Negative Ad Complaints: TX Primary Edition

It’s like a bad recurring rash, i.e., the complaint about “negative” ads, or as I like to call them: informative.

The latest comes from Gromer Jeffers at the Dallas Morning News regarding the recent Republican primary in Senate District 16:

Huffines, part of the family that owns area car dealerships, has considerable campaign resources and has used them to drag Carona through the mud.

What’s dragging the incumbent through the mud you might ask?

He’s criticized the senator for political issues and ethical questions, saying the incumbent has used his perch in the Legislature to shepherd laws that helped his property management business.

So, bringing up information which has already been verified and discussed in the media - see here - is dragging him through the mud.  Yes, the Godfather mail piece was probably pretty cheeky, but humor and cheekiness don’t undermine the information.

If the information wasn’t factual, then perhaps there would be grounds for complaint; however, the facts of the ads were never disputed.

Then there is the well worn canard that negative advertising drives down turnout:

For Huffines, the idea is to not only aim at Carona’s support base, but to use the attacks to suppress the vote.

Actually, negative ads have no impact on turnout or a slight positive effect (see here and here).

The claim that negative ads reduce turn out is particularly egregious in this instance, since the incumbent hasn’t had a primary opponent since he was elected in 1996.  In 2012, twenty-nine thousand people voted in the SD16 primary.  This year 49,637 individuals voted.  This was more than voted in the CD 32 primary where Pete Sessions was challenged by TEA Party activist Katrina Pierson (Source).

Past posts on this topic:

Attacking Negative Ads

Do Negative Ads Make A Difference?


The Fund for Jobs and Growth - a Washington D.C. super PAC - is suing New Jersey’s Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) to allow the group raise unlimited funds based on the Citizens United decision. In March, the ELEC ruled that the Fund could not receive unlimited contributions from individuals if there purpose is make independent expenditures to influence New Jersey elections. This is the third ruling dealing with independent expenditures, and in the prior rulings, the ELEC determined that the groups did not have a “major purpose” of influencing New Jersey elections (Source). New Jersey has not allowed super PACs to raise unlimited funds, and thus, the Fund is challenging the constitutionality of the state’s requirement that the Fund register and abide by contribution limits.


Colorado’s Election Law Changes

Colorado is considering changes to it’s election laws, including same-day registration, mailing ballots to all registered voters, and removing the “inactive voter” label (applied to voters who do not vote in the prior election). This bill, which has not been introduced yet, comes after large increases in the state’s voter registration and mail ballot returns. County clerks reported that 74 percent of Colorado voters returned mail ballots during the 2012 election. That figure alone suggests changes in conducting future Colorado campaigns; chasing mail ballots will be a much more important factor in campaigns.


The Time for Term Limits?

Two Texas state legislators have filed legislation to create terms limits and are being supported by a coalition of good government and TEA Party reformers (Source):

  1. State Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler) has filed SJR 13 which would limit service as Governor, Lt. Governor, Comptroller, Land Commissioner, Attorney General (TX Constitution, Article IV, Section 1), and other statewide elected officers with the exception of judicial offices.
  2. State Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) has filed HJR 42 which would limit service in the Texas Legislature to 6 terms and would limit service in the executive to 12 years (oddly enough Gov. Perry has served for about 12 years).

Both legislators were term limited out of their previous public service jobs at the city level. They argue that this would undo the power of incumbency and would allow fresh policy solutions to be brought forward and implemented.

Terms limits will certainly undo the power of incumbency to an extent - the extent being when the legislator must finally leave office. This will no doubt bring fresh blood into the legislature, but how fresh is it really when the officeholders rotate from one office to the other, as has been done since the first days of our republic?

  • For example, James Madison was term limited in the Continental Congress, leaving that body in 1783, and joined the Virginia House of Delegates in 1784 (Source: Wills, Garry. James Madison. p. 24).

As for fresh policy solutions, a 2004 study of Missouri’s term limits found that legislators spent less time studying policies and specializing in specific areas, such as education, water, healthcare, etc. [You can read the full study here]. By not studying or specializing in policy, legislators are more likely to rely on ideological proposals. 

