Vicious political ads muddy campaigns

Senior Reporter and Senior Reporter

Get ready Ohio voters — it’s crunch time.

Like proverbial college students cramming before a big test, politicians are finishing their homework, making their final pitches in an intensified slew of political advertisements aimed at the masses.

As voters in a swing state that could very well decide this year’s presidential election, we’re no strangers to political ads.

They’re lurking everywhere — in mailboxes, on television, on radio stations, online — and they’re appearing at an unprecedented rate.

Campaigns have spent more than $3 billion on television ads alone for the 2012 presidential, congressional and state government elections, according to reports from Moody’s Investment Services. This is a record-breaking amount, up from $2.3 billion last year.

As politicians continue to pump dollars into their ad campaigns, I can’t help but wonder: Is this unmatched overkill really an effective strategy?

Ponder that thought as I highlight a day in the life of a swing state voter like myself.

I open my mailbox in the morning and a flood of flyers featuring President Barack Obama spews out, falling onto the concrete.

I then head to class, where my professors supplement their lectures with YouTube videos. Before they can access said clips, however, our class is first greeted by Mitt Romney, whose spiel we must listen to for 30 seconds.

As my frustration builds and I head back to my apartment, I turn on my television, where a flurry of ads addressing women’s rights flutter onto the screen.

One ad says, if elected, Romney would deny women cancer screenings and birth control by cutting funding to Planned Parenthood. Another ad calls Obama an extremist for leaving babies born alive during abortions “out to die.”

Simply put, the advertising overkill is overwhelming.

I also believe it’s ineffective.

I don’t know what to believe, what is factual and what is fake — and I know I’m not alone.

The constant messages are too much for us voters to ingest, so instead, we often tune them out.

Flyers go straight into the garbage. Online ads are muted. We change the channel, hang up the phone or do anything to escape. But often, we can’t.

Political campaigns have even seeped into the entertainment industry, but, when linked with satire, they can actually be very rewarding.

“The Campaign,” a comedy film starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis released on DVD last week, perfectly parodies the harsh political scene currently consuming mainstream media.

In fact, it’s the only Will Ferrell movie that has ever made me laugh uncontrollably, mainly because of its message. Even though it’s obviously exaggerated, “The Campaign” effectively depicts the extreme measures politicians take to attack their opponents in their ads.

Ferrell and Galifianakis essentially ruin each other’s lives while vying for a Congressional seat. Their campaigns are filled with vicious mud-slinging labels, including communist, terrorist, fake Christian, baby puncher, poor husband and inadequate sex partner, to name a few.

It may sound silly, but think about it — how far off is this scene from real-life politics?

If I have to hear Romney say he’s going to “stand up to China” one more time, referring to the country as a scary, exotic scapegoat, I’m going to go crazy.

His campaign has recently received flak for launching a misleading ad, aired initially in Toledo, that inaccurately stated Chrysler is moving Jeep production to China because of the president’s policies.

On a less serious note, Obama’s campaign recently launched a satirical ad starring Sesame Street’s Big Bird, mocking Romney for saying he would cut public funding to the Public Broadcasting Service, even though he “likes Big Bird.”

I stumbled upon the ad last week and it took me a few minutes to determine if it was a legitimate ad or a spoof. Unfortunately, it’s real.

And because Sesame Street didn’t grant the president permission to use its iconic yellow bird in the clip, it’s safe to say the ad ruffled some feathers.

Are silly, misleading ads like these really worth the millions of dollars politicians spend on them, when the money could be allocated elsewhere?

Will a last-minute negative ad really deter a voter from a candidate they’ve been following for months? Will a last-minute positive ad suddenly recruit a swell of new supporters?

We all know the answer: No.

Unfortunately, nothing is likely to change anytime soon.

As long as “everybody’s doing it,” the practice will continue. Politicians will continue to slander, criticize and dehumanize their opponents in incessant, often ineffective dueling ads unless all politicians start a nationwide movement to stop doing so.

I don’t know what could prompt such a drastic change, but I’d support it. I’m sure many other people wouldn’t mind a world without political ads.

What I do know: I can’t wait for Nov. 7, so I don’t have to read them, watch them or listen to them anymore.