Opinion and Editorials

EDITORIAL: Politics as usual isn't good enough

October 22, 2011

Two more weeks. Two more weeks. Two more weeks.

If we say it often enough, maybe that mantra can get us through the seemingly interminable campaign season—and drown out the constant rhetoric emanating from opposing political camps.

The only problem: We’re not likely to have much of a break after the champagne corks pop in the wake of the Nov. 8 municipal elections.

Indeed, 2012 presidential stumping already has begun. Then there’s Indiana’s gubernatorial race and U.S. Senate campaign. And the state Legislature, and … . It’s almost enough to make us wish we lived in a benign dictatorship.

Right now, it’s hard to avoid the mud being slung by the two major-party candidates for Indianapolis mayor. The campaigns of incumbent Greg Ballard and challenger Melina Kennedy are churning out competing—and often conflicting—claims at a rate that rivals the most prolific of spin doctors. We’re ready to pull the plug.

Both accuse their opponents of being asleep at the wheel as the city lost jobs, for example, and both take credit for boosting Indianapolis’ economic development efforts. Now they’re both running negative ads criticizing each other for running negative ads.

Calgon, take us away.

Ballard surprised many pundits when the political newcomer’s “Had Enough?” campaign beat former Mayor Bart Peterson in 2007. Kennedy, a deputy mayor under Peterson, is using a similar “We Can Do Better” message this time around.

Know what? We have had enough, and we can do better—by tuning out the rhetoric and educating ourselves on the issues before heading to the polls.

That’s a privilege that comes with U.S. citizenship, but far too many people see it as a chore not worth the effort. It’s easier to listen to campaign commercials, however misleading they might be. And unfortunately, the din will only get louder in the coming weeks.

The results of a large-scale experiment conducted during the 2006 Texas gubernatorial campaign, published in the American Political Science Review this spring, showed that televised ads have “strong but short-lived effects” on voters. Ads were most likely to influence voter behavior within a week of airing, researchers found—and this despite another survey where 59 percent of respondents said they believed all or most candidates deliberately twist the truth.

If voters acted on that skepticism instead of rewarding it, maybe we could finally break free of this endless campaign cycle and the cacophony that accompanies it.

Try tuning out the rhetoric and finding out the facts. You’ve got two more weeks.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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