Election Ads: The GOP Needs to Pull on Some Heartstrings

As a conservative, one of the most frustrating things about campaign season is the lack of quality television commercials coming from my side of the aisle, especially the ones critical of Democratic opponents. Whether they’re being put out by outside groups or the GOP itself, they’re often sorely lacking.

The problem isn’t so much with the message they convey. Conservative organizations typically do a decent job of making their point to the viewing audience. The problem is in the presentation. Conservatives like to present big-picture statistics to highlight the failures of their opponents. They offer up graphs and flash numbers on the screen in hopes of educating and appalling an audience who might not quite grasp the scope of the problems and challenges we face. Conservatives also like to point out hypocrisy. If a candidate ever condemned an action that they themselves are guilty of carrying out, you can bet it will show up in a commercial.

That’s all fine and good, and it might not seem like a bad strategy to the more politically savvy among us. After all, hypocrisy is always viewed unfavorably, and if $16 trillion in U.S. debt, anemic U.S. economic growth, the staggering cost of Obamacare, and chronically high unemployment doesn’t get the attention of voters, what will?

The reality, however, is that regardless of how serious a problem is, facts and figures on their own rarely connect with people who aren’t already engaged with what’s going on in the country. Most viewers only pay attention to political ads that touch them on an emotional level. Numbers with lots of zeroes, steep graphs, and sound bites just don’t do that, even when presented in a simple way.

The Democrats long ago figured out a far more effective strategy. Much like their party’s economic vision, they don’t see numbers as being important. Instead, they go straight for the heartstrings. They put out commercials that feature people who look like everyday, working-class folk and present those people as sympathetic victims of those nasty Republican initiatives. Whether it’s the teacher whose school can’t afford adequate supplies, the fireman who doesn’t have the equipment he needs, or the construction worker who can’t afford to pay for his medical expenses, their pain is always the result of something done by some heartless Republican. To the viewer, it doesn’t even matter whether or not the argument has merit. Half of the time, the argument is completely illogical. Sometimes, no argument is even presented. And none of that matters. All the viewer sees is a good person who has been victimized.

Case in point, the Obama campaign is currently running a very effective ad right now in a couple of the swing states, including my home of Colorado. It features former factory workers of one of the plants that Bain Capital (Mitt Romney’s former company) made the call to shut-down. You can hear the pain in these people’s voices as they insist that Mitt Romney kicked them to the curb for no other reason than to increase his personal wealth before presumably leaning back in his chair, interlacing his fingers behind his head, and laughing maniacally.

To people watching at home, the ad is so emotionally-driven that they’re left with little inclination to doubt its sincerity. After all, everyone knows by now that Mitt Romney is filthy rich. And with the the Obama administration leading the charge, today’s culture of envy has taught us that undeserved rich people thrive at the expense of hard-working, poor people. Why not buy the commercial at face value then? Right?

The reality is that most people simply don’t understand what private investment firms like Bain Capital do, and that’s what the Obama campaign is banking on. People don’t understand that private companies like the ones that come to Bain are typically struggling or even dying, and need either financing or restructuring in order to survive. They don’t understand that the job losses of people working at those companies were likely an inevitability regardless of Bain’s involvement. And if they don’t understand any of that, they certainly don’t understand how many jobs were prolonged, saved, or created as a result of Bain Capital. The only thing people sitting at home in front of their televisions see are poor workers who got screwed over by a rich guy. Thus, the commercial is effective. Rising Obama poll numbers in the swing-states where these ads have been running have demonstrated that.

The irony here, of course, is that you’d have to take the number of workers in these commercials and multiply that number by a few million before you’d get the number of Americans who have suffered far worse under nearly four years of the Obama economy. I’m talking about people who’ve lost their businesses, people who’ve been out of work for over a year, single moms working multiple jobs, people who’ve had to move back in with their parents because they can’t provide for themselves, etc.

That reality begs the question of why we don’t see the Republicans more often employing the same tactics used by the Democrats. I think part of the reason comes from the natural inclination of conservatives to have faith in people’s capacity to relate with big-picture problems. They don’t feel the need to present individual suffering, because they assume that if the statistics are known, people are smart enough to figure out what those statistics mean to them and their families. Unfortunately, that’s not a great assumption, especially in today’s world of media spin.

