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FOCUS: How Students Can Analyze Political Ads to Separate Fact From Fiction


To help students understand how political ads are supposed to work and to identify different types: ads that promote a candidate, those that attack an opponent, and those that focus on issues.

Discussion Questions:

* What kind of scene in a TV commercial would convince viewers to think of the candidate as a likable person?

* Whose ads--George W. Bush's or Al Gore's--do you find more appealing, or more persuasive?

* Suppose it's proved that a candidate intentionally produced an ad that misrepresented an opponent's record. Would you favor punishment of some kind, or just chalk up the incident to politics as usual?


Ad Analysis: Examine the ads on pages 10-11. Before students read the analysis boxes, ask them about the ads. Do they compare the records of Bush and Gore? How do they use facts to persuade viewers? Do they attack their opponent? Research: Before Election Day, students can monitor Bush and Gore TV ads. Students should note: * How many ads they saw for each candidate * Which ads were positive--promoting a candidate--or negative--attacking an opponent * The visual scenes * The ad's geographical target (A swing state?) * The intended audience (Everyone? The elderly? Future college students? Factory workers? Women?)

Rate the ads, referring to questions at the top of pages 10-11 to guide ratings. Which ads were fair, which misleading?

Writing Exercise: Break the class into as many ad teams as feasible. Each team must write an ad supporting or opposing Bush or Gore. Like the TV experts, students must plan a visual presentation. What's in the foreground and background? What other people, if any, should be shown near the candidate?

Students must keep these factors in mind as they pick an issue---gun control, school prayer, health insurance, the environment, violent videos--anything they like. Have them write a scene showing the candidate in the setting of the issue. For example, talking to police to focus on' gun control, in a hospital to focus on health care, hiking in a forest to focus on the environment, etc.

Finally, students should discuss what they learned from the exercise.

The candidates are bombarding the airwaves with campaign ads. But how can you tell if what they're selling is real?

You can't avoid them. Watch any TV program these days and you're bound to see at least one campaign commercial for a presidential candidate. Al Gore and George W. Bush, along with their political parties and other supporters, are expected to spend more than $100 million apiece on TV advertising designed to convey their messages in simple but persuasive sound bites.

So how can you tell truth from fiction? And how can you separate substance from style? Below, we've described and analyzed two actual ads from the campaign. And here are some questions to keep in mind when you're watching these and other presidential sales pitches:

Does the ad back up its claims with facts? If so, where do the facts come from? Are they reliable sources of information, such as a respected newspaper or magazine? If you're skeptical, do your own research to check out the claims.

Is it an attack ad that does nothing but criticize an opponent? Does it seem fair? Even if the allegations are true, are they important enough to change your opinion?

Does the ad use pictures to influence you? Is the candidate smiling and playing with his children, while his opponent is shown as a frowning loner? Is he surrounded by American flags, cheering crowds, and other positive symbols?

Is it an issue ad targeted to a specific area or group? Campaigns customize ads for different audiences. For example, health-care spots may be aimed at Florida's large elderly population, and ads stressing clean air and water may be chosen for an environment-conscious state such as California. Does the commercial seem designed to appeal to a special-interest group? If so, do you agree with the group's views?

Is it a personality ad that stresses the candidate's character and background? If so, how will those personal traits and experiences affect his ability to be President?

What does the ad leave unsaid? Brief ads must simplify often-complex topics. Is the simplification fair? Would the details left out make the ad's argument less persuasive?


The ad criticizes Bush's record on providing health care for children in Texas, where he is serving his second term as Governor.


Video footage of Bush appears and dissolves. Cut to the faces of young children. A gavel comes down and the words "corrective action" appear on the screen. More children are seen, followed by a scowling picture of Bush. "George W. Bush has a plan for children's health care," the announcer says. "But why hasn't he done it in Texas? Texas ranks 49th out of 50 in providing health coverage to kids. It's so bad that a federal judge just ruled that Texas must take immediate corrective action. The judge's finding: Bush's administration broke a promise to improve health care for kids. The needs of abused kids are neglected. Texas failed to inform families of health coverage available to a million children. The Bush record. It's becoming an issue."


The main accusation is based on a court ruling that Texas failed to follow an order to provide appropriate health care for more than 1.5 million children who were eligible for Medicaid, a government-funded health insurance program for low-income citizens. What the ad does not mention is that the ruling was based on a lawsuit filed in 1993, two years before Bush took office. The data that put Texas 49th in the nation come from 1999 newspaper articles that said only Arizona ranked lower. The Bush campaign says that last year the Governor supported and signed a bill that provides health insurance to 423,000 Texas children.--Peter Marks


This is a classic attack ad that portrays Bush as insensitive to poor children. Like many campaign ads, it uses facts selectively to make its point.


The ad features some of the most embarrassing moments of Gore's career, including his questionable appearance at a Buddhist temple and his claim to have helped Invent the Internet.


A TV on a kitchen counter shows Gore using awkward language to defend his fund-raising methods in the 1996 campaign. Then Gore is shown nodding to a Buddhist monk and monks are seen testifying under oath. We also see Gore telling an interviewer, "I took the initiative in creating the Internet." The camera then returns to the kitchen and flashes a Web site address: "There's Al Gore, reinventing himself on television again," the announcer says. "Like I'm not going to notice. Who's he going to be today? The Al Gore who raises campaign money at a Buddhist temple? Or the one who promises campaign finance reform? Really, Al Gore! Claiming credit for things he didn't even do."


The commercial uses Gore's own words and pictures of him to suggest that he has no credibility. The statement that Gore "raises campaign money at a Buddhist temple" is technically not correct, because he did not ask for money at the temple, but received donations later. The larger question is whether it is fair to link these events and cast them as Gore "reinventing himself." Earlier this year, Gore acknowledged that he was "an imperfect messenger" on the subject of campaign finance reform. He also says his comment on the Internet was a big mistake, even though he has been a vocal supporter of high-tech development.--Katherine O. Seelye


This attack ad tries to reinforce the perception of Gore as someone who can't be trusted. However, it fails to put some of the statements and events in context.
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Title Annotation:analyzing presidential campaign ads
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 30, 2000
Previous Article:DO WHAT WE SAY ...
Next Article:EYES on the PRIZE.

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