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Negative Midterm Ads Studied by Students

Michele Swers

Michele Swers says the political ads can be very informative, especially in highly-contested races.

November 2, 2010 –Negative ads for the hotly contested Congressional midterm elections are being used as a teaching tool in Michele Swers’ congressional politics course this semester.

“We’ve seen how ads in competitive races are actually quite informative because each candidate has to get their message out,” says Swers, an associate professor in the government department. “But in noncompetitive races, the ads are bland and don’t inform voters on the issues.”

The midterm elections have provided plenty of topics for the class, including political strategy and advertising, campaign finance, and the growth and influence of interest groups.

Historical Context

Swers' aim is to put today’s political fights in a historical context for students.

“Some of my students work as interns on the hill and some will go on to be political leaders so it is important for them to understand not only the political horse race but to be able to put it into a historical context,” Swers said. “When I get someone talking about how it seems like Nancy Pelosi pushes an agenda without consulting Republicans, I remind them that Newt Gingrich ran the House in a similar way.”

Senior and self-described liberal Bridget O’Loughlin, for example, says she had been alarmed at the growing popularity of the conservative tea party in this election cycle.

But she learned in the professor’s class that the criticism Democrats face is common in midterm elections for the party in power.

“Professor Swers’ class has taught me that backlash is typical in the first midterm election of a presidency,” O'Loughlin says. “The class has definitely helped put the tea party movement in perspective.”


Swers also assigns her students fictional identities as real members of Congress dealing with real pieces of legislation.

Kevin Flannery (C’12), for example, is portraying Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) as the class debates revisions to the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993.

“They grapple with the issues members of Congress are confronting” Swers said. “They debate whether to expand the bill to domestic partners. They debate ways to change or expand the law just as members of Congress do.”

Flannery created three fictional amendments to the bill and learned that being in the minority party carries a heavy price, as all of his proposals will probably be rejected in committee.

“Seeing what they have to go through, I almost empathize with the Republicans now,” Flannery says.

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