October 22, 1998
TERENCE SMITH: Now for more on the impact of the Lewinsky affair on the campaign we are joined by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. She analyzes campaign advertising across the country; David Axelrod, a Democratic media consultant based in Chicago; and Greg Stevens, a Republican media consultant here in Washington. Greg Stevens, let me ask you to explain to us, if you can, why Republicans are not making more of what would seem like such a natural issue, President Clinton's embarrassment.
|The Clinton factor?|
STEVENS, Republican media consultant: Well, I think the short answer is
because it doesn't work. First of all, most of the candidates are involved
in the Senate races and Clinton congressional races and trying to convince
the voters that they are linked directly to President Clinton's behavior
doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. I do think, however, that the scandal
has had a dramatic effect on the environment out in the world in which
we operate and that that has helped Republicans significantly. We enjoy
right now, it appears, five, six, seven percent advantage in terms of
what we call the generic ballot, meaning more people are leaning towards
the Republicans than Democrats, and that's fairly uniform across the country.
And that is, obviously, very good. I'll take that. That'll give us a very,
very good Republican year, if that maintains, but the fact is that Don
Walter in that case was right, that it's not something you want to inject
in your campaign. I would advise and have advised candidates to talk more
about ethics, talk more about values, talk more about morals. I mean,
those are qualities that you should bring to the floor in this environment.
TERENCE SMITH: And some of those sound a bit like buzzwords.
GREG STEVENS: Oh, sure, they sound like buzzwords, but they fit quite well in a 30-second ad.
TERENCE SMITH: Right. David Axelrod, I'm curious why you think the Democrats are not pushing the impeachment issue since the polls showed the public is the enlarged measure against them?
|DAVID AXELROD, Democratic media consultant: I think, first of all, if you look back at all the – at how this whole scandal has unfolded and the way that Washington has reacted to it, there's been a tremendous disconnect between what the people there thought would happen and what – how America reacted, and the polls have been very consistent. People don't want to talk about this. They think it's a waste of time. And I'm not sure they want to hear either side talk about it. One thing that struck me about your setup piece is that most of the people who are talking about it in commercials are people who are well behind – Peter Vallone and others – who really are sort of out of it. And it's kind of a fourth and long Hail Mary pass to bring this up. Most candidates, it's not a very good idea, because this is not what people want to hear about, and that has been a consistent message, and Washington was late to get it, but I think it's being made very clear today in these campaigns.|
TERENCE SMITH: Kathleen Hall Jamieson, nationwide, what is the impact of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, as you can measure it?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON, Annenberg School for Communication: Well, your opening piece focuses on the direct discussion, but I think the more interesting impact is indirect. First, the Republican National Congressional Committee is on the air with an ad that stresses the accomplishment of the Republican Congress. That is in part an attempt to deflect criticism that Congress has been so preoccupied with this impeachment inquiry that it hasn't gotten the nation's business done. At the same time, as you look across the country, you see a surprising increase in the number of wives who are appearing in campaign ads testifying about what a good person their husband is and also how important his agenda is and what he's going to accomplish in Washington, or have accomplished. I suspect the presence of those wives is one of the indirect results of the Clinton-Lewinsky controversy.
TERENCE SMITH: And really not all that subtle.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And not all that subtle. It is a subtle reminder only if you don't recognize that it's highly unusual to have this number of wives testifying about husbands in a congressional or a senatorial election.
TERENCE SMITH: Greg Stevens, what effect has this scandal and the attention paid to it had on fund-raising, and particularly on the Republican side?
GREG STEVENS: Well, there's no question that for a period of six, seven weeks after the revelations and after the President's testimony, the tape was – was played in public. I think it depressed Democrat fund-raising, and I think it helped Republican fund-raising. I think it helped position our candidates and put our candidates in a better position going into the final four weeks, which we're in right now. There's no question there's been a closing. I think I agree with some of the other comments that people are tired of it. They don't want to hear too much about it, but at the same time our voters are energized, the Democratic voters are becoming more energized, but I don't think they're going to catch us, frankly. I think we're still going to have quite a few pick-ups in the Senate, meaning three or four, which would be significant, on top of 55. I still think we're going to see ten or fifteen – at least ten or fifteen seats in the House, and Republican governors are going to win virtually everywhere, so my point is that it's going to be a good Republican year, and I think that is one of the impacts. Democrats can say whatever they want, but that is going to be a good year for us.
TERENCE SMITH: David Axelrod, I wonder, (a) if you agree with that, and (b) whether all of this has thrown some of your candidates, your Democratic candidates on the defensive.