Now, there have been some promising exceptions in this election cycle so far. Karl Rove’s super PAC groups (American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS) have done a great job of portraying the challenges and anxieties felt by a large number of Americans under Barack Obama’s presidency. However, even they haven’t quite got the formula down. Many of the people they’ve used in their well-designed ads are clearly actors who look like they’ve been pulled directly off the set of a Lifetime Network movie. They’re a little too contrived, even though the actors accurately personify the feelings of many Americans.

What I want to see is something more organic. I want to see blunt and honest talk coming from people who don’t look like actors – real people who’ve been beaten down by the decisions made by the current leadership of our country. There is certainly an enormous selection of people out there to choose from.

I want to see the truck driver with a baseball cap saying something like, “We see the president out there on television all the time, playing golf and hanging out with Hollywood celebrities, and he’s telling us that the private sector is doing just fine. It’s not doing just fine. His healthcare law has sent my family’s premiums through the roof. Government regulations and high gas prices are eating away more and more of my bottom line. Mr. President, I don’t need you to throw me a life-vest or life-raft to keep me afloat. I just need you to stop holding my head underwater!”

I want to see the young mother holding her baby and saying, “He’s always talking about fairness, but he’s driving our national debt up to $16 trillion and beyond, and sending the bill to our children and grandchildren? How is THAT fair?”

I want to see the goofy-looking guy in his early twenties saying, “I voted for Obama four years ago because my friends did. *chuckle* He seemed like a cool guy to me. But now I’m living at home because my college degree hasn’t gotten me a job. Having to live with your parents after graduation is anything BUT cool.”

I want to see the person saying, “I don’t care who he thinks caused the mess. He’s been blaming other people for four years. We hired him to fix it. He hasn’t fixed it. He’s only made it worse!”

The GOP and other conservative groups need to catch up to the Democrats on playing the sympathy card. It works, and with the current state of the country, it’s never been more justified. I hope they figure that out.

Author Bio:

John Daly couldn't have cared less about world events and politics until the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks changed his perspective. Since then, he's been deeply engaged in the news of the day with a particular interest in how that news is presented. Realizing the importance of the media in a free, democratic society, John has long felt compelled to identify media injustices when he sees them. With a B.S. in Business Administration (Computer Information Systems), and a 16 year background in software and web development, John has found that his real passion is for writing. He is the author of the Sean Coleman Thriller series, which is available through all major retailers. John lives in Northern Colorado with his wife and two children. Like John on Facebook. Follow John on Twitter.
Author website: http://www.johndalybooks.com/
  • polkkalerts

    You will see our party run new ads showing people in unemployment lines. However, we are not using real people, but instead, beautiful actors. To use real people would be too risky and too ugly. The actors portray the human condition of unemployment better. Also, why pay the real unemployed when you can pay good-looking actors?

    Larry Weitzner, producer

  • cmacrider

    John: Excellent article.  I also think the Reps. have to provide the public with a simple positive message as to how they are going to fix things for the average working person.

    • John Daly

      Certainly couldn’t hurt.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_DGT5LFXDWHPKRWLSI2WPBXIGXE Wil

      That will never happen, they don’t give a damn about the 
      average working person.

      • John Daly

        Perhaps they can spread messages of hope and change. I’ve heard that if you do that, you can get pretty much anyone into the White House.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_DGT5LFXDWHPKRWLSI2WPBXIGXE Wil

          This video of Bush with his hat in his hand begging America to pony up
          almost a trillion dollars reminds us what really happened. Learn



          • John Daly

            I have a great idea, Wil. Why don’t you write a column of your own about George W. Bush so you can vent out all of your frustrations. Then, you can let people comment on it.

            That way, you can stop using this site as some sort of general-topic message board where you never actually discuss the content of the columns being written.

            What a novel idea.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_DGT5LFXDWHPKRWLSI2WPBXIGXE Wil

            John, I’m just wondering, do you have a real job? I’m thinking you are a house husband. Is that correct? BTW, Your is just rehashing right-wing nonsense. I’m just trying to inform your flock with the truth!

