With Labor Day in the rearview mirror, Mainers are about to enter another season – the political ad season. With primary candidates selected, the party favorites now move into position to face off against one another in the general election.
Overall, Democrats make up the majority of voters in most Hancock County towns, but Republicans are not that far behind. However, it is the unenrolled voter that the parties are often trying to sway – and will spare no expense to do so. In Bar Harbor, 35 percent of voters identify as unenrolled. The percentage is nearly 40 in Southwest Harbor.
As Nov. 8 approaches, we will once again be bombarded by campaign ads, mailers and robocalls with messages aimed at changing hearts and minds. It will be difficult to watch television or pick up a newspaper without feeling overwhelmed, but if history is any predictor of things to come, advertising messages will no doubt be ubiquitous right up to the end of the election cycle.
Political advertising is big business and controlling the message is important not only to the candidate looking to fill a seat but increasingly to outside groups looking to influence the local electorate. The flood of corporate and private wealth used to influence elections has transformed politics. Big money allows for outsize influence, and usually not in a way that benefits everyday Mainers. But, sadly, it’s all perfectly legal.
During the 2020 election – just in the Senate race between Susan Colling and Sara Gideon – approximately $200 million was spent equally between the candidates and outside groups. And this election cycle, which has yet to get into full swing, the race for The Blaine House between incumbent Janet Mills and former governor Paul LePage is likely to be an expensive one. Spending has already significantly outpaced each candidate’s spending in 2018, which was the last time the two faced off for the seat. And outside spending is outpacing spending from the candidates so far.
As national issues have pushed into local elections, it is likely we will see more outside money advocating for and against some of today’s hot-button, and divisive, issues. The stakes, as they say, have never been higher, and each side is looking to gain control of the legislative process by adding seats in Congress or in the Senate.
Unfortunately, the messages rarely offer anything in the way of substance and instead target the opposing candidate – typically with nearly false information that barely passes legal muster. Long gone are the days when candidates would champion their ideas and vision for the next few years.
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 additional information about a candidate than ads with a more positive message.
By that reasoning, we should all be very well informed, but that is simply not the case.
And nowhere is this more apparent than in the mailer. Often the messages on the flashy, cardboard mailers are full of borderline truths, words taken out of context and extreme exaggerations of, well, everything. And. They. Don’t. Stop. Coming. Daily, dozens are inserted into mailboxes statewide. On the positive side, it is a revenue source for the beleaguered postal service.
This year we urge voters to be hypervigilant when engaging with political advertising. Read the messages, Google the candidates and check the sources. The fine print on each advertising message will tell you the sender. Armed with that information, you can learn more.
Democracy only works if an informed electorate participates in the process. So, get your facts, attend the many political forums being organized in your area and, most importantly, get out and vote on Nov. 8.