Here is what I hate about Presidential election years: The advertising. I hate it with a flaming passion and it gets worse and worse every year, and it’s starting to spill over into other elections too as more and more money becomes involved in political campaigning. With money comes an endless stream of radio and television spots, unwanted mail, and other intrusions into your life attempting to sway your politics left or right, to make you vote this or that way on a given initiative, to inform you that candidate A is giving everyone a free pony while candidate B hates puppies.
I don’t have a television and don’t listen to very much radio, but I’m still surrounded by political advertising. It’s becoming extremely hard to avoid, and it’s pissing me off. As a voter, I have concerns about the way advertising is used to manipulate people, and how some consumers may not have the resources to sift through facts and lies, to follow the money, to find out more about the messages they are being fed. I dislike the heavy influence that campaign contributions have on elections, and think voters need to be empowered with tools they can use to make their own decisions, rather than being guided into them by canny ads.
As an individual, the constant stream of advertising materials is infuriating. I hate ads and take considerable steps to avoid them where I can, and I dislike having them thrust in my face constantly, with no break from the incessant messaging.
I can’t imagine what it must be like for people with radio and television, judging from the deluge of campaign advertising I’m already dealing with. My landline, which very few people call, is ringing multiple times a day some days, often at very inconvenient hours, usually with robocalls, which are not legal in California—no, not even for political campaigns. Some even call my cellphone, which they are not supposed to do, because I shouldn’t have to pay for the privilege of being robocalled by someone I would never vote for, never in a million years. I don’t know how they got that number, and when I trace the source to attempt to complain, it usually ends in a dead-end.
My mailbox is overflowing with election-related crap every time I go to the post office. To be fair, I don’t go there on a regular basis, but a few day’s accumulation of mail shouldn’t be so immense that it’s actually impossible to pull out my mail because so much is wedged in. When I go through it, I find that 90% of the bulk is campaign advertising, 8% is bills, and the remaining 2% is the obnoxious weekly circular from the drugstore that ends up in everyone’s mail boxes. As I dump the unwanted political mail into the recycling bin by the door, I can’t help but notice that it’s overflowing with copies of the same flyer or brochure, some slick politician’s face smiling on the front cover, or a list of supporting organizations encouraging you, yes you, to support a ballot measure.
I’m tired of it. I’m in election burnout and the primary isn’t here yet, let alone the actual election. I understand on a rational level why election advertising ramps up every year, and the sort of arms race that happens with campaign promotions. As one person adds advertising, the other needs to follow suit, as one group gets mailers out against a ballot measure, supporters need to counter, but I really just want it to stop. Simply banning advertising doesn’t sit quite right with me because it is still an expression of free speech, it’s just not free speech I want to hear.
Opt-out systems seem like one way to handle it, but they would be expensive and difficult to implement. As it stands now, I can’t ask the post office to selectively not deliver any campaign materials to me, and they are not treated like junk mail in terms of providing an option to opt out in many cases. Likewise, I can’t actually opt out of political phone calls because they are exempt from the do not call list. I can complain about robocalls and attempt to get people nailed, and I do, but when it’s a live person on the line there’s nothing I can do, other than be extremely grumpy but try my best not to take it out on the phonebanker.
It’s a reminder of all the intrusive things that surround me; I have no choice when it comes to being exposed to campaign advertising. The intrusion of ads in general into all spaces is on the rise, and it is sometimes hard to tell the difference between ads and legitimate content. This is why, of course, publications like newspapers have to clearly mark ads, but the lines are blurring. If a television show promotes a product, is it an ad? Or just a product placement? If I choose to use a specific service as a feed reader and it inserts ads, can I complain?
Political advertising is a scourge I dread every year, most particularly the invasive calls to my home, particularly when they happen after hours. Once you let a genie out of the lamp, you can’t exactly stuff it back in, so it appears we are stuck with this, the ads that increase in frequency and intensity every year, the endless campaign promotions filled with lies and half-truths deliberately constructed to deceive, the phone calls that come while you are eating dinner or trying to care for family members or perform any number of tasks in the comfort of your own home, a place where people should not be allowed to call to harangue you about politics.
If the balloting process is supposed to be secret, surely people from political campaigns should not be allowed to call my home to demand to know how I plan to vote.