Moral Monday: Political Advertisements (TV Edition)

Merry Moral Monday!

So, I’ve been told there’s some sort of democratic rights of citizens shindig going on tomorrow.  In honour of electing complete strangers to later actually elect (or re-elect) the personage who shall bear the burdensome title of “Mr. President,” I wanted to pose a couple of questions for readers to consider critically.  The first is “who has the most influence on you regarding voting?”  I recently had a colleague tell me she just voted for whomever her significant other suggested, and I started to wonder how prevalent that is across the country.  I’ve also been pondering how many of our readers (perhaps younger ones more so) cast their vote based solely on their parents’ beliefs or wishes.  I do not wish to pass judgment or paint these people in a negative light, but I have to speculate that these aforementioned individuals do not do very much introspection before heading to the polls.

These musings also prompted me to question such decision-making in terms of locus of control (LOC).  The LOC is a fancy-schmancy psychological term that refers to whether one thinks things are under his or her own control (i.e., internal locus of control) or outside his or her ability to effect change (i.e., external locus of control).  [Interesting fact:  the plural form of locus is loci.]  Returning to my original question, I have to wonder if many Americans are exercising an external LOC when voting based on others’ views…or not voting at all.  Regardless, LOC is also an underlying part of my second question:  “what influences you to vote for whomever you vote for?

I realize that that question is a huge one and perhaps larger in scope than even the first one.  However, I think it is also the more important one…but more elusive to discover an answer for due to the density of it.  Let me focus on the following foci for television political ads:  feelings and values.  When I teach basic counseling skills, I like to use political ads to illustrate these two concepts because they are just so rich with them.  Just to show that vitriol has been around for a long time, I also like to show old ones.  First up, the infamous daisy ad in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson (D) who was opposed by Senator Barry Goldwater (R):

I think most readers/viewers will quickly see that the makers of the ad were playing upon voters’ feelings of fear of a nuclear war.  Keep in mind that this campaign was during the Cold War when those feelings were pretty close to the surface of the whole American psyche.  For this particular ad, it’s also not that difficult for most people to determine that the underlying value of people that made them fearful was safety.  In short, the not-so-subliminal message was vote for President Johnson so that you don’t have to be afraid of being blown up by the Ruskies.

To keep it fair-and-balanced, here’s one from 1984’s Reagan (R) v. Mondale (D):

If Reagan’s famous “Morning in America” campaign seems familiar, it’s probably because Super Bowl XLVI’s halftime commercial for Chrysler featuring Clint Eastwood was modeled after it; I mean, its title was even “Halftime in America.”  [Interesting fact:  Clint Eastwood is also famous this political season for initiating “Eastwooding” where one points to an empty chair; he had a one-sided conversation with non-present President Obama during the 2012 Republican National Convention.]  You may note a very different tone in this one, which indicates that not all ads have to be negative to be effective.  There may be slightly more varying opinions about the feelings and values used by these ad-makers, but I think they were primarily invoking voters’ hope and pride derived from values such as family and patriotism.  In other words, vote for President Reagan to keep making progress and because you love your country.  I should point out that both of the incumbent presidents won their respective elections, so there’s no doubt that television ads had at least a minor effect on people’s decisions in the booths.

Now, the question that arises—in my mind anyway—is should we allow campaigns to play upon people’s emotions and deeply-held belief systems that they may not be aware of?  I think most people agree that there are too many political ads (and too many of those negative) this year, but should we just outright ban television campaign ads?  I worry that many people do not critically examine both candidates’ positions and just accept whatever they hear on TV that sort of already fits with their preconceived beliefs.  What do you think?  Please take the following poll before going to the polls yourself!

You may also like: