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The Seattle Times Political Caucus is an online community aimed at adding diverse voices to our coverage of politics. How we'll use the Caucus will evolve over time. But the idea is to create a conversation with people of various backgrounds and political beliefs. As the election season unfolds, we'll ask participants to weigh in on key political questions and then post their comments here.

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August 20, 2008 2:17 PM

Political ads: Truthful or persuasive?

Posted by Katherine Long

Political ads from the Dino Rossi and Christine Gregoire gubernatorial campaigns are filling the airways, both on TV and radio. This ad by the Rossi campaign blasts Gregoire for raising the gas tax, and this one by the Gregoire campaign accuses Rossi of raising gas taxes and more. We asked the Caucus: Are these ads truthful? Do you think they are persuasive? Do you find these kinds of political ads helpful in deciding which candidate to support?

Many Caucus members took time to refute or defend the ads point-by-point -- you can read all of their answers here.

Generally speaking, most Caucus members were less than impressed by these two examples of political ad strategy. "These kinds of political ads do almost nothing except to reinforce the distaste people already have for the candidate they don't plan on voting for," wrote Alex Berezow of Seattle.

Berezow noted that the ads are "practically unverifiable," and he's bothered by "the dishonesty with which politicians manipulate each others' voting records. Is it possible that Rossi voted against funding health care for children? Sure, it's possible. But, what if that health care bill was attached to another bill that was something Rossi wasn't willing to support? Then, he has to vote 'no' on the entire package--including the health care bill. This is a common trick used by most politicians--and it's extremely dishonest."

It's all about the base, wrote Brian Thomas of Renton. "Both ads are designed to stir up anger with base voters and get them motivated. The two biggest motivators in politics are anger and fear. Both ads have a grain of truth in them but only a grain. Both are misleading and disingenuous but that only matters to pundits. Never make the mistake of thinking voters are moved by facts and truth."

Dane Jack Sands of Ballard echoed the words of several other Caucus members who can't imagine why anyone would be swayed by such material. "I know that spending on these kinds of ads is highly correlated with a successful campaign, so I don't expect anyone who wants to win to stop; but anyone out there who decides who to vote for based on 30 second advertisements ought stay home on election day."

"Anyone who bases their decision on a television ad is an uninformed voter and shouldn't be casting a vote at all," agreed Sarah Everett of Seattle. "There has to be a better way of delivering the candidates' messages to the voters. How about old-fashioned town hall type meetings?"

Gregoire's strategists might want to pay heed: Her ads seemed to spark a stronger negative response among Caucus members than Rossi's. Jean Withers of Seattle had this reaction: "Almost conversely, it seems odd to me that, as a strong woman who supports strong women, I find the tone of Rossi's ad more appealing than the tone of Gregoire's. I surmise that her strategists have chosen to take a VERY abrasive tone in damning Rossi. By contrast, his ads seem to present information more calmly and cohesively. Hers are so abrasive that I flinch whenever I hear one."

But Sheila Harrison of Renton finds "Rossi's ads most disingenuous, as if he hasn't ever been part of state government, when in fact, he was very instrumental in shaping the budget and fiscal issues that Gregoire inherited. Gregoire, for her part, needs to be positive in her message and really clearly point out what she has done positively to improve the lives of Washington citizens."

Finally, Paul Graves of Queen Anne takes newspapers to task for the words they use in covering critical ads. ""Rossi does not 'blast' Gregoire; Gregoire does not 'accuse' Rossi. They criticize, they argue, they point out, they refute, and, when done well, confute. Perhaps a little less sensational coverage would work wonders for keeping the candidates on the issues and honest."

Ah, if only it was that easy!

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