Negative campaigning turns off voters

first_imgAs the 2006 primary election lurches to a conclusion today with a final blitz of ads, telephone calls and mailings, weary voters and politicians say it’s one of the most negative campaigns in years and likely to push apathy to new heights. The evidence is strong that the negativity has turned voters off. The Secretary of State’s Office projects a 38-percent turnout of registered voters – one of the lowest in California history. “Up and down the state, you are seeing more negative campaigning in more races than I can remember,” said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Government Studies in Los Angeles. At the top of the Democratic ballot, gubernatorial rivals Phil Angelides and Steve Westly – two intelligent, competent office holders in their respective jobs as state treasurer and controller – have turned their race into a political free-for-all that has left many voters frustrated and confused. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2A Field Poll released over the weekend showed them in a statistical dead heat, with fully 25 percent of Democratic voters still undecided – the highest percentage this late in an election in six decades of polling. By the time final figures come in, most estimate Westly and Angelides will have spent a total of $80 million – much of it attacking one another rather than defining their vision for the state’s future to voters. “It seems to me that the message is muddied,” Democratic consultant Darry Sragow said. “It’s fundamentally a blur. You watch these ads and come away with the idea that there’s something wrong with them, but they’re indistinguishable.” Sragow attributes the contentious tenor of the campaign to an attempt to engage voters who distrust all politicians and are tired of elections. “We had a governor’s election in 2002, a recall in 2003, a presidential election in 2004 and a special election last year,” Sragow said. “Both these guys got as far as they could with positive ads and then did what was inevitable and went negative.” Stern noted that the negative campaigns have not been limited to the Democratic contest for governor. One of the oddest attacks came in a race for a state Senate seat in which Assemblyman George Nakano, D-Torrance, accused Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza, D-Los Angeles, of refusing to send her children to Los Angeles schools. Oropeza has no children. And in the race for 43rd Assembly District, Burbank school board member Paul Krekorian and Glendale City Councilman Frank Quintero got to the point where they were sending out negative ads about each other’s negative ads. Stern said campaigns have pulled out all the stops in an effort to capture the attention – or spark the interest – of voters. “Unfortunately, people don’t remember the positives,” Stern said. “And there is no pulling back these days.” Democratic consultant Kerman Maddox, who appears regularly on television as a political commentator, said even the usual gadflies haven’t gotten excited about the primary. “Being on television, people normally can’t wait to come up and tell me what they think about politics,” Maddox said. “This year, no one seems to care.” That point was driven home to him on Sunday when the candidates made tours of African-American churches as part of their get-out-the-vote effort. “No one cared who was there,” Maddox said. “People just don’t seem to care about it this year.” And none of the other candidates or issues appear likely to generate widespread interest among voters. There are actually eight Democrats seeking their party’s nomination for governor, while three little-known candidates are challenging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for the GOP nod. Voters also will be deciding the matchups the Nov. 7 general election for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, controller, insurance commissioner, state schools superintendent and the Board of Equalization. There’s also a contest between former Gov. Jerry Brown and Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, who are seeking the Democratic nomination for attorney general; dozens of congressional and legislative races; and in Los Angeles County, for sheriff, assessor and two supervisorial seats. There are also two statewide ballot measures: Proposition 81, which would issue $600 million in bonds for library construction and literacy programs; and Proposition 82, an income tax on wealthy Californians to fund preschool programs for 4-year-olds. Rick Taylor, who is Maddox’s partner, said he is surprised at the lack of public interest given the issues across the nation – soaring gas prices, the war in Iraq and illegal immigration. “You would think an old-line liberal like Phil Angelides would have been able to tap into that, but neither one is really dealing with issues,” Taylor said. “Neither he nor Westly have staked out a position on something that matters to voters.” And if voters are expecting a reprieve after today’s balloting, Sragow said they should think again. “June 7 is the first day of the rest of their lives,” Sragow said. “You have an incumbent governor who is vulnerable at a time when Republicans are not looking too good across the country. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see Schwarzenegger do what incumbents in trouble normally do – beat the daylights out of his opponent. For Democrats, they will go on the attack immediately to bring their party back together and try to tie the governor to everything people hate about what the Republican Party is doing.” [email protected] (213) 978-0390160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more