by David Chapman
Last Tuesday was the end of the midterm elections and the inundation of vicious ads that came with it, but there’s no rest for the weary voter with local elections fast approaching in the spring.
The majority of advertising for those elections has yet to begin, but the timing and tone of the targeted voter campaigns will be factors in the outcomes in races for Jacksonville’s next mayor and numerous City Council seats, according to two local political academics.
“You don’t want to spend all of your money in November and December,” said Matthew Corrigan, University of North Florida political science department director. “Once qualifying ends, you’ll start to see the media campaigns start.”
Qualifying begins Jan. 10, the same day the fourth-quarter campaign financial reports are due, and ends Jan. 14.
Until then, voters can expect candidates to take a lighter approach, said Stephen Baker, Jacksonville University political science professor.
“I think they’ll go with a soft approach with so many candidates in the races,” said Baker.
Baker said he expects the many candidates to attempt to “inoculate” themselves before being drawn into negative advertising.
Once one candidate starts negative advertising, he said, it will likely continue until the election.
Corrigan doesn’t believe initial ads will be aimed toward others because the multiple candidates are “looking for their cut of the pie.” But he expects that to change as soon as poll numbers come out showing a candidate lagging.
“I don’t think it will be as negative as it was at the statewide level (in the recent midterms),” said Corrigan.
Both professors believe that eventually ads will turn nastier because the political landscape has turned much more volatile in recent years and the electorate has responded.
One reason for the volatility? The use of fear, said Baker.
“Negative ads do move the numbers,” said Baker.
Fear might move the numbers, but a segment of voters prefers advertisements that don’t rely on negativity, according the most recent Daily Record poll.
The poll, which ran Nov. 1-7, found that 97 percent of respondents preferred campaign ads that state a candidate’s strengths and platforms, with only 3 percent preferring those that disparage an opponent’s character or platform.
Typically, extremely negative campaigning hasn’t trickled down to the local levels, said Baker, but with high volatility and a growing reliance on political consultants, the situation has changed.
Headliners for the May 17 general election, and the first election March 22, include the mayor’s race and numerous council races.
With Mayor John Peyton term-limited, the race features all new candidates for the position. On council, 12 members are running as incumbents.
While an anti-incumbent mentality has taken hold nationally, will it trickle down to the local council level?
“Traditionally it hasn’t,” said Corrigan, “but this year might be different.”
Instead, Corrigan said, council candidates will likely spread their messages through social media outlets and through door-to-door campaigns because their constituent areas are smaller.
According to the Duval County Supervisor of Elections website, midterm elections drew just over a 50 percent turnout.
While months away, both Baker and Corrigan said they expect the spring elections to have a strong turnout as well because of a mayor’s race with no incumbent.
Political observers also said this week that 2012 presidential election campaigning is gearing up as well in the wake of major federal leadership changes resulting from the Nov. 2 election.
Until then, this week’s Daily Record poll asks whether the Nov. 2 election results will create federal gridlock or compromise.