State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

Tag: campaign ads

Negative Campaigns in the U.S. and Voter Turnout

By: Yang Cao

The United States, as the world leader (for democratic countries at least), may excel in many fields, but in terms of voter turnout it trails far behind other industrialized countries. The voter turnout measured in terms of voting age population was only 55.7% in 2016, while the highest countries report that more than 80% of the voting age population actually votes. Studies show that demographics like education, income and age can help predict voter turnout; but, these factors cannot be the cause of such huge discrepancies in voter turnout between U.S. and countries that have highest voter turnout, as the U.S. should have similar demographics to those countries. On the other hand, some studies have concluded that, while the U.S. and countries like Sweden might have similar demographic, the U.S. has far more negative campaigns than Sweden and other European countries, and that rising negative campaign in the past decades is solely an American phenomenon. Given these facts, it is only natural to ask why politicians have to use negative campaigns instead of positive campaigns, which does not hammer voter turnout. Researchers have also proven that negative campaigns are more effective than positive ones, which means kind persuasion will not stop politicians from doing so. Meanwhile, outlawing negative campaigns is also unrealistic because of it would be content based and subject to strict scrutiny.

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Massachusetts Rules against Ban on Lying in Campaigns

By: David Schlosser

Over the summer of 2015, a Massachusetts law banning lying in campaign ads was struck down by that state’s highest court. This decision mirrors that of an Ohio federal judge last year, a case previously covered on this blog by Sarah Wiley. Like the Ohio law, the Massachusetts law criminalized telling lies about candidates for political office, and was as on the books for several decades before being successfully challenged in court. The lawsuit arose when a Democratic state representative alleged that a right-leaning PAC lied in a campaign brochure. The brochure in question alleged that Rep. Brian Mannal sponsored a bill that would “help convicted sex offenders” because he—as a defense attorney who had represented sex offenders in the past—stood to profit. Mannal maintained that he never provided legal representation to sex offenders. One of the bills in question would make GPS tracking devices optional for sex offenders on parole, rather than mandatory. After filing the bill in 2013, Mannal reported that he received death threats.

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