Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Presidential Election

October 1, 2012

Political TV ads deluge at point of diminishing returns


Nor does it account for a penny of the tens of millions that Obama and Romney and all the super PACs and nonprofit advocacy groups have spent to secure Virginia, one of eight battleground states where the race and the presidency hangs in the balance.

"This is the first time that we're really experiencing a battleground state," said Bob Denton, a Virginia Tech professor who specializes in political communications.

Consider that in 2008, when the presidency and a Senate seat were both at stake in Virginia, slightly more than 7,000 political ads aired in Virginia, Denton said.

"As of this week, we're breaking 90,000 ads in Virginia — that's all candidates, all outside groups. Ninety thousand," he said, awe-struck. "We're not used to this."

It's not just the volume, but their corrosive nature as well. What little information attack ads impart is usually distorted and sometimes flatly false. They aim to undermine not only an adversary's positions, but sometimes his very character. Some are brooding, employing grainy, unflattering images and sinister implications voiced over dirge-like music. Others belittle and ridicule, like the cartoonish images and circus music in a Crossroads GPS attack on Kaine, or a League of Conservation Voters mailing that employs a photo of Allen sporting a goofy grin doctored to portray him as the dim-witted Gilligan character from the 1960s-era "Gilligan's Island" sitcom.

They can leave voters calloused and disengaged.

"The more attack ads and the more frequent the attack advertising, one side effect can be cynicism, and the people who are most likely to become cynical and say 'a pox on both houses' tend to be the more senior voters," Denton said.

Nor do attack ads have much influence on younger voters, the 18- to 29-year-old "millenials" that the nonprofit Generation Opportunity hopes to mobilize in this year's election. The demographic includes college kids and recent grads, many of them unemployed or underemployed in the weak economy, fearful about their future and annoyed by a dearth of details from candidates.

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Presidential Election