If you are pretty much anywhere in the United States, you will know by now that the 2022 Midterm Elections are upon us. You will have seen the yard signs, the billboards and the deluge of television advertising that has descended upon the American people. You will have heard everyone from politicians to pundits say that this is one of, if not the most important midterm elections in the history of our country.
In Ithaca, and in the Central New York region as a whole, advertising is more ubiquitous than ever. We have become accustomed to seeing massive amounts of spending in political advertising ever since the Supreme Court’s decision on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010. We have seen ads for races in multiple competitive Congressional districts, with Democrat Josh Riley facing Republican Marc Molinaro in New York’s 19th District, along with Democrat Francis Conole facing Republican Brandon Williams in New York’s 22nd District. We have also seen advertising on T.V. and online in races for the Governor of New York as well as for the New York State Senate. So what have we learned about all the candidates in these races?
In short, if these advertisements are to be believed, we have learned that all the candidates running for office in 2022 are extremely dangerous and have no business representing us. This is because the defining trait of the advertising this year is how apocalyptic and negative it has been. We are being told that if the other party gains a majority in the House or Senate this year, then the United States will cease to exist as we know it. We are presented with numerous reasons to vote against candidates from both the Democratic and Republican Party, on issues ranging from reproductive freedom to the economy. However, we are presented with startlingly few reasons to vote for any particular candidate.
So why have political ads devolved into constant attack ads? Well, beautifully-produced, slick negative ads are more eye-catching than talking about a list of policies you will pursue. After all, fear can be an extremely powerful emotion to appeal to. This can be dangerous, however, as when voters are inundated with attack ads stoking fear, we become desensitized and unable to respond to actual threats to our country’s well-being.
But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, most of the advertising we have seen for Congress, Governor and State Senate has not been coming from the candidates themselves. Instead, they have been coming from national political action committees (PACs) with millions of dollars in funding. However, while these groups are funded by the national Democratic and Republican parties and have more money than the candidates’ campaigns themselves, they are much less equipped to speak on local issues, and understand what matters to voters in Ithaca and Tompkins County.
So what needs to change? First, to state the obvious: we must shift our advertising focus away from constant attack ads. We need to focus on why voters should vote for a candidate, rather than why they should vote against their opponent. Candidates should provide hope that their policies would benefit the communities they are elected to serve, rather than fear about the opposition party.
Additionally, and more importantly, we must stop relying on national PACs to decide our elections. The ads attacking Josh Riley and Marc Molinaro, for example, would not have been out of place in most congressional districts across the country. Yet candidates should be given adequate leeway to appeal to their communities in unique ways, rather than be beholden to the advertising strategies of their national parties. In fact, campaigns will probably be more effective if they cater their advertising directly toward community stakeholders.
Now I’m not naïve. I know campaigns rely on PACs for a large percentage of their funding, and fear is often a powerful motivator for voters. So due to the nature of our politics, it may not be likely that all of these problems get solved. But after seeing the same advertisements from the same groups for months, it’s clear that something needs to change, and it is important that we speak up and address it directly. Our local leaders and communities are counting on it.
Isaac Chasen (he/him) is a senior in the Dyson School. He can be reached at [email protected]. Cut to the Chase runs every other Tuesday this semester.