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How Ohio's Governor Candidates Use TV To Make Their Case

Screenshot of Untested app by Mike DeWine
Mike DeWine

With two weeks remaining until Election Day, the fight to win your vote is intensifying. Candidates are working hard to garner support, and media plays a large role in how they do that.

Professor Emeritus Stephen Brooks at the University of Akron studies political communication, and talks about how campaigns are using media and social media in particular.

“The benefit of social media is that you can target individuals," says Brooks, who’s also associate director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics. "What campaigns are doing now is getting profiles of voters and finding out what kinds of messages those voters want and using not only appropriate messages but appropriate platforms to reach them."

Brooks says it's hard to tell which social media platforms are proving most effective, but he says campaigns are making use of the popular ones like Facebook and Twitter. They’re also still making ads for television, though, which might seem surprising in light of increased social media use and door-to-door campaigning.

"I really think the main reason we're seeing the same amount, if not more, is that the amount of money pouring into campaigns is continuing to increase," Brooks says. "Campaigns can only use so much in producing social media, which is very inexpensive. They can only use so much in get out the vote efforts. So you have money available, so if you have money available you may as well use it."

And the reason a lot of those ads appear to be negative, is because tracking polls show they work.

"I mean, the real problem is us," Brooks says. "We like conflict. We like kind of snarly things, I like to say, especially in mail ads. You get something in the mail of a candidate, his spouse and dog, that doesn’t move you to do much else but maybe smile. If a TV ad is talking about what’s wrong with somebody, we keep our attention on the ad."

Brooks notes that both candidates for governor are producing effective television ads. Among the issues Democrat Richard Cordray is highlighting is health care.

"It's seen in public opinion polls as the leading issue for most voters," Brooks says. 

In one Cordray ad, a supporter decries Republican Mike DeWine's lawsuit to eliminate coverage for pre-existing conditions.

"In the business, we call them comparative ads," Brooks says. "Because it starts out saying something bad about the person and then saying, ‘But I’m going to in this case support health care and reinforce it and make it better."

While Cordray tackles policy, a DeWine ad focuses on qualifications, chiding Cordray for not testing thousands of rape kits, which DeWine did as attorney general. An ad features a rape victim lauding DeWine for making her feel safe.  

"In this age of the #MeToo movement and all of those issues, this is a very effective issue to deal with," Brooks says. "It is being used by DeWine campaign to say that Cordray has difficulty doing things right, misses things, so therefore is not really qualified."

While it's been apparent in debates that there's no love lost between DeWine and Cordray, Brooks says the race has been focused on policy issues and decision making ability rather than on personal attacks, something that's been on the rise around the country.

"There have been editorials complimenting at least the candidates for focusing on issues and not focusing on personality," Brooks says.