Finally a break from mudslinging

(Anderson) Herald Bulletin

On the day before the election, a meme began circulating on social media with a girl dressed as Little Orphan Annie belting out a song.

“Tomorrow, tomorrow, the commercials end tomorrow,” the caption read. “It’s only a day away.”

Voters everywhere were singing a similar tune.

A reporter for Minnesota Public Radio interviewed a voter named Lee Miller outside an early voting location in Stillwater, Minnesota.

“I’m so sick of seeing them,” Miller said. “It’s just … how much hate people can have toward each other? On both sides.”

From television ads to mailings, the mudslinging seemed relentless.

“I mean, it’s one ad against one of them,” Miller said, “and another ad against the other one.”

In the same parking lot, a voter named Kelly Findlay expressed a similar sentiment.

“I think that they’re much more divisive,” she said, “and I feel like there’s way too many of them and way too much money spent on them.”

Miller is already bracing for what comes next.

“I sort of fear what’s going to happen in the next year or two, depending on what these elections are across all the states and in the federal government,” he said. “So it’s just going to be worse, more of the same against each other, at each other’s throats.”

Minnesota is not unique. Ads across the country seemed particularly nasty this year, and the meanness seemed to grow as Election Day drew closer.

None of this should be surprising. Political campaigns are often messy, and the ads they generate frequently distort the truth. Perhaps more troubling is that many of these ads are sponsored by political action committees that aren’t directly linked to the individual candidates.

Why do politicians insist on spreading these ugly messages? The reason is simple. Because they work.

“It triggers a stronger reaction,” David Schweidel, a professor of marketing at Emory University, told Atlanta’s WXIA Channel 11 for a report during the 2020 election. “I might want to get you to like the ad, but that’s not my primary objective. My primary objective is to get you to vote.”

Or not to vote. Research indicates that negative advertising actually drives down voter participation.

Days before that Little Orphan Annie post made its appearance on social media, a somewhat different message was making the rounds.

“Jesus, please watch over our election,” it said. “May good prevail over evil.”

That, in just a few words, sums up what is wrong with today’s politics. Too many people on both sides of the divide see an election as a fight between good and evil.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Political opponents don’t have to hate each other. We can, in the words of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “disagree without being disagreeable.”

Ginsburg lived her life that way. She and the late Antonin Scalia were steadfast in their friendship even though they rarely came down on the same side of a decision.

We would all do well to follow that example.