Scare-mongering ads, voter registration forms dumped in the trash and misleading statements on the stump: the list of dirty tricks sullying the US presidential election is seemingly endless. With the high-stakes race culminating with voting on Tuesday, experts warn that the unfortunately typical attempts to keep a rival’s supporters from the polls or sway voters with flat out lies could end up deciding the outcome. “If an election is close those kinds of things can matter,” said Kathleen Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. “We’ve had the chastening experience of 2000. And 2004 was close as well.”
Some of the uglier tactics could end up backfiring, Jamieson said, citing a DVD sent to voters in swing states claiming to have uncovered nude photos of President Barack Obama’s mother in a bondage magazine.
“The problem when that sort of sleaze is distributed is you’d have to be a hardcore partisan to believe it. It’s not like they changed anyone’s vote,” Jamieson told AFP.
“You run the risk that you alienate more people than you mobilize.”
False and misleading statements on the stump and in advertisements run the risk of alienating voters by undermining a candidate’s trustworthiness.
But given the ‘abysmal’ level of political knowledge among most voters, the payoff often outweighs the risk, said FactCheck.org editor Brooks Jackson.
“The level of deception or the degree to which candidates stray from the facts or reality has more to do with the closeness of the election and the perception of how high the stakes are than just about anything else,” he said.
“I think we can move the needle a little bit, but only by increasing the level of public knowledge. Not by shaming politicians. There’s too much at stake.”