LANSING (Great Lakes News) – When Michigan helped clinch the 2016 election for President Donald Trump, everyone took notice. The traditionally blue state, almost entirely ignored by the Hillary Clinton campaign, went to a non-traditional candidate who invested his resources into turning it red. Democrats refused to make the same mistake in 2018, turning the midterm election into record voter turnout for a midterm and a slew of victories for local Democratic candidates.
If early fundraising numbers are to be believed, 2020 could make the 2018 midterms look like literally any other midterm election.
Too Many Donations
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Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) raised nearly $1 million in the most recent quarter, making her the number one earner for an incumbent in a “toss-up” district. Slotkin made Michigan political history in 2018 when her election for Michigan’s 8th Congressional District cost a total of $28 million, if you included her opponent, making it the most expensive congressional election in Michigan history. She only won that election by 4 points. Peter Meijer, grandson of late retailer Fred Meijer, raised over $400,000 for his campaign challenging Rep. Justin Amash in Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District. $100,000 of that was his own money. Statewide, senatorial candidate John James raised over $3 million in the third quarter and $1.5 million in the first three weeks of his candidacy. Incumbent Sen. Gary Peters raised $2.5 million in the third quarter.
“When large amounts of money comes in from the outside, it signals a state moving from solidly Republican or Democrat to being a toss-up,” said Nicholas Giordano, Professor of Political Science at Suffolk Community College in Boston. “The political parties don’t like wasting money and focus resources on states and seats they can win. The increase in money and donations shows that both parties believe these are competitive races and worth the investment.”
If both parties believe that Michigan is worth the investment, as made evident by the already scheduled presidential debates and picket line visits by 2020 candidates, the influx of money is only beginning. This large amount of out-of-state donations make for an increase in political advertisement and canvassing.
“Out-of-state donations can translate into votes because it allows candidates to spend more money on advertising,” Giordano said. “However, it doesn’t always mean a larger voter turnout because enthusiasm on the ground is the most important factor.”
According to experts, we should expect more invasive political campaigning than in the past.
“I’m not sure we’ve seen a year in recent political history when the amount of campaign spending has not gone up compared with previous years,” said political analyst Bill Ballenger. “It’s only going to get worse, if you don’t like excessive campaign spending. Remember, we have a polarizing President who has a very strong base of support, and a very strong base of opposition going into a 2020 election. That automatically guarantees that both sides will fund-raise and spend to the max.”
This fundraising and spending, means larger campaigns and more advertisements.
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“An increase in political donations signify more interest and excitement in races,” Giordano said. “With an increase in smaller donations to candidates, you can expect to see a larger turnout because that means enthusiasm is high. Larger donations can also increase voter turnout because it means more advertising, organization, and get out the vote opportunities.”
Too Many Advertisements
Political organizations spent more on political advertisements during the 2018 midterm election than in any other midterm in American history. Most of the money went into digital advertisements, as candidates attempted to meet their constituents on popular social media platforms. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube were flooded with advertisements for local and national candidates alike. 2020 should be no different, if not much worse.
Facebook serves as a particularly interesting microcosm of political advertisement. Facebook recently announced that they will not remove advertisements by politicians or PAC that lie about their opponents. They claim to maintain this policy to improve discussion on the platform, but do not deny that the advertisements are a lucrative form of revenue. Facebook users are much older than users on other platforms, averaging at roughly 40 years old. Age directly correlates to digital literacy, or the ability of users to understand the nuances of a digital product and use it properly. This puts Facebook users at a distinct disadvantage when discerning whether or not a claim they see is accurate or a lie. Considering that older Americans are far more likely to vote in midterm and general elections, this creates the perfect opportunity for political impact. The voter is on Facebook and is far easier to manipulate through targeted advertising than through traditional media.
Facebook has done what it can to prevent malicious foreign accounts from manipulating opinion on the platform, but that does not make it any less attractive of an advertising partner for local politics. Expect your Facebook feed to become almost entirely political advertisements, a reality that many are already experiencing with advertisements from President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. Facebook offers incredibly robust tools for targeting advertisements, allowing local Michigan politicians to target their constituents directly. Luckily, the advertisements are easy enough to avoid by doing a little scrolling.
Too Many Calls
To avoid more invasive campaign strategies, a few tips and tricks are required.
Daniel Sunne is an Iowa native and political activist who has experienced the notoriously intense Iowa primary season for his entire life. He worked on the failed campaign of Rep. Rod Blum in 2018 and currently works for an advocacy organization for Christians. He offered Great Lakes News a few tips on how to survive a brutal election cycle.
“Get rid of your landline phone,” he said. “Don’t ask people how they got your number. You put it on an application someplace, and they bought it.”
Political organizations use purchased databases to acquire your contact information, databases that you often consent to when signing up for a credit card or a similar service. In addition to landline calls, campaigns are beginning to use text messaging to reach out to voters at a much higher rate.
“No one has figured out the magic bullet for preventing constant political text messages yet,” Sunne said. “You are going to get several text messages from the party, the candidate, and PACs.”
If you want to stop receiving less phone calls, text messages, and targeted online ads, you need to take yourself off the market.
“The easiest way to get out of the election hassle, is to turn in everything,” Sunne said. “The sooner that you turn in an absentee ballot and vote, the sooner people will stop bothering you.”
This is especially important for voters who consider themselves independent and vote regularly.
“If you are decided, no one wants to hassle you,” Sunne said. “The sooner you make it clear to them you made up your mind the sooner they leave you alone.”
As an Iowa native, Sunne suggest that you take advantage of the numerous political events to meet candidates and get informed.
“Enjoy it, go to political rallies even if you don’t like the candidate and enjoy the drama of it all,” Sunne said. “And if you really can’t enjoy yourself, it will all blow over eventually.”
Residents of the 8th Congressional District (including the GLN offices) are already receiving advertisements for the Slotkin campaign on YouTube, sometimes with multiple advertisements playing in a row. As the election heats up, expect to receive more attention from political candidates and their supporters than ever before. Michigan is about to experience its first election as a true swing state.