Off & Running: As Candidates Announce Run for the White House, Attack Ads Follow

Democrat Donkey Republican Elephant Mascot Boxing

We’re more than a year and a half away from the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but candidates have already begun making their official declarations to run.

Conservative firebrand, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was the first to announce officially. Kentucky Sen. Paul Rand followed suit and came out swinging against reporters in his first TV interviews. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it official on Sunday, a surprise to … well, no one.  The only thing that came close to overshadowing Hillary herself was the chatter about her new campaign logo. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio declared on Monday. This election has the potential to be history making with the possibility of Clinton become the country’s first woman president and Rubio becoming the first Hispanic president.

This is only the beginning. Other presidential hopefuls are still weighing their options, waiting in the wings for the right moment to announce or playing coy with the media and the public. According to the New York Times, at least a dozen Republicans and a few Democrats have already expressed an interest in running.

As the list of candidates grows, so does the price tag to run political campaigns. In fact, The Hill reports that the cost of the 2016 presidential election could top $5 million, more than double of the cost of the 2012 election.

The influx of campaign money brings with it the inevitable deluge of political advertisements – especially attack ads. The first shot has already been fired. Paul wasted no time going after Clinton, releasing his first TV ad Sunday, just ahead of her presidential announcement. After his own announcement, Paul was greeted with a negative TV ad financed by the Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America (FSPA), a 501(c)(4) secret money group.

A lawyer for Paul’s campaign sent a legal notice to TV stations that ran the attack ad, calling it defamatory and asking stations to stop running it.

As the presidential campaigning drags on, we might be in for new highs in spending and new lows in attack ads. In addition to their main campaign accounts, presidential hopefuls will benefit from super PACS or non-profit groups – like FSPA – which allow their allies to collect unlimited amounts of money. USA Today does a nice job of taking a look at some of the early fundraising operations.

We all say we hate negative campaign advertising, but the truth is, they work – to some extent.

“Advertising matters at the margins,” said political scientist Erika Franklin Fowler, director of the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks political advertising at Wesleyan University. “We never see ads that take a candidate from 20 percent to 70 percent of the vote. But when you have a country that is divided 50/50, every percentage point counts. That’s where advertising makes a difference.”

Often times, these interest groups can do for candidates what they can’t do for themselves. In an NPR interview, Fowler says that when a candidate airs attack ads, he or she can suffer some backlash.

“When an interest group does it, it’s harder for anyone to hold the group accountable in the same way,” she said.

So it’s bound to get messier before it’s all over.

Only 573 days to go … and counting.

Related Posts: Why the Media Made Donald Trump our Next President Top 5 Bizarre Social Media Moments: Election Edition Hispanic Heritage Month: Fifty-Three Years Later Top 5 Bizarre Social Media Moments: Election Edition 2016 Presidential Candidates on Healthcare How Social Media May Determine the Next President