We, as voters, must accept responsibility for toxic political ads on our airwaves

York Dispatch editorial board
  • Pennsylvania's May primary election was Tuesday.
  • With the polls closed, the nasty political ads should leave our airwaves, at least briefly.
  • The negative ads are sure to return this fall as the general election nears.
The 2022 May primary in Pennsylvania was Tuesday.


That was likely the general reaction of folks from all corners of York County when the polls closed on Tuesday evening.

Primary season, mercifully, is finally over.

Now, hopefully, we will get a brief respite from the nasty political television ads that have polluted our airwaves over the recent weeks and months.

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Because of the nature of the 2022 election, the vast majority of the mean-spirited ads happened in the Republican battles.

That’s not unexpected. It doesn’t mean that the Democrats are more virtuous. They aren’t. It just means that the Democratic races aren’t nearly as competitive.

In the governor’s race to replace Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is running unopposed on the Democratic ballot, so no need for negative ads in that race.

In the contest for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, before his recent stroke, was a strong favorite to win the Democratic primary over U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb. State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta and Alexandria Khalil are also running, but they are extreme longshots.

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There has been some limited sparring between Fetterman and Lamb, but the realities of Fetterman’s strong position has helped to squash any real bickering between the two major candidates.

The other local Democratic races, for the most part, are not competitive, either, and have produced hardly a ripple of controversy. Thus, no local negative ads.

The same can’t be said on the Republican side.

A toxic recipe: There are crowded GOP fields in the race to replace Wolf and Toomey, and no clear frontrunner has emerged in either race.

Lots of candidates and no strong favorites are the necessary ingredients needed to create a toxic recipe of hostility.

If you listened to the Republican ads, every single candidate running is “woke” or a “RINO” or a “Never-Trumper.”

It’s hard to believe that these folks are all actually members of the same party with the same basic ideology.

Nearly all of the ads are “technically” true, at least to a degree, but almost all of them also lack any real context, making them effectively dishonest. Their only goal is to paint their political opponents in the worst possible light.

The ad ugliness even trickled down to some local Republican races.

The ads work: So, why must we deal with the endless litany of negative ads during every election cycle?

There’s one simple reason — they work. Study after study has proven that.

So, why do they work?

Again, it’s simple. We, as voters, allow the negative ads to influence who we vote for.

It doesn’t matter that the ads are full of half-truths. Too many of us eat up the ad misinformation like ravenous dogs, rather than ignoring them and actually doing some time-consuming research of our own.

The politicians obviously know the ads work. They are the quickest and easiest ways to connect with voters and influence their ultimate selections.

As long as that is the case, the ugly ads will continue.

A small break: Now, at least, we should get a small break from the recent unseemliness.

Just don’t’ get used to the pleasant pause.

As the November general election nears, the ads are sure to ramp back up, and this time the Democrats are sure to join the fray in an equally nasty way.

When the fall airwaves again become inundated with vitriol, just remember one thing: We, the voters, must accept much of responsibility.