5 Nov 2012

Why US electoral campaigning is now out of control

I write at the end of the most brutally expensive election campaign ever seen anywhere in the world ever. I write at the end of an election where two forces in American life have slugged their way to what looks like yet another moment in US political history in which the nation is totally divided, and in which all the ingredients point to a narrowly elected president, and another gridlocked congress.

Try as I may, I have yet to meet anyone who enjoys the commercially paid-for electoral campaign on television. This is the eighth US presidential campaign that I have reported. The Centre for Responsive Politics here in Washington has just revised its estimate for the cost of the entire US election – congressional, gubernatorial, and presidential – up to the staggering figure of $6bn. In “austerity America” that exceeds the 2008 election costs by $1bn.

To witness the TV advertising war here is to experience raw hate, abuse, libel, and lies, on a genuinely horrific scale. In Britain, as in most other western European countries, such ads simply would not be allowed to air. At the very least, virtually every one of them would be deemed misleading by our own Advertising Standards Authority. In any case our own regulatory system rejects any political advertising on television or radio.

I can find very little research work on the effect of these ads. The weeping four-year-old, crying tears of frustration and pleading “when will it end?” to her mum, has gone viral.

IN GRAPHICS: Getting and spending in the US election money wars

My sense is that Americans are utterly sick of the campaign. Many in Europe would be alarmed by the idea that, together, the two presidential campaigns claim that they have contacted 175 million voters. The thought of the “cold calling”, the junk mail, the emails, and the rest must surely scare many in the internet age.

Perhaps, then, that is why, despite it all. The age-old “stump speech” still remains the campaigning method at the heart of it all: the increasingly exhausted candidates criss-crossing America to be seen in your critical state here, there, and everywhere.

I noticed in Cleveland, Ohio, while we were waiting for Obama’s bus to roll, that he knocked off no fewer than five extremely local radio interviews. No-one decries that kind of contact. But for the rest, American electoral campaigning is now completely out of control.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s Snowblog, at the heart of this year’s splurge of special interest hate ads, attack ads, and the rest, lies a decision by the US supreme court.

Since the last election, the court has ruled that corporations have the rights of an individual when it comes to “freedom of speech”. That means that any old arms manufacturer, pharmaceutical company, tobacco interest, anti-gay caucus, and the rest, can tip vast quantities of cash into some of the most aggressive advertising ever aired on television anywhere.

$6bn, and counting. Where next for US politics?

Follow @JonSnowC4 on Twitter

Tweets by @jonsnowC4