Thursday, November 4, 2010

Today’s Video: The I-word

Negative TV campaign ads are a staple of U.S. politics ever since “Peace Little Girl” was used to devastating effect in the 1964 presidential race. This year’s U.S. midterm elections were no exception with attack ads making up at least half of all campaign ads.

Republicans and Democrats may’ve targeted Latinos as a key voting bloc but they were also the subject of numerous negative ads vis-à-vis immigration. But did these ugly ads work? Let’s take a look at three examples.

An influx of Latino immigrants came to Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and they have helped in the gradual rebuilding of New Orleans. But with a weakened national economy that has barely rebounded immigrants became convenient scapegoats during the midterm campaign. Hence, dollars and cents were the emphasis of this attack ad by Sen. David Vitter that included the odd visual of a border fence despite Louisiana not sharing a border with Mexico:

Several local Latino groups like the Louisiana Hispanic Chamber of Commerce justifiably blasted the misleading ad. Furthermore, anti-immigration group NumbersUSA ranked Vitter and his rival, Rep. Charlie Melancon, as earning “the exact same B grade for their immigration work in this Congress.”

According to exit polls by the AP five in 10 voters were “very worried” over the economy and among them three out of four voted for Vitter. Thus, despite its distorted claims and ludicrous visuals, the ad may have helped Vitter win by a massive 19-point margin over Melancon.

Immigration was also a vital issue in the Senate race between Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican opponent Sharron Angle. Angle, one of several Tea Party candidates running for Congress, tried to portray Reid as soft on immigration and her campaign produced the following attack ad:

Angle’s ad did succeed to mobilize the electorate but not in the way she had planned. According to the Las Vegas Sun, Latino voters were decisive in Reid’s narrow reelection win:
Despite earlier polling data that indicated Hispanics would skip this election, exit polls showed they accounted for a record 16 percent of total voters…

Xavier Caballos, a Mexican immigrant and Las Vegas Democrat who voted for Reid, said Angle had tried to make people like him look dangerous.

“That was the final straw,” said Gilberto Ramirez, a Reno concrete worker who recently obtained his citizenship and voted for the first time. “She was depicting me as a gang member. I served seven years in the Marine Corps.”
Eight of the ten ads chosen by Richard Adams in The Guardian as the worst of the midterms (including the above one by Vitter and another entry from Angle) came from Republican candidates. Yet some Democratic hopefuls also tried to pray on the irrational anxiety over immigration. Efforts such as the following from Rep. Zack Space in Ohio made the silly argument that a guest worker program would be unfairly “rewarding” undocumented immigrants:

Much like Vitter, Space tried to tie immigration to the economy in his ads. Yet much like Angle, the conservative-leaning “Blue Dog” Democrat lost to his rival.

As we showed not every negative ad is successful and some have backfired. It remains to be seen if Latinos will once again be the aim of ugly ads in the 2012 presidential election. Hopefully that will not be the case though ultimately the effectiveness of negative ads is decided by the entire electorate.

(Hat tip: Wonkette and Vivirlatino).

Online Sources- Wonkette,,, Vivirlatino, The Guardian, PBS, The Living Room Candidate, The Latin Americanist,, CBS News

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