With Labor Day in the rearview mirror, Mainers are about to enter another season: the political ad season. With primary candidates selected, the party favorites now move into position to face off against one another in the general election with a few independents in the mix.
Hancock County municipalities are split on which party claims the most registered voters. However, it is the unenrolled voter that the parties are often trying to sway their way and will spare no expense to do so. In Bar Harbor, 35 percent of voters identify as unenrolled. In Blue Hill, 30 percent of the voters identify as unenrolled, while in Ellsworth that number is 34 percent.
As Nov. 8 fast approaches we will once again bombarded by campaign ads, mailers and robocalls with messages aimed at changing hearts and minds. It will be difficult to watch television or pick up a newspaper without feeling overwhelmed, but if history is any predictor of things to come, advertising messages will no doubt be ubiquitous right up to the end of the election cycle.
Political advertising is big business and controlling the message is important not only to the candidate looking to fill a seat, but increasingly to outside groups looking to influence the local electorate. The flood of corporate and private wealth used to influence elections has transformed politics. Big money allows for outsize influence and usually not in a way that benefits everyday Mainers. But, sadly, it’s all perfectly legal.
During the 2020 election — just in the Senate race between Susan Collins and Sara Gideon — approximately $200 million was spent equally between the candidates and outside groups. And this election cycle, which has yet to get into full swing, the race for the Blaine House between incumbent Janet Mills and former Governor Paul LePage is likely to be an expensive one. Already spending has significantly outpaced candidate spending in the 2018 gubernatorial election. And, so far outside spending is outpacing spending from the candidates.
As national issues have pushed into local elections, it is likely we will see more outside money advocating for and against some of today’s hot-button, and divisive, issues. The stakes, as they say, have never been higher and each side is looking to gain control of the legislative process by adding seats in Congress.
Unfortunately, the messages rarely offer anything in the way of substance and instead target the opposing candidate — typically with nearly false information that barely passes the straight face test. Long gone are the days when candidates would champion their ideas and vision for the next few years.
Research has indicated that ads heavy on the fear factor, playing foreboding music and predicting mayhem, are more likely to spur viewers or listeners to seek out additional information about a candidate than ads with a more positive message. By that reasoning, we should all be very well informed, but that is simply not the case.
Often the messages on flashy, cardboard mailers are full of borderline truths, words taken out of context and extreme exaggerations of, well, everything. And they don’t stop coming. Daily, dozens are inserted into mailboxes statewide. On the positive side, it is a revenue source for the beleaguered Postal Service.
This year we urge voters to be hypervigilant when engaging with political advertising. Read the messages, Google the candidates and check the sources. The fine print on each advertising message will tell you the sender and armed with that information you can learn more.
Democracy only works if an informed electorate participates in the process. So, get your facts, attend the many political forums being organized in your area and, most importantly, get out and vote on Nov. 8.