Want a Gut Check on a Political Ad? Talk to Your Coworkers
Note: This story is part of Your Vote Ohio, a political collaboration of WKSU, the Beacon Journal and other media in Ohio focused on reshaping politics and political coverage in Ohio this election year.
Hillary Clinton and her PACs have reserved $91 million in TV ad buys in Ohio and six other swing states. Rob Portman just reserved $15 million worth of TV and on-line advertising for his senatorial battle against Ted Strickland. So Ohioans are pretty much guaranteed to be inundated with political ads from the summer through the fall. WKSU’s M.L. Schultze spoke with a political scientist about ways people can sort out the emotions and factual claims – and challenge their own biases.
Peeling back the layers of political ads
TravisRidout – the co-author of the “The Persuasive Power of Campaign Advertising” – says consumers should begin their examination of political ads with a simple question: Who paid for it?
“Is it coming from everyday citizens? Is it coming from a couple of billionaires with particular political motivations?
The next step, he says, it to reflect “on the emotions that ad is trying to make you feel.”
Trying to figure out an ad? We can help. Take a photo, video or screen shot and send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org. The ads will be catalogued by The Ohio Media Project.
“If we peel back the scary images, the scary music, is there a message beyond, ‘You should be scared of this candidate?’ Is the ad making an important point about issue positions or issue priorities?”
And Ridout says the two are not mutually exclusive. “If a candidate keeps talking about crime, for instance, that may be because that candidate will actually pay a lot of attention on addressing that problems.”
Just the facts
Once the imagery has been stripped away, the next step is checking the facts.
“Ultimately, it’s difficult to know whether claims being made in an ad are truthful or more likely how truthful they are.”
“I tend to look at those groups that are nonpartisan, backed by mainstream news organizations that are still dedicated to presenting both sides -- not ones that are affiliated with a particular ideology.”
Ads tracking you that are harder to track
Reporters checking those facts may be harder as “micro-targeting” takes over the political ad market.
“The campaigns are definitely doing more advertising on Facebook, … which is providing very, very targeted ads. So the campaign can say, for instance, ‘I want 10,000 impressions of my ad among women who show a concern with the environment.’ … It’s not just random that (those ads) appeared to you.”
And “we’re also going to see more advertising on TV that is targeted at individuals. So those who have Direct TV, for instance, they’re also working with campaigns to air particular ads that you might see, but that your neighbor might not see.”
Old school: Talk to people outside your social circle
But Ridout says one of the oldest forms of communication may be the best check on the newest forms of political ads.
“Take some time to talk with other people at work about what you’re seeing in the campaign.” He says that can provide a diverse point of view from people you respect.
“You always have to be careful, but there’s actually more politics talked about at work than people like to believe. In fact it’s the best venue for finding people who may not think like you. That’s where we run across those. It’s not in our neighborhoods. It’s not in our families. It’s at work.”
Ridout is also a co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, which studies the impact of political ads. He says for all the bad rap negative political ads have, some are more productive in terms of getting people to think about and research issues than the ads’ feel-good counterparts.
How to Consume Political Ads Without Them Consuming You
About those political ads: Stop! Look! Don’t go crazy!
You can’t stop political attack ads from invading your personal space. Millionaires and billionaires have made sure of that with court decisions and friends in Congress.
But you can render them harmless – even make them useful.
Follow these steps:
Who came up with the four steps?
David Bornstein, author of How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, and co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network. In conversations with Ohio journalists, his organization has challenged Ohio media to help citizens identify a campaign process that works better. Find a model you like? Make a suggestion on the Your Vote Ohio Facebook page and media will explore it.
Here’s how to fact-check the message