Editorial: Critical thinking crucial during contentious campaigns

In case you haven’t heard, Senator Susan Collins is facing a contested bid for reelection. If you’ve missed the nonstop television and newspaper advertising or the slew of mailers each week, the long-standing Republican senator may just be in the toughest race of her 12-year career, against Democratic challenger and Speaker of the House Sara Gideon.  

It is also believed to be one of the most expensive campaigns this election cycle. Ahead of the June primary, close to $40 million was raised between the two candidates’ campaigns, with Gideon netting $24 million to Collins’ nearly $17 million. In the second fundraising quarter of 2020 alone, Gideon brought in $8.1 million compared to $3 million for Collins.  

Outside groups and Political Actions Committees (PAC) are also spending big. The 1820 PAC, a group formed to support Collins, has spent $2.7 million to support her and $2 million to oppose Gideon, as of August 27. The donor list of 51 contributors does not include one person from the state of Maine. Collins has also received support from the national Republican Senatorial Committee ($590,000) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($610,000). 

Gideon, on the other hand, has seen about $713,000 spent on her behalf from outside PACs, with Priorities USA Action spending $192,000 and the Lincoln Project spending $23,000 to attack Collins.  

One thing holds true here, just as in life: money does not buy happiness—or manners. The mudslinging that has occurred during this election campaign may go down as one of the ugliest in Maine’s history. The Collins camp is working to paint Gideon as an out-of-touch hypocrite who wants to raise taxes and is only out for herself, while Gideon is fighting hard to convince voters that Collins no longer represents Maine’s people and that Washington has changed her—and not for the better. Each campaign also seems to be going to great lengths to find the most unflattering photo possible of their competitor, while trying to paint their candidate in the best possible light.  

While there may be small nuggets of truth disbursed throughout the advertising, the majority of it is distorted, taking bits of fact and stringing them together with ample liberty. In other words, take each ad with a grain of salt because while there may be dots, they often do not actually connect. 

Campaigns and the pollsters they hire spend time and money trying to figure out which messages will best resonate with votersResearchers have found that negative adsthose with foreboding music and violent scenes, cause a viewer to seek out more information about a candidate than ads where positive messages were abundant. According to the author of a study published in 2005 in the American Journal of Political Science, “fear ads heighten attentiveness and weaken people’s reliance on partisan habits, while enthusiasm ads reassure you  and reaffirm the choice you’ve already made.” 

As you navigate this election cycle, we urge you to think critically about the messages you are receiving. Your best defense is a good offense so arm yourself with knowledge and use it when viewing those campaign messages.  

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