With the 2022 midterm elections coming up on November 8, 2022, there is a lot to consider regarding the candidates and the promises they make. The U.S. Senate is currently at a 50-50 split, and both Democrats and Republicans are scrambling to secure the slightest margin of victory. Particularly in Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Georgia, there is intense campaigning with every candidate debating out key issues such as crime, abortion, and the economy.
Political advertising grows more prevalent on digital news sites, TV ads, and even on platforms like YouTube as election season approaches. With that, the presence of over-exaggeration and lies by politicians can be spotted. A well-known political lie in recent times is the claims of voter fraud made by former President Trump in 2020. Having failed to secure the presidency for a second term, Trump continuously insisted that there was fraud and insecurity in the election and refused to cooperate with the transition to president-elect Biden which then encouraged the January 6th insurrection. The baseless claims that Democrats somehow counted millions of illegal votes in their favor were proven to be false by the U.S. Justice Department, and federal agencies declared the 2020 elections were in fact the most secure election held in U.S. history. Widespread political misinformation like that of the 2020 elections is not as prevalent, but still lurks around on both ends of the political spectrum and harms voters’ perceptions of political parties and key issues. Take a look at the 2020 presidential election when Joe Biden claimed that Trump was planning to deplete Social Security and Medicare benefits although Trump was merely suggesting payroll tax cuts.
In the 2022 midterms, politicians continue to make earnest vows towards their constituents. Pennsylvania Republican Mehmet Oz is painting Democratic candidate John Fetterman as a liberal with too much open-mindedness and laxness regarding crime. One of Oz’s campaigns titled “Inmates for Fetterman” exaggerates Fetterman’s stance on crime by highlighting two former convicts currently working for Fetterman’s campaign. Ads that are pro-Oz exacerbate this depiction by painting the Pennsylvania candidate as “dangerously liberal on crime” and criticizing Fetterman’s oversight on inmate clemency when he was lieutenant governor.
In Arizona, Republican candidate Blake Masters targets incumbent Democrat Mark Kelly in a tweet challenging Kelly’s support of the Inflation Reduction Act: “Mark Kelly and the Democrats want federal agents combing through your wallet instead of stopping illegal aliens.” Trump’s accusations about the 2020 presidential elections are still bolstered by Republicans this election. For example, Alabama governor Kay Ivey's ad reads, “I’ll make sure our elections are never stolen again.” Such advertising not only supports the Republican narrative about Biden’s win for presidency, but also promotes false ideas about the security of the American voting system.
After the Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade, a key issue that is constantly mentioned this election is abortion. Joe Biden vowed that maintaining the majority in the Senate would allow Congress to pass a bill protecting abortion rights during a speech at a Democratic National Committee event. Still, this promise would be difficult to keep considering that the current Senate is at a 50-50 deadlock and the Democratic party would need at least 10 more seats to overcome filibusters (although a simple majority is enough to pass a bill). Candidates in Georgia are campaigning tirelessly in the swing state. Republican candidate Herschel Walker, who is an adamant abortion opponent, was recently accused by his ex-girlfriend of encouraging and paying for her two abortions back in 2009. Walker has denied the allegations so far.
If those allegations were true, Walker would be a clear example of how politicians can be manipulative hypocrites who simply sweet-talk to their constituents. They use polarizing words and phrases like “saving unborn children” or “illegal aliens” or “protecting your right to an abortion” to poke at their constituents and raise feelings such as urgency, fear, and sympathy. Walker may claim to be pro-life as much as he wants in front of his pro-life voters, but where was that pro-life mindset when he paid for his ex-girlfriend’s abortion? This is all to say that politics is too often reliant on one’s ability to use words to create a persuasive narrative that will resonate with and create a reaction out of people. Politicians have every capacity to be pathological liars or to manipulate voters through incredibly biased language to induce fear or even inspiration.
It seems outrageous to allow politicians to spread such widespread misinformation and over-exaggeration. Yet, such behavior is protected by the Communications Act of 1934, which states that broadcasters have “no power of censorship” over candidates who are legally qualified to run for office. This law makes it easy for politicians to blatantly feed misinformation to and manipulate their viewers and constituents, hence continuing the cycle of politicians abusing their money and status to garner support and secure a seat of power to further their political agenda.
As November 8th nears, it is important to fact-check many of the statements that politicians make while campaigning. Voting is more than blue or red or left or right: it is about holding politicians accountable for the promises and claims they make.