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One-third of voters in swing states suffering election fatigue

Sunday, May 23, 2004

TOLEDO, Ohio -- A little amused and a little annoyed, Nikyle Fitzgerald and his wife decided to count how many campaign commercials popped up on the television.

The tally for two hours: four ads for President Bush and three for Democratic challenger John Kerry. "After awhile, you do get tired of it," said Fitzgerald, a 32-year-old mail carrier.

"It seems like every two weeks, a new one comes out."

With about six months to go before the election, there are signs of election fatigue among voters. A flurry of presidential campaign ads began two months ago in key states.

Party strategists hope saturating the airwaves will motivate supporters but also worry that it will irritate voters so much they will stay away from the polls, especially if the candidates are attacking each other.

"If that persists the entire year, I do think there will be a backlash or fatigue factor," said Greg Haas, a Democratic strategist in Ohio.

One in every three voters in 15 swing states, including Ohio, felt they were getting too much information about the election, according to a poll from the Pew Research Center in Washington.

The telephone poll also surveyed voters from May 3 to 9 in Arkansas, Missouri, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Louisiana, Tennessee, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Four years ago, voters in swing states had a much more negative view of the presidential campaign compared with voters in states that weren't bombarded by campaign ads, said Andrew Kohut, the center's director.

The early advertising blitz aggravates Reginald Ashmore, 38, who was voting in the Arkansas state primary Tuesday.

"Especially with the war going on, it (the heavy advertising) gets on a bunch of people's nerves," he said at a polling place near downtown Little Rock.

Bush's campaign in March began a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign in 18 swing states, including the first negative television ads of the general election.

By the end of May, the president will have spent about $70 million to air television ads in the last three months.

Kerry will have spent more than $40 million over that same time, including a $25 million advertising campaign airing this month in 19 states and nationally on cable news networks. Liberal interest groups that support Kerry also have been flooding the airwaves.

James Maynard, 35, of Keene, N.H., is a registered independent who said he likely would support a Libertarian candidate. He said negative ads often backfire in his state.

"Some of the ads may not have the effect the candidates think they have," Maynard said. "If we see somebody standing up and too loudly saying the same thing over and over, it tends to make us doubt what they're saying."

Julie Irmer, 50, of Portland, Ore., said she expects the ads to turn nasty but she won't be around to see them.

"It will be summertime, and I'll just turn off the TV and go outside. That will be a really good option," Irmer said.

In Michigan, both campaigns and their supporters were combining to spend about $1 million a week during April on ads in four media markets, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

"I hear people say that what they see at this point is more of annoyance than what they would see as informative," said Rich Robinson, director of the nonpartisan group.

Haas, who ran President Clinton's campaign in Ohio in 1992, said there is a concern that too many negative ads will suppress voter turnout, which historically hurts Democrats more than Republicans.

"The Republicans can benefit in two ways by negative ads," he said. "I think that's one of the things they were doing early."

While some insiders expect the campaign to slow down in the summer, Haas said it could continue at the same pace because buying television time is much cheaper in July and August.

Kerry's Ohio campaign chairman, Jim Ruvolo, said both sides will continue to match each other with new spots.

If both sides stay away from negative campaigning, the increase in advertising could stimulate turnout, said Carolyn Tolbert, a political science professor at Kent State University.

"There's more interest in this election than before," she said. "And there's a lot more information being given."

Mark Weaver, a Republican strategist in Ohio, said most people don't burn out on the election until October. He expects that to happen much sooner this year.

"It's going to be like election exhaustion," he said. "It's only going to get worse. If you're a TV station sales manager, it's only going to get better."


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