amid a national economic downturn has been staggering. The campaigns of Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Democrat Sara Gideon have raised and will likely spend more than $100 million combined, according to the Portland Press Herald, and outside groups are spending as much in largely negative ads targeting the front-runners. What have Mainers gained from all that spending? Certainly not a desire to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.”

Research has indicated that ads heavy on the fear factor, playing foreboding music and predicting mayhem, are more likely to spur viewers or listeners to seek out additional information about a candidate than ads with a more positive message. By that reasoning, we should all be very well informed.

The Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks campaign ad spending, lists Maine’s U.S. Senate race as the fourth most negative in the nation, categorizing 58.4 percent of ads as “pure attack.”

A decade since the Supreme Court ruled on Citizens United and opened the door to unlimited corporate campaign spending, each election cycle brings new highs in spending and new lows in common decency. Can campaigns dedicated to tearing down opponents yield politicians dedicated to uniting and serving constituents?

A constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United could put a stop to the madness. Short of that, we are not powerless. Turn it off, tune it out and treat political advertising as spectacle, not substance. Seek good information from reputable sources and research candidates’ track records on issues that matter to you. Consider how candidates respond to tough questions. That will tell you more than a splashy ad deliberately designed to raise a viewer’s blood pressure.

This election season has deepened partisan divisions, but disgust at all the mudslinging could be an issue to unite us. Money may talk, but we’re all getting tired of the noise.

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