On the national level, Joe Lieberman has expressed his support for term limits as he exits the Senate after 24 years: “I think the place might be healthier and less partisan and more rigid if it turned over more often.” Some legislators from Missouri, where term limits have been in place since 1992, might disagree (Source). A 2006 study stated: “Members are less collegial and less likely to bond with their peers, particularly those from across the aisle” (Source).

I tend to lean in the direction of opposing term limits for legislators and am pretty ambivalent about term limits for executive offices. The proposed benefits of term limiting legislators don’t seem to actually occur when you look at states which have already enacted term limits.


Unfortunately, all my books are packed up, so I am going to have to wait until we move to finish the posts I have drafted. So, in the meantime, some sage advice from GAIN via Campaign & Elections:

1. Set Your Goal at the State Level - look for a state level campaign job, which will allow you to get experience in the state’s politics, which will make you more valuable to a national campaign (perhaps a Senate campaign, or even a Presidential campaign).

2. Understand the Job Search Takes Time - don’t give up; keep plugging away and putting your resume out there in front as many people and organizations as possible.

3. Build Relationships Wherever You Go - don’t burn any bridges and try to make friends with as many people as possible.

4. Follow-Up - the advice here seemed to focus on going through with the interview even if you don’t like the job, but I would go one step further and say you need to follow-up even if you don’t get the job. Send them a thank you card letting them know you appreciated the opportunity to interview, meet them, etc. It’s something I’ve done before (even hand delivered them), and it makes a good impression, because not many people do it (and if you make a good impression, people will remember you, which will help you in the future).

5. Learn a New Skill in the Off-Season - determine what it is you need or want to learn and what office or organization can provide you with that skill set.

6. D.C. Isn’t Everything - basically going back to the first piece of advice, i.e., there are plenty of valuable jobs at the state level.


Going to harp on social media some today. Shoot the messenger if you want, but the media, some consultants and others have become completely enamoured with social media based on no evidence.

Hearst reporter, Richard Dunham, is crediting social media for Ted Cruz’s victory in the Texas Senate primary. According to Dunham and those quoted, social media allowed the campaign to communicate with voters and get them to the polls, citing his dominance over Dewhurst in Twitter and Facebook followers, even suggesting that social media helped him raise money, fend off the negative attacks, and neutralize his opponents money advantage (this last claim just seems patently silly, considering the amount of money outside groups poured in specifically to neutralize that advantage).

Ok, if it did all this, where is the data to support it? The problem is reporters, such as Mr Dunham, never explain how this occurs, because they don’t get any data to support these claims. We don’t know how many undecided voters are checking social media (a 2009 survey from Pew suggests it’s the politically active who are using social media, not undecided voters). There’s also know evidence that Cruz raised large sums through social media compared to more traditional methods of fundraising.

There is substantial evidence of a solid ground game by the Cruz campaign though, including evidence from Twitter, where activists would talk about how many people they had called, how many doors they had knocked on, etc. Not to mention, the phone banks and block walks set up by FreedomWorks, the Tea Party Express, etc. which aided Cruz’s efforts.

To put so much emphasis on social media for the success of the Cruz campaign (or any other campaign) undermines the hard work that actually went into winning and will always go into campaigning. And I will say this until I am blue in the face: these are good tools, but they haven’t changed the game, which has always been about voter contact and touching as many voters as possible (e.g., the Obama campaign has new app that is a great use of technology for GOTV). And when you consider that Facebook advertising, as well as other Web advertising - pushed by many social media consultants - declines in value every quarter (Source), you’re best bet for reaching voters (who aren’t fake) is to stick with the time tested methods.


Texas Run-Off: Voter Turnout

Early vote turnout for the Republican primary run-off was not far off the mark of the regular primary, and we saw the same with the total turnout.

During the regular primary, 1.4 million people voted, and during the run-off, 1.11 million people voted. Early voters (549,993) represented 49.5 percent of the total turnout [slightly higher than the 48 percent in the regular primary]. 