DAVID AXELROD: No. I don't think my candidates have been on the defensive. I do think there was a period after August 17th when for the first few weeks after this story broke, where there was a pall hanging over Democratic campaigns. I think that's over now. I think the Democratic electorate is somewhat more energized. I think the Republican Congress did a lot to help in that regard, and as for fund-raising, I mean, Republicans, it's not news to say Republicans are going to have more money than Democrats. I mean, that's almost axiomatic, and in terms of a ten to fifteen seat gain in the House, I don't know if we'll achieve that or a three-seat gain in the Senate. This is a mid-term election with a Democratic president. That would be a rather modest result for a mid-term election. So all the gaudy predictions from August that we were headed for a Democratic catastrophe are now being skimmed back, and you hear Greg Stevens and others making much more modest predictions.
TERENCE SMITH: Kathleen Hall Jamieson, when you look at this, and broaden it out to the country at large and all the campaigns, is this a particularly negative year in terms of campaign advertising?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Well, first I don't like to use the word "negative" because it conflates legitimate and illegitimate attack and confuses people by assuming that ads that advocate a candidate are somehow more honest when, in fact, they are more likely to be misleading than are attack ads. Is the level of attack up this year, no, the level of attack is down this year, and I think that is a byproduct of the attention in Washington to the Lewinsky-Clinton scandal. Early in the campaign year, that is, September and the beginning of October, many people in the state races held back on attack, indeed, held back to some extent on advertising, and as a result, the level of advocacy was higher than one would expect. At this point, advocacy is still the dominant form – an ad that's making a case for a candidate, not against the other candidate. And the contrast ad, which makes the case both against the opponent but also gives reasons to vote for the candidate is now averaging in states one ad out of three, which means that this is not in the standard definition a more negative year, that is more attack, but more importantly, it is a year in which there has been a higher level of advocacy and contrast, and I think that increased use of contrast is very healthy. Giving people a reason to vote for a candidate is a good thing to do with advertising, and it's also important to hold that candidate accountable by having enough about the candidate in the ads so that if you don't like the attack, you know who to blame.
TERENCE SMITH: Greg Stevens, do you think this is going to change in these last 12 days as we get very close to election day? Should we expect more attack ads, or more advocacy ads?
GREG STEVENS: Well, first of all, I think we'll see an end to negative attack ads about the same time we see an end to the Lewinsky-Clinton jokes. I mean, the odds of that happening are about the same.
TERENCE SMITH: Maybe not in our lifetime.
GREG STEVENS: I think Kathleen is right about something. The campaigns have been more compressed in their timeframe, and that's because the same amount of dollars that paid for a campaign four years ago or six years ago can only be spread over – can be spread over a fewer number of weeks, so they have been compressed, and that has had the effect of causing campaigns to start later and to begin with talking about themselves. We almost always advise a campaign to start talking about yourself first, tell the voters, particularly if you're unknown, about yourself before you can draw the contrast. But I don't really sense a – a diminishment of so-called attack or negative ads. I think they are being presented in a better way, and I think that's important. The tone of a spot – whether it contains some humor which is always very helpful in presenting an ad – oftentimes a candidate can deliver a negative message against his or her opponent, and it isn't perceived as a negative ad. So I think that how you define negative, and I agree with Kathleen, I think it's an honest ad versus a dishonest ad.
TERENCE SMITH: Right. David Axelrod, what other issues are out there, in your view, that voters do want to hear about?
DAVID AXELROD: Well, let me first say that I think there's another reason why you're seeing fewer so-called negative ads, and I agree with Professor Jamieson that I'm not sure that's the appropriate way to refer to them, and I think it has to do with the nature of people's mood about the country. Almost everywhere you look these days, there's more optimism than there was say in 1994, which was a particularly brutal election season, and I think that the mood of the public is such that there is less receptivity to the negative argument, and that's another reason why there are few of them. What are people interested in? I think they are very much interested in issues that affect their lives. I think things like HMO's – and, you know, Social Security and Medicare issues are still very important – education – a very big issue. I mean, I'm sitting here in Illinois. Greg Stevens is doing a magnificent job for his candidate, Peter Fitzgerald, who's a way right of center Republican and if you look at his ads, and they're about education, the environment, they're about quality of life issues, Social Security, and you'd think that he was a moderate Democrat, so if flattery is the sincerest – imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then we Democrats should feel good about that.
TERENCE SMITH: Then it's going out there. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, in the few seconds we have left, your organization is running an ad of its own now showing a couple of old boxers slugging away and fighting dirty, and suggesting that's not the sort of campaign that we should be seeing. What are you trying to accomplish there? Who's your audience?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Our audience is the campaign consulting community and the candidates, as well as reporters, and we're trying to remind everyone that we ought to expect accuracy and fair play in campaigns, including campaign advertising. But we're also trying to make a point to reporters, and that is what we disapprove of is mudslinging. It's dirty campaigning. There's nothing wrong with the tack as long as it's fair and accurate, as long as it's informative, as long as it's not inappropriately personal, and we have a survey of the electorate that says the electorate knows that, it makes that distinction.
TERENCE SMITH: Thank you all very much.