All’s Fair in Political Advertising?

October 03, 2012

Rick Foglesong
George D. and Harriet W. Cornell Professor of Politics Rick Foglesong analyzes political attack ads on WFTV Channel 9’s Reality Check.


Just as the flu season has become synonymous with the fall, so have political attack ads become something that Americans have grown to endure during election season. As November approaches, the mudslinging spots have increasingly soiled the airwaves between our favorite shows.

This is especially true in Central Florida, where the two leading presidential candidates are pouring millions of campaign dollars into television ads with the hope of swaying voters in one of the biggest swing regions in the country. According to George D. and Harriet W. Cornell Professor of Politics Rick Foglesong, the Orlando television market is number two in the nation for political television ad spending. “There is more ad spinning in our backyard than in any other TV market in the country,” he said.

But unlike traditional advertising, which the FCC regulates for factual accuracy, political advertisers yield the power to say just about anything—even if it’s untrue.

Foglesong sees that as a problem. “Voters need independent sources of information to assess the truth value of the claims made in these TV ads,” he said.

Since June, Foglesong has been serving as a political analyst for Orlando news station WFTV Channel 9. In his weekly evening news segments, Reality Check, he dissects claims made in political attack ads and sheds light on the truthfulness of such statements.  

“Whether it is a Democrat ad or a Republican ad, you can expect that, at a minimum, facts will be twisted,” Foglesong said.

With the advent of websites such as and, Foglesong finds the practice of fact-checking political advertising, debates, and speeches becoming increasingly prevalent. “Historically, viewers have been left not knowing what to believe,” he said. “Fortunately, in the last election there were a number of fact checker websites and organizations that have been formed to assist voters in this process.”

These fact checkers have their work cut out for them; spending on political advertising during the general election has quadrupled since 2008 from $183 million to $395 million for the same time period this year.

“Most of the cost of a political campaign is for running TV ads,” said Foglesong, who, along with other political scientists, questions how effective attack ads are in convincing voters to cast their ballots a certain way.

Still, candidates aren’t taking any chances, which gives Foglesong plenty of content for his weekly analysis. “I know a lot more people see the ads than see my segments, but I believe this sort of political analysis is necessary,” he said. “Holding candidates accountable for the statements they make against each other is crucial to the democratic process.”


By Kristen Manieri

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