          • John Daly

            Yes. Apron and all. You figured it out, Wil.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_DGT5LFXDWHPKRWLSI2WPBXIGXE Wil

    John, I ask you, will
    Christian Republicans really going to vote for a
    guy (Romney) who thinks God lives on Kolob? 

    • John Daly

      Yes. They’ll vote for Romney over Obama.

      • GlenFS

        Oh my, what a dilemma.  Everyone knows God is from Iowa.  How could I ever vote for anyone who disagrees with that.  I’ll have to find out where Obama believes God’s from.

        • John Daly

          God can’t be from America. As President Obama’s reverend and spiritual adviser has taught us,  God damned America.

          • GlenFS

            Thank goodness our chickens came home to roost, or we’d have no eggs for breakfast and little else in the collective cupboards.

        • SendTheClunkerBackToChicago

          Louis Farrahkan told us that Obama is the “messiah.”  So who would doubt a guy who believes there is a Space Ship hovering over the United States just waiting for the command to take out all the white oppressors.  Do you think the command may be taken from a teleprompter?   

  • sendtheclunkerbacktochicago

    How is this commerical topic for the Mitt Romney campaign John?  Tune in to the Sheriff Joe Arpaio SECOND Press Conference on July 17th in Phoenix, AZ for all the details of the crimial and fraudulent activity that Barack Hussein Obama has been involved in over the past few years, activity that makes Watergate look like a walk in the park.  Then they could show excerpts from Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s FIRST Press Conference showing the details found in the computer generated forged Birth Certificate of April 27th, 2011 and the details of the fraudulent Selective Service registration of Barack Hussein Obama.  Now that would send the American people into a tale spin and Obama would finally be forced to answer to the charges or call Sheriff Joe Arpaio a liar and fraud.  So John, I am looking forward to you writting another column encouraging the RNC to get busy with the scandal of the Century.

    • John Daly

      Absolutely awful. Any mention of Obama’s birth certificate is a huge loser for Republicans.

      • SendTheClunkerBackToChicago

        If Romney is afraid to take on the fraudulent activity conducted by Barack Hussein Obama he doesn’t have the character and intestinal fortitude to be President of the United States.  When the eligibility issue is finally exposed to the American people via a major media platform Mitt Romney will look foolish as will other Republicans in the United States Congress.  They should all be ashamed of themselves.  They all sit around and criticize Chief Justice John Roberts as failing to uphold the integrety of the U.S. Constitution while they all ignore the Constitutional issue of the CENTURY.  We have a usurper in the White House and they know it and they sit back in silence.  They might just as well be driving the get-a-way car and we know how judges feal about those types.  Hell, they are the worse kind of rats in that many are pushing their very own ineligible candidate for VP, Senator Marco Rubio.   They see him as a potential presidential candidate someday, shame on them for crapping all the Constitution for their own political agenda.  They are as guilty as the radical Progressives.  Based on your brief comment it seems John Daly sees nothing wrong with this criminal activity.  

        • John Daly

          If Romney were to jump on the birther wagon, he’d lose in a landslide.

          • SendTheClunkerBackToChicago


            This was on the DRUDGE REPORT today.  Mitt Romney better be prepared to handle the questions that will be coming his way.  With this fraudulent SS# case added to the April 27th, 2011 computer generated forged birth record and the fraudulent Selective Service registration I think the folks will finally realize they elected a fraud and a usurper and Mitt better know the facts and the trail of evidence. 

          • John Daly

            Where I’ll agree with you is that Romney should be prepared to deal with questions on the Birther movement, because he’ll undoubtedly be asked about it during the debates.

            But his response will not, and should not (in my opinion) be what you want it to be.

            Romney should handle it the same way he’s handled it in the past. He should say that he believes the president is a United States citizen.

            Any credence that he lends to the Birther stuff would be at his own peril. It would keep him from beating Obama.


          • SendTheClunkerBackToChicago

            John, I don’t believe you have taken the time to examine all that has been shown proving that the April 27th, 2011 computer generated birth document to be a forgery, I may be wrong.  I don’t believe that you looked at and evaluated the evidence that shows that Obama’s Selective Service registration was fraudulent, I may be wrong.  (All the numbers for the year on the Postal Stamp before and after Obama’s Selective Service registration are FOUR digit numbers, Obama has a TWO digit number and it is obvious to an amateur document expert that the “08” was tampered with to look like an “80”.)  FRAUDULENT!  Why would that be?  I wholeheartedly believe that if you took the time to evaluate the evidence thus far (more coming) you would become an ANGRY birther yourself.  This is scandalous!!

