Kathleen Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said political advertising is warping the way politicians make decisions.
“We are now affecting governance without having a policy debate about the underlying information,” Jamieson said in a lecture on Monday, which was sponsored by the College of Communication.
Jamieson, who has spent years studying the subject and who recently won the DeWitt Carter Reddick Award for excellence in the field of communication, said politicians are making important national decisions based on sound bites. She pointed to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s campaign, in which he attacked proposed “welfare work waivers” for stripping the federal work requirement from welfare, supposedly turning it into a free ride for recipients. In fact, she said, the waivers were only requested by Republican governors, because they could then implement other work requirements of their own.
“Here’s the rationale: States are different ... you might in those circumstances administer differently,” Jamieson said. “You might have different populations.”
These, Jamieson said, were the programs President Obama granted welfare work waivers to. However, explaining this to voters takes too long, she said.
“Imagine we’re Republican governors who just wanted the waiver,” Jamieson said. “[Republicans will say] I don’t want the waiver ... because I don’t want this ad from the Democrats next time I’m running for governor.”
Jamieson said this effect of political ads is too often ignored, because it is assumed that political campaigns and actual governance operate separately.
“What would Romney have done as president had he been restrained by his own advertising?” Jamieson said. “This is a broken system.”
Jamieson said it is even harder to discover how to fix the system, because correcting false advertising takes 1,000 words, while the advertisements themselves take only 30 seconds.
“They’ve created a collusion between misstatements of fact tied to basic human fallacies, moves that we make almost viscerally,” Jamieson said. “We ought to worry about that...if not we’re not going to get the kind of governance we need at a very difficult time for our country.”
Communication studies junior Heather Lorenzen attended the talk and said she has witnessed the effect of negative advertising first-hand.
“My ... parents still swear Obama’s not American,” Lorenzen said.
Roderick Hart, dean of the College of Communication, said there are important ways communication students can implement lessons from Jamieson’s lecture.
“I think the great journalism question is ‘How do you know [what you think you know]?’” Hart said. “Very few people are saying ‘Given the deluge of advertising, what’s the effect of advertising?’”
Printed on Tuesday, April 16, 2013 as Political advertising dictates public policy, speaker says