Public relations professionals should be appalled by
the predominant campaign tactics used in the 2018 elections.
Countless definitions of public relations have been developed by practitioners and scholars over the years. They use different terminology, employ divergent techniques, and permit varying degrees of deception and manipulation. But, despite all their differences, their central premise always stresses building and maintaining positive relationships between a client -- whether that client is a single individual or a massive organization -- and the publics which impact that client. This encourages mutual understanding, cooperation, and camaraderie which makes public relations an optimistic, positive, and constructive profession.
It can, however, be very competitive, and one of the oldest arenas for competitive public relations is politics. Candidates for elective office have always needed to garner support from their constituents and "win the hearts and minds" of a majority of voters. They do this by publicizing their policies and proposals, making sure the public understands what they want to do once they're in office, and convincing them to vote accordingly. It's gone on for centuries using such public relations techniques as "stump-speaking," campaign slogans and songs, rallies, brochures, posters, mass mailings, ads, endorsements from community leaders, going door-to-door to talk with prospective voters and, at the Presidential level, cross-country "whistle-stop campaigns" of speeches and hand-shaking. It was all meant to make candidates better-known and help them build a base of political support.
At least, that's how political campaigns used to work and how they still should.
Alas, during the last several election cycles we have drifted farther and farther way from that ideal. This year is by far the worst. Almost all of this year's election campaigns are based on attacking and discrediting an opponent rather than promoting the accomplishments and ideas of the candidates themselves.
In the past, candidates ran campaign ads that stressed their views and made them appear competent, concerned, or, at the very least, likeable citizens who cared about their community and its future. Such ads are few and far between this year. This year's campaign ads emphasize negativity. Most make no attempt to attract voters to the positive attributes of a candidate but strive to portray opposing candidates in such negative and disgusting ways that decent and thoughtful people won't vote for them. Instead of proudly explaining what they stand for and trying to gain support for their positions, candidates have focused on tearing down and defaming their opponents, sometimes by citing things their opponents have done or failed to do and, at other times, simply by linking their opponent's name to the most hated people imaginable -- Obama, Hillary Clinton, or Nancy Pelosi for Republicans; Trump, Mitch McConnell, or Hitler for Democrats.
In effect, this year's candidates are not seeking votes for their own good qualities and ideas, they're trying to get votes because they aren't as vile and disgusting as their opponents. They want voters to vote against someone else rather than for them. This is truly a sad state of affairs. Elections no longer offer Americans a chance to choose the best and most qualified candidates for public office; we've been brought down to the level of choosing the candidates who are less-sleazy and less-disgusting than their opponents.
This website was on Northern Kentucky University servers when I taught there and for quite a while afterward.