Today, November 6th, marks the 2018 midterm elections. Across the country, multiple governorships, House, and Senate seats are up for grabs as Americans vote to decide the political future of the next couple of years. These midterms are particularly contentious, with voter participation showing a significant rise over historic averages, particularly amongst young people.
But while the political outcome of these elections is the main interest of today, the results of the election will also provide a valuable insight into the complex world of political marketing. With elections come political action and attack ads, and these ads shape the public perception of a candidate for better and for worse.
Making a candidate look attractive is a complex process. You are essentially offering a multifaceted product to consumers hoping that some of the combination of issue positions you are taking will appeal to them. Identifying which issues to champion and which to steer clear of requires substantial analysis and sometimes a bit of luck. Ultimately, what is created to appear as a genuine, approachable person is in fact a complicated strategy put in place to attract a winning preponderance of the voter base.
But while it is not surprising that a candidate would want to strategize the ways they are perceived by the public, some of the strategies employed to achieve this could be damaging to the public confidence in the electoral system longterm.
A good example of this is the average political attack ad. Rather than focusing on conveying the positive position a candidate holds, they may sometimes decide to win voters by attacking the positions and statements of their opponent. However, these types of ads often move into a somewhat fallacious territory wherein they are little more than propaganda attacking a straw man. These types of ads can distort or outright defy factual knowledge in favor of a false narrative designed to rile up or disturb voters.
While this fear-mongering might be an effective short term strategy, it is questionable if its benefits outweigh the costs in the long run. After all, voters are becoming more aware of the deceptive information they are being shown, and it is decreasing their confidence in the candidates and organizations trying to influence their vote.
In future, this may make voters default to distrust of any organization that they perceive as trying to influence their views. While savvy, skeptical voters are not a bad thing, it may lead some to become more and more politically apathetic, viewing all interested parties in political discourse as untrustworthy or unreliable. Politicians need to effectively market themselves, but they must be careful to avoid moving into the territory of outright falsehood.