Friday, March 01, 2024
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US 2024 election cycle: Most futile and expensive show worldwide

Connecticut, U.S.A. (Prensa Latina) The enormous and damaging expenditures on armaments in the United States, which reach mind-boggling figures and will soon reach a trillion dollars in the direct budget of the Department of Defense, are often mentioned. Much less mentioned are the expenditures on advertising of all kinds, in which the political modality plays a major role, especially in general election years (such as 2024) and to a lesser extent in mid-term election years.

By José R. Oro, Prensa Latina contributor

Advertising and propaganda expenses are combined and inseparable in a nation where a so consumerist society (the most consumerist around the world) coexists with an environment of immense concentration in convincing the voter to exercise pseudo democracy, showing the candidates, without making much emphasis on their government program or federal, state and local administration, but their physique, manners, histrionic abilities of all kinds, and making them coincide with the pre-studied elements so that the electorate will like them. Total direct advertising spending is $397 billion (well over half of worldwide spending, estimated at $648 billion) for some 340 million people, or about $3.20 per person daily.

Political ad spending in the U.S. will increase by over a third in 2024 over the previous year, primarily due to presidential and general elections, with TV media again taking the lion’s share of money, according to a report from research firm Insider Intelligence.

The figure is expected to increase about 30% from 2020 to $12.32 billion this year in paid ads alone, according to the report. Ad spending in traditional media, the largest share of which is television, will surge 7.9% and account for 71.9% of all spending. Total direct advertising and propaganda spending in the presidential campaign alone is estimated at over $22 billion.

This is “good news” for major news networks including Fox News, Warner Bros. Discovery-owned CNN and Comcast’s MSNBC, which in recent quarters have faced advertising revenues that are not as high as they are used to.

Presidential candidates and changes in media use.

Three Republican hopefuls (Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis and Mikki Haley) are vying to be their party’s presidential candidate for the 2024 election, while President Joe Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Technological advances in mass media and the emergence of new and powerful business conglomerates have brought substantial changes in the aspirants’ communication with the electorate.

For example, Trump sparked off outrage after a January 20 posting on his Truth Social platform in which he claimed “full,” “total,” and “complete presidential immunity” for acts committed in office. But the effect was mainly seen in digital media, as traditional media reflected his braying, but not with the same intensity.

The comments brought about warnings that Trump intends to exercise authoritarian powers if he returns to the White House, and they do so amid widespread fears that any victory by Trump in the 2024 election would pose a serious threat to American democracy.

Digital platforms, which have historically attracted only a small share of millions of political advertising dollars, are expected to experience a 160% surge during the 2024 election cycle, with Meta Platforms and Google forecast to see strong growth, up to 300%. This shows how communication mechanisms have changed from the 2020 election to 2024 November election.

While political ad spending contributes a small amount to Google’s total ad revenue, it is expected to triple to $553.2 million as more marketers use its YouTube platform.

“Campaigns and issue advocacy groups are shifting more spending to digital channels in line with broader changes in the contours of the ad market,” said Peter Newman, director of forecasting at Insider Intelligence.

Meta’s social media platforms, primarily Facebook, are also expected to receive a boost. TikTok, Meta’s biggest rival, does not allow political ads on the platform.

Insider Intelligence said, however, that digital media platforms can also become hotbeds of disinformation during election season, and deepfakes will be a concern this year. That’s a concern for those implementing the campaigns of all candidates.

These risks will mean that advertising and media companies will have to be “very cautious” about exposing themselves to such content, said Paul Verna, vice president of content at Insider Intelligence.

Contemporary fascism and its use of financial resources in election campaigns.

The comforting assumption that Donald Trump was a nasty but passing aberration in American society, often heard during his 2017-2021 term, is harder to believe than ever after his victory in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary last week. As things stand, Trump is on track to win a third consecutive Republican presidential nomination and a possible second term in the White House.

The broader global picture is even more alarming. Far from being an exception to the rule, Trump reflects, amplifies and popularizes a destructive, regressive and potentially-deadly global trend towards authoritarian, totalitarian, dictatorial, nationalist and religious, ethnically and culturally majoritarian, right-wing forms of government, by preserving and increasing inequality, who wants a world where there is “no room left for anyone” as in Joaquin Sabina’s Madrid.

To put it more simply, fascism is once again on the march and liberal democracy risks being trampled under its marauding boots. Is this an unpleasant setback, a passing phase, or does it presage the beginning of a post-democratic era?

Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina (just the Democratic primaries for now) were a reminder that Trump’s nihilistic anti-politics easily goes beyond the national boundaries he so desires to strengthen.

