For months, negative political advertisements with foreboding messages have flooded Iowans’ televisions, mailboxes and computers.
But while the unofficial totals indicate that fewer Iowans voted this year than did in the last mid-term election four years ago, negative ads did not appear to keep voters from the polls in huge numbers. In fact, several voters IowaWatch interviewed Tuesday said they were so used to the frequent ads that the ads’ presence didn’t even register.
“We have so much negativity in regards to politics,” Marie Raven, 29, of Iowa City, said after voting for Bruce Braley in Iowa’s hottest political race of this election season, for the U.S. Senate seat previously held by retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin that Republican Joni Ernst won.
“I think the only thing you can do is research candidates on your own and ignore the advertisements.”
In the Senate race alone, some $28 million was spent in television ads to try and influence Iowans to vote for either Ernst, who has served as an Iowa state senator, or Braley, the state’s outgoing 1st District U.S. representative, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Mike Lewis, 44, of Cedar Falls said the ads didn’t sway him to vote for any particular candidate, but they frustrated him. “They did make me want to vote less,” Lewis said, even though he made his way to the Cedar Falls school administration building to vote Tuesday.
Donna Hayes, of Dubuque, put it this way: “I wish the candidates would stick to the issues and quit slamming each other.”
Disgust was a common reaction to the ads by voters IowaWatch interviewed in Dubuque, Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Ames and Iowa City. Yet, some 1,119,914 Iowans voted in the U.S. Senate race either before Tuesday or at Election Day polls.
That’s down slightly from 1,133,429 voting in the 2010 Senate race between Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley and Democratic challenger Roxanne Conlin during the last midterm elections. The Senate race was not as competitive as this year’s with the well-established Grassley expected to win but Iowa’s election for governor was.
A total of 1,589,951 Iowans voted in the 2012 presidential election.
“I just don’t believe anything that they say,” Cynthia Worden, 55, of Waterloo, said about the negative ads. She said she ignores them, opting instead for learning about candidates and their positions on issues. “I’m going to research it and vote for who I think is going to do what I want (the candidate) to do,” Worden said.
For many, the ads reinforced how they planned to vote. That was the case with Luther Nash of Iowa City, who voted Tuesday for Braley, and like Raven in Iowa City, Democrat Jack Hatch for governor as well in Hatch’s losing bid to unseat Republican Gov. Terry Branstad.
“The Joni Ernst advertisement where she called Bruce Braley bad for Iowa farmers without offering any proof was low rent and made me vote away from her ticket,” Nash, 35, said.
Several Iowans interviewed Tuesday said they would prefer receiving direct information about a candidate, rather than listening to an attack ad.
Linda Doyle, of Ames, said she based most of her voting decisions on her own Internet research. She read newspapers, visited candidates’ websites and looked at candidates’ past accomplishments before voting for Ernst.
“I think if anything, the negative advertising has done a lot to sway people the other way,” Doyle, 67, said. “If this is how they are going to conduct business, if they’re going to be negative … people get disgusted.”
Jim Elliott was one of those Iowa voters who said he disliked the negative ads so much he skipped past Ernst and Braley on the ballot and voted for independent candidate Rick Stewart.
“Negative ads started at one campaign, then they just got really ugly,” Elliott, 56, of Ames said.
Reporting for this story was done by: Linh Ta of the University of Northern Iowa and IowaWatch (Cedar Falls and Waterloo), Danielle Fergusen of Iowa State University and the Iowa State Daily (Ames), Mareah Adolphs of Loras College and LCTV (Dubuque), and Danielle Wilde and Meghan Horihan, both of the University of Iowa and IowaWatch (Iowa City).