Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are using mudslinging tactics in this election cycle. This is nothing new—mudslinging, or making the opposing candidate look bad, is a popular tactic that has been shown to work. However, the prevalence of its use on media outlets that Americans are constantly exposed to has drastically increased even in the past four years.
The amount of negative press about the presidential candidates seems particularly pervasive this election season. This increase in distrust and suspicion of both candidates is due in part to the the sheer amount of platforms where rumors, attack videos and mudslinging can grow and multiply indefinitely. Attack statements and so-called proof of either candidate’s ineligibility to be a successful president spread like wildfire throughout dozens of interconnected platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.
During the 2012 election, there were still a few murmurs about Obama’s birth certificate and some concern regarding Romney’s lack of political experience, but the attacks were confined to television ads. Direct insults were kept to a minimum.
In 2012, Snapchat was still a start-up without the capacity to carry advertisements, political or otherwise. Instagram had less than 40 million users, compared to over 500 million active users today. The number of smartphone users in America has nearly doubled from 2012 to 2016. It is no coincidence that decreased enthusiasm for either candidate prevails as social media connectedness rises.
In this election cycle, Americans are plagued with daily, if not hourly updates regarding the missteps of a particular candidate, repeated ad nauseam by various media outlets and again in sponsored advertisements. In the past few months, we have been scandalized daily by claims about both major presidential candidates. This week, the internet is overflowing with videos showing Hillary Clinton’s faltering health and supposed seizures.
Negative campaigning is a tactic meant to rally voters to action, but I see it only driving a wedge deeper in our country and creating apathy among young voters. Young voters are especially at risk for advertisement overload, as this is the generation most locked into the constant smartphone-fueled media. Yet the advertisements seem to be having the opposite effect. Rather than rallying young adults into voting for a particular candidate, the sheer amount of slander and lack of transparency on both sides is isolating voters from wanting to vote at all.
On the Lawrence campus in particular, I felt a strong pro–Bernie vibe this spring. It seemed everyone was talking about “feeling the Bern” and lining up to vote in the primaries. Now, I see a smattering of Hilary shirts and posters and no Trump regalia whatsoever. At a liberal school, Republicans and Trump supporters in particular might feel uncomfortable showing their true colors, so it’s important to account for that as well. But at least among left-wing students, I have seen enthusiasm regarding the election drop drastically.
Lawrence is a small campus that certainly cannot reflect the opinions of an entire country. It is clear from the hundreds of rallies across the country that there are staunch supporters of both Trump and Clinton. However, there are hundreds of small schools not dissimilar to Lawrence where it is easy to imagine the same sort of apathetic mindset spreading. Young people are losing faith in a system that is supposed to bring them a relatable candidate.
When I talk to my peers about the upcoming election, the most common response I get goes along the lines of “I don’t particularly like Hillary, but anything is better than Trump.” Urban Outfitters, a retail chain that caters to the young and trendy set, sells a shirt on their website that succinctly reads “IDK NOT TRUMP THO 2016.” In lieu of a candidate we can connect to, the campaign is pushing all kinds of voters towards an apathetic voting against, not voting for perspective.
This is a tragic dynamic in a country that prides itself on freedom. Voters should be excited to support a candidate that shares their vision for the future, not pressured to vote against an overblown and vilified presence.
In the case of young voters, it seems the force of attack advertising is starting to work against itself. The hostility from all sides is overwhelming viewers to the point of political paralysis. Those who prefer to opt out of this mess are shrinking quietly into the background, feeling unrepresented and disappointed in the system.
Disillusioned young voters can take several steps to counteract this unideal situation. First, try to ignore the attacks as much as possible. Instead, educate yourself on where the candidates stand on issues that are important for you. Which figurehead sits in the Oval Office is much less important than what they stand for. When November rolls around, there is not much else to do but vote for whoever you think is the least awful.