Is extremist campaigning productive?

Sal Iovino, Digital Managing Editor

Across the country, the heated Pennsylvania senate race between Dr. Mehemet Oz and John Fetterman is drawing more and more attention as the election draws nearer.  A key element to gaining this attention is the campaigning efforts on behalf of both parties.  Perhaps it is simply just a natural development of the digital age, but in addition to the traditional lawn signs, banners along roads and highway billboards, video ads seem to now be the preeminent form of campaigning on both ends of the political spectrum.  Logistically, this does make sense, as the easiest channels to use to spread their messages as broadly as possible are wide-reaching media sources such as Facebook and YouTube, however, the messages within these ads seem to have taken on a very specific tone.

As with nearly all elections, access to affordable healthcare, protections on women’s rights and household tax rates are all amongst the most prominent issues being addressed and commented on.  Both candidates have adopted the role of a “political outsider”, and have made it incredibly clear just how opposed they are to the other candidates views and potential election.  

Fetterman’s optics as a political outsider come from his imposing physical appearance as well as his unique track record.  Standing at an almost shocking 6’8 with unmistakable facial hair as well as a set of tattoos broadly stretched across each of his forearms, he is certainly not the stereotypical image of an American politician.  Fetterman’s method of coming into politics has also been a platform he has used to describe himself as an outsider, as he was not born into a family with any political connection, nor does he bear a degree in any kind of political study.  His claim is that his motivations to be involved in politics are grounded in a desire to help people and working families, a popular stance that is broad enough to reach people on both sides of the political aisle.

On the other end, Dr. Oz has leaned into his TV persona, citing his years of experience in the public eye as a positive for his ability to handle the pressures and problems of being a U.S senator.  While the connection between reality television and politics may not seem to be in any way fruitful, it has become somewhat of a hallmark for the Republican party, another way Oz is gaining interest.  By aligning himself with traditional conservative values, Oz has won his way into the Republican nomination, regardless of any actual displays of political experience or prowess.

Regardless of the actual substance of either candidate, what has been somewhat shocking is the method of campaigning deployed by both candidates, particularly Dr. Oz’s campaign, however.  As mentioned before, social media ads and videos have become the most popular form of campaigning this election cycle.  Many of the Democratic, pro-Fetterman ads consist of highlighting Dr. Oz’s publicized objection to abortion access throughout Pennsylvania, and emphasizing the potential for a statewide abortion ban that could have national implications.  While certainly preying on the fears of center or near-center voters, the ads are not explicitly false, however, their highly polarizing nature is a very clear insight into the campaigning strategy being used.  These ads are oftentimes followed by highlighting how Fetterman plans to increase reproductive care access nationwide, and paint a picture of a “forward-thinking” Pennsylvania.  Ads endorsing Dr. Oz take on a similar tone, just in a different direction, as they prey on the fear of a radical leftist candidate that would strip Pennsylvania of its “moral” working-class values.  The image of “Far-Left Fetterman” has been crafted almost masterfully by the Oz campaign, going as far as to align him with Soviet-era communism to instill the notion that a Democratic candidate would prove dangerous for Pennsylvania, and destroy those who need support the most.

In both instances, the campaigning is extreme, however, this phenomenon may not be limited solely to the Pennsylvania race.  Polarization has become an incredibly effective tactic in everything from marketing products to marketing ideologies, and the internet has just facilitated constant exposure to emotionally evocative content, creating an even larger market for content that reaffirms and caters to preexisting biases.  This is not a productive strategy for the future of politics, however, as it continues to drag the focus away from the crucial issues that require bipartisan support, and just entice those with no intention of instituting effective governance, but a flair for the public eye to enter the political landscape.  In terms of corrective strategy, it is the responsibility of the voters.  Extremism is rapidly becoming the norm, and this will bleed into how US politics perform unless voters decide to unify for a better nation and not to bolster their ego.

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