(Chicago, IL) — October 19, 2010. The races atop the 2010 ballots are moving into overdrive, which means televisions and car radios are moving into negative campaign mode.
Illinois residents who turn on the television tonight will more than likely hear about prisoner release, failed banks, imagined military commendations and job creation. But grave voice-overs will provide starkly different pictures from one commercial to another on all subjects.
Campaign advertising has been narrowly focused in the 2010 election cycle, in which Republicans Bill Brady and Mark Kirk and Democrats Governor Pat Quinn and Alexi Giannoulias are running close campaigns for the governor’s mansion and U.S. Senate, respectively.
Brady has called Quinn a job killer who releases prisoners early, while Quinn has dubbed himself the jobs governor and attacked Brady as a nobody. Kirk and Giannoulias have also embraced attack ads. Each has called the other a liar and associated his opponent with unpopular presidential politics–a picture of Kirk with former President George W. Bush has made multiple appearances in Giannoulias ads.
“It is pretty common in campaigns in general to get negative at this time in the election cycle,” said Illinois State University political professor Lane Crothers. “The goal is to turn off your opponent’s supporters–negative ads are a key part of that effort.”
Former Democratic congressional candidate and University of Chicago lecturer Charlie Wheelan said he has observed an overwhelmingly negative political atmosphere since he returned to the state from a teaching sabbatical in September.
“The negative ads that were run against Brady with the ‘who is this guy’ tagline is clearly designed to make him look extreme and hurt him,” Wheelan said. “Unfortunately, (negative ads) work; if you present a negative image of somebody, it tends to stick. If you deny the wrong way, it sticks more.”
The aggressive nature of the advertisements is no surprise in races running down to the wire. But the presentation of these messages is changing. The airwaves from Chicago to Carbondale may be teaming with candidates, but the online world has also seen an up-tic in campaign usage.
The four candidates at the top of the ticket have reached almost 425,000 people via the Internet–enough to populate Illinois’ three biggest cities outside of Chicago. Kirk’s video viewers alone would constitute Illinois’ second biggest city; he and Quinn have substantial leads on their opponents in terms of Internet viewership.
It is a large market to tap into and one that professor Max Dawson of Northwestern University’s School of Communication says could revolutionize the output of campaign press.
“This new platform allows for more targeted messaging, more immediate messaging and it allows messages to be customized to an audience,” he said “Uploading is free, less costly allow candid to blanket the public with the platform and reach out to young people.”
The targeted messaging allows candidates to respond to the news of the day quickly or highlight nuances of the campaign that may not seem important enough for statewide airtime. When, for example, legendary Bears Coach and self-described conservative Mike Ditka endorsed Gov. Quinn, the campaign released the announcement on Youtube
Wheelan, who was unsuccessful in his bid to replace Chicago Mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel in the U.S. House of Representatives, said maintaining a strong online presence is key in modern politics because it is a cheap alternative to traditional campaign methods of direct mail.
“Obama was the first to be really aggressive online and it is becoming increasingly clear that that’s a powerful set of tools,” he said. “You have the capacity to go viral, to get passed around sites like Youtube.”
The click-of-mouse advertising can help to reinforce support and increase fundraising, which is why it appeals to so many political campaigns. In Wheelan’s own words, “you can’t click a donate button on your TV.”
Crothers is skeptical Youtube hits are going have a substantial impact on Nov. 2.
“It’s pretty unlikely that people go direct to search for a Quinn or Brady ad — you take the link for another source and follow that chain to Youtube,” he said.
The professor, however, says the site is his source for keeping up with the latest attack ads because candidates have ceded the Bloomington-Normal area to hometown senator Brady.
In the age of Internet marketing and social media, apparently no ears or eyes are safe from negative advertising.
Bill McMorris, Illinois Statehouse News