Residents of swing states are currently living in the middle of a political warzone. “Anytime I go online, I’m basically being bombarded by political advertisements,” said Leon Durrenberger, a resident of Ohio.
It’s difficult to imagine that these ads have any effect other than adding to the chatter. “A lot of people are not particularly persuadable now,” said USC Political Science professor Ann Crigler. These ads aren’t entirely meant to persuade undecided voters: They’re also meant as a rallying cry to the base.
“The ads have a motivating function,” said USC Political Science professor Robert Shrum, adding that President Donald Trump’s ads are “like his debate performance: it’s all for the base.” One Trump ad said that Democratic nominee Joe Biden will let protestors “cause absolute mayhem,” a reminder to Trump’s base of the stakes if they stay home.
Increasing voter turnout is not to be taken lightly. A mere 0.06% of total votes cast in 2016 would have given the presidency to Hillary Clinton. Voter turnout will be just as crucial in deciding the upcoming election.
Political ads' other purpose is suppressive; it means to discourage undecided individuals from voting, Crigler said.
“Ads are often used to… suppress the turnout among those who don’t support you,” Crigler said. “They do this in several ways: unfortunately, sometimes by not telling the truth, confusing people about information about where to go to vote, and how much your vote is going to count.”
Misinformation discourages voter turnout, a strategy seen clearly in the first Presidential debate, in which Trump engaged in an “avalanche of lying,” according to CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale. Almost all of his statements about mail-in ballots – including a claim about ballots being dumped in creeks – were lies.
Misinformation is disorienting; it leaves one less willing to vote, which benefits the side that one would have otherwise voted against. Not for nothing, voter suppression as a tactic has been relied on by Republican leaders moreso than Democratic.
This is not to say that the election has already been decided. A host of obstacles lie between now and November, and threats to our democracy unfortunately lie among them. Trump has even expressed his intentions to challenge the election, should it go against him.
“Let that be a motivator for you to do more, not less,” Shrum said. “Please do not get discouraged about national politics.”
So if the cacophony of the first presidential debate has left you discouraged, consider that this was potentially the point. Consider also that your best recourse is, as always, to vote.