He has an almost universal and compelling appeal among those who distrust their leaders or feel betrayed by them. He personifies the big man, the national strongman, who promises to defend and support the little guy and his threatened dogmas of identity and community. In return, he demands the unlimited power and loyalty of a dictator.

He is the old-new deal of the century: security, uniformity, conformity and social validation for the dominant majority at the expense of civic freedoms, legal accountability, independent media, diversity and minority rights. This is the model in place, or gaining ground, from Beijing, Moscow and Delhi to Cairo and Buenos Aires to Rome, Paris and Berlin.

Trump’s approach to Iowa exemplified how anti-democratic anti-politics works. He mostly avoided rallies and meetings with voters, boycotted debates with rival candidates and traveled, aloof, in a powerful motorcade of black Secret Service limousines.

Yet his imperial bearing, generously-funded television advertising and tough take-no-prisoners policy agenda produced a record victory.

How can this be possible? Many voters back Trump’s autocratic style. Democracy, they say, has not worked for them; and there are too many freedoms, taken and assumed, in a world that is too woke. They buy the lie that he is the victim of smear campaigns by “deep state” opponents fearful of his righteous crusade to rescue America from itself.

Some claim that God sent him (Trump) as savior; that he alone can stop the apocalyptic national decline. “And vengeance,” Trump promises with biblical airs, “will be theirs. “I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution,” Trump declared in 2023. His is a classic, sectarian conspiracy of falsehood. Hitler, Franco or Louis XIV would recognize it. Like them, Trump seeks to rule absolutely.

In his 2023 book, The New Leviathans, the English conservative philosopher John Gray develops the so-called “general theory of democratic decline.”

He argues that Western leaders and writers were woefully mistaken in their “grotesque notion” that the conclusion of the Cold War in 1989-91 presaged a permanent triumph of the “end of history” of “free societies and free markets.”

Leaders like Trump, Narenda Modi, and others in Germany, Hungary, Italy, France, among many countries, send a message that fascism is trying to control humanity.

The “enclaves of freedom” still resist, but their walls are under siege. India is succumbing to one-man rule, seduced by Narendra Modi’s intolerant Hindu nationalism.

Israel’s democracy is currently self-destructing. In Africa, coups d’état are seen frequently. In Europe, Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, rushed to shore up the “National Project” last month against a rising tide of the far right.

In Germany, Italy and Hungary, much the same struggle is being waged against a resurrected fascism. So much so that Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, joined anti-fascist demonstrators in the streets to urge resistance against the anti-immigrant, Nazi-linked Alternative for Germany party. In the UK, alienation and an anachronistic voting system turn elections into farces.

In those countries, the battle is not yet over. But unity of purpose is lacking. As in the United States, parliamentary and public institutions are weak and discredited. If Americans like the relatively prosperous and secure Iowa caucus or New Hampshire primary attendees do not stand up for democracy and reject their subversive and mutinous enemies, what hope is there for the rest?

The truth is, not much. The liberal moment of capitalism is passing, without resolving the contradictions of that system. The fascist nightmare arises again. Under an increasingly dark sky, a post-democratic era is dawning, which in the United States we would call the “MAGA Era” (Make America Great Again), where violence as seen in the photo above reaches high levels of prominence.

The vast and unproductive election expenses

Presidential candidates running for the 2024 election reported total receipts of $167.9 million and disbursements of $65.0 million according to campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission through June 30, 2023 (when election activity was still minimal).

Candidates for Washington members of Congress raised $556.9 million and disbursed $278.8 million, political parties received $348.8 million. and spent $309.0 million, and political action committees (PACs) raised $1.6 billion and spent $1.3 billion, covering financial activity from Jan. 1 through June 30, 2023.

Meanwhile, disbursements for independent expenditures reported in this period totaled $48.8 million. Communication costs reported to the Commission totaled $12,942. During this period, no expenditures were reported for electoral communications, only for general printed materials.

The table below shows the increasing nature of direct election expenses. The years with an asterisk are general elections (including presidential elections) and the others are the so-called mid-term elections, which take place two years after the general elections.

For the sake of comparison, these expenses would represent, in 2024, about $110 per voter. We insist that these are only the direct expenses, and other expenses such as transportation to events or voting, among others, are not counted.

The estimated figure for the current 2024 campaign in the United States exceeds the Gross Domestic Product of 93 of the UN member states.

As has been consistently known, presidents and other elected officials fail to deliver on their campaign promises, so this money and resources are not being put back into implementing policies and processes that represent the will of the people, or at least what the voters voted for.

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