This year’s statewide run-off had the 2nd lowest drop off between run-off turnout and primary turnout, behind only the 1972 run-off between Ralph Yarborough and Barefoot Sanders, out of the 11 such statewide primaries held since 1950 (Source).

Conventional wisdom suggested the high turnout would benefit Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, since it was thought low turnout would play into the hands of activists/movement conservatives who were supporting Ted Cruz. But conventional wisdom, which proved right during the regular primary, was proved wrong during the run-off, as Cruz beat Dewhurst by 13.6 points (56.8 to 43.2 percent).

Public Policy Polling’s final poll of the TX Senate race [pdf] showed Cruz with a 10 point lead in the race, including a 15 point lead among those who already voted (the actual results for early voting were 52.9 to 47 in favour of Cruz). A lot of interesting numbers in the PPP poll showing where support for each candidate was coming from that might have some bearing on future GOP primaries, but I’ll leave that for another time.


Each election cycle we get news stories about campaign ads, particularly negative ads, and their role in elections. University of Michigan prof Ted Brader has done a good job of addressing some of the more common myths about campaign advertising:

1. Negative ads are more effective than positive ones. And of course, vice versa, which is something I’ve talked about before here and here. Prof Bader also makes a good point about the diversity of ads (ads aren’t just negative or positive - usually a mix of both). The type of ad one uses and its topic has more impact on voters than whether the ads is positive or negative (Source).

2. Campaign ads are uninformative. It’s a constant theme that political ads are banal, nasty, etc. and don’t tell the voters anything. One of the reasons I like “negative” ads is that they are usually more informative, and you also have contrast ads. Prof Bader makes two good points here: 1) ads boost name recognition at the very least and 2) ads provide voters with information about the policy differences between candidates that media outlets rarely cover.

3. Less-informed voters are more easily swayed by ads. This is something I have seen expressed on Twitter with regards to the Texas Senate race, and of course, it’s not true. Political psychology doesn’t just affect the uninformed and uneducated - see Drew Westen’s The Political Brain.

4. A candidate should respond to an attack ad with a counterattack on the same issue. This is a more nuanced myth; it may occasionally be necessary to pursue this strategy, but the myth is that one should always respond on the same issue. It’s better to stay on message.

5. News organizations neutralize misleading ads by fact-checking them. Fact-checking can provide some useful information, and in other cases, they’re kind of ridiculous. Regardless, partisans will generally dismiss or accept fact-checks depending on whether they fit the partisan’s beliefs.

(h/t: MonkeyCage)


Sen. John McCain has recently stated that casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who was bankrolling Gingrich’s super PAC during the primary, is contributing foreign money to Romney’s super PAC, because some of his money is earned overseas:

McCain said Adelson earns his money through a global casino empire, and “much of Mr. Adelson’s casino profits that go to him come from this casino in Macau. “Obviously, maybe in a roundabout way, foreign money is coming into an American campaign,” McCain said.

My question for Sen. McCain is what is the difference between Adelson and an American expat working overseas who earns his/her money from a foreign corporation? In his 2008 Presidential bid, McCain raised money from Americans overseas (Sources: ABC, Real Clear Politics); did those donations represent foreign money coming into an American campaign? If not, why not?

McCain made his comments on PBS’ Newshour; you can read them here.


Seems like this has been a recurring theme over the last several years in the Texas press, i.e., Texas Democrats donate more to out-of-state candidates than they do to in-state candidates.

In this cycle, Texas Democrats have given $21 million, but only $4.8 million has gone to Texas candidates. The Texas Democratic Party even spent money on advertising in Alabama back in August 2011.

Of course, the lack of competitive candidates has had an impact on the giving of Texas Democrats, and with no winning statewide candidates since 1994 and no statewide officeholders since 1998, there isn’t really anyone to give to. As the Chronicle notes, the Texas Senate race is an example of this, because Texas Democrats have given only $135 thousand to Texas Senate candidates, but $3.7 million to other Senate candidates across the country.