  • http://blog.alltheinfo.org/ Bob Weber

    John, great article.  So true.  The Obama commercials make me nuts, the stories are purely anecdotal – in a country of 300 million people, it can’t be hard to find one person that has had the experience you want to share with voters.  Honestly, I think the republicans don’t want to stoop to such ridiculous tactics, but they are going to have to.

    • John Daly


  • CCNV


    Here’s my Republican commercial:


    (Camera pans to the front of my house surrounded by
    sagebrush, assorted weeds and lots of dirt.) The paint is peeling off the house but I can’t
    afford to buy paint because my small business was screwed over (closed) due to
    the obaMAO administration, which left me with no income, no health insurance
    and NO HOPE. Was I living beyond my means? (Camera pans to beat up 1999 pickup
    truck.) Hell no! I was rolling everything back into my business – trying to
    keep it running in order to keep my employees. I refuse to go on unemployment;
    thus, skewing the number of unemployed Americans and making it higher than
    obaMAO reports (on screen: “The private sector is doing fine”.). I cannot find a job (no matter what the wage) because I’m over
    50 (camera pans to me holding a box of $2.97 hair color from Walmart) and I
    have been told I’m “too old” by several interviewers. I’m not looking for a
    career at this point in my life – I just want to pay my bills. I’m royally
    pissed (camera pans to show steam rolling out of my ears) and I want things to
    change from the socialist direction they are headed! (Camera pans to me
    flipping obaMAO the bird.)

    NOTE: The thing that scares me is that in 2008 we
    didn’t want Romney, and now he’s our only hope. God help us…

    • John Daly

      As you may have read in some of my earlier columns, I was always luke-warm on Romney as well. But the truth is that he really is our last hope (like you said), so people who want Obamacare defeated need to energize behind him.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_DGT5LFXDWHPKRWLSI2WPBXIGXE Wil

        John, Do you really want to go back to the Bush era? That is what Romney is
        promising to do. His plan is to cut taxes, regulations and go to (Iran) war!

        • John Daly

          I’ll take the Bush era over the Obama era any day of the week.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_DGT5LFXDWHPKRWLSI2WPBXIGXE Wil

            You cannot be serious! The reason our country is in this present mess, is because of the Bush era! 

          • Jeffreydan

              You could also blame racism. It’s as pathetic as blaming President Bush.

          • John Daly

            Don’t forget Halliburton. 😉

          • John Daly

            Spoken like a true DNC drone.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_DGT5LFXDWHPKRWLSI2WPBXIGXE Wil

            John Daly: 
            I’ll take the Bush era over the Obama era any day of the week.>>

            Spoken like a true RNC drone. Bush will go down in history as the worst president ever!

          • John Daly

            Keep saying it while clicking your heels together, Wil.

      • SendTheClunkerBackToChicago

        John, our last hope is not Mitt Romney.  He is a John McCain on steriods but with much more money.  He is too soft to go up against Barack Hussein Obama and all those huge attack adds that will be slandering him.  They will be exposing all of the pathetic Mormon history just to make Mitt and his family look like another Branch Davidian cult.  Hell they may even compare Mormonism to Jim Jones.  Do you think I am kidding??  Wait and see.  Our last hope is Sheriff Joe Arpaio, he has the criminal evidence that can send Obama and his progressive radicals back into the dark ages.  We either get behind Sheriff Joe Arpaio and those challenging Obama’s state ballots or watch Mitt get led to the slaughter.  It it comes down to Mitt or the Clunker, it will be Mitt.  I would vote for Elmer Fudd rather than this nightmare. 

  • GlenFS


    Excellent points!  It seem GOP are more the right-brained crowd who see things logically and this no doubt is why we don’t bring our share of women into our voting booth.  Men do respond to these ads, but we need broader appeal.

    • John Daly

      Very true. The Dems always get the majority of the women vote, and I think part of the reason is that the sympathy card plays better with them than with men.