Americans for Prosperity–“It’s Time for New Ideas”

  • Ad Title: “It’s Time for New Ideas”
  • Ad Sponsor: American for Prosperity Super PAC
  • Issue of Focus: President Obama’s record
  • Broadcast Locations: North Carolina, Florida, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin (Weiner 2012).
  • Dates of Airing: First aired August 24, 2012 (Weiner 2012).
  • Length: 32 seconds
  • Web Address of the Advertisement: http://youtu.be/aN9jjP07wP4 

“It’s Time for New Ideas” Script

(Transcribed by Yvonne Wanda Slosarski)

Barbara: “In 2008, I voted for Barack Obama”

Mary: “He was new. He had new ideas.”

Connie: “I think that now we’ve given Obama a fair chance, and I don’t think he’s able to do what we need him to do.”

Alex: “The president’s doing a mediocre job. You know, the economy, in my opinion, is still the same as it was four years ago.”

Mary: “Obama said that he was gonna help the middle class, and that’s where I am. I’m the middle class. And, instead it has hurt me.”

Alex: “I have not received the hope and change that I believed in in 2008.”

Female Voiceover: “Americans for Prosperity is responsible for the content of this advertising.”

Analysis of “It’s Time for New Ideas”

Yvonne Wanda Slosarski, University of Maryland

Ad Context 

Americans for Prosperity (AFP), an anti-Obama Super PAC, began airing “It’s Time for New Ideas” ahead of the 2012 Republican Convention. The convention’s theme was “A Better Future,” (Republican Convention 2012) and this ad amplifies the Republican message that President Obama has not delivered the future he promised. Between August 20, 2012 and August 30, 2012, AFP spent $5,657,895.67 to broadcast this ad on television and on the Internet. That is over $500,000.00 per day spent on this advertisement alone (Sunlight Foundation 2012).

This was one of AFP’s first ads that expressly opposed Barack Obama. As a non-profit organization, AFP cannot disseminate explicitly “political” messages, and up until this point the organization had funded so-called “issue” ads that did not explicitly oppose or promote any candidate (Peters, 2012). As the L.A. Times reported, AFP discontinued issue ads “after a new court ruling declared that groups that run issue ads close to the election have to reveal their funders.” AFP switched gears to overt political advertising, and so does not have to reveal its donors, but this could lead to problems with its status as a non-profit (Gold 2012).

AFP aired “New Ideas” in key swing states that all were won by Obama in 2008 (FEC 2009). This ad features former Obama supporters who have changed their minds about the President. AFP’s YouTube description of this ad reads, “Voters who cast their ballot for Obama in 2008 are feeling buyer’s remorse, and explain why they no longer support President Obama.”

Ad Assumptions 

“New Ideas” builds its argument that Obama should not be elected upon several assumptions. First, this ad rests upon the assumption that change is good and that people who switch positions based on experiences are trustworthy. The voters allude to the changes that Obama promised but did not deliver upon. The abstract notion of “change” is also valued in this ad, and it turns Obama’s famous slogan from 2008 against him.

Further, this ad is built upon the assumption that these four specific voters’ opinions matter in a national election. It rests upon the notion that regular voters, not policy experts, are qualified and should be trusted to make decisions about the President’s record.

The claim that Obama should not be reelected is further warranted by three inter-related assumptions about the presidency. The ad assumes that four years is enough time for a president to make a change and that the president is alone responsible for implementing change. This ad is also warranted by the assumption that citizens vote to hold the incumbent president accountable for his leadership.

Ad Content – Conversation with Authentic Middle Class Voters

“New Ideas” features one-on-one testimonies from three voters who share personal stories of disillusionment with the Obama Administration. The ad argues from the basis that the experiences of these featured voters—three white women and one African American man—can represent other middle-class, battleground-state voters. It features two middle-aged white women, one elderly white woman, and a young African American man. The demographics of these voters are important because the discourse circulating about Romney’s appeal with African Americans and women suggested that he was not these groups’ preferred candidate (Weinger 2012 and Newport 2012). The middle-class association is also important, amidst circulating discourse that painted Romney’s tax plan as favoring the wealthy class, at the expense of everyone else (Calmes 2012).

Class is constructed both visually and verbally in this ad. These voters are interviewed in scenes that seem to be their middle-class homes, creating a sense of mediated canvassing. It parallels a conversation that you may have after someone invited you into their home.  They are all dressed neatly, but casually. We seem to visit these three people in their respective homes, as each of the backgrounds is different, though all in line with a suburban, middle-class feel. These homes visually attest to these voters’ middle-class status because they are casually ensconced in regularity. We chat with Barbara, who is seated in what looks like her home. There are outdoor patio seats in Barbara’s background, a leather chair and a bookcase in Connie’s, and a vase with some flowers and white blinds behind Alex. Seated in front of her wooden cabinets, Mary says earnestly, “I am the middle class.”

Simply featuring middle-class, demographically important voters would be insufficient, though. These people’s authenticity as real middle-class voters has to be established, as this lends credibility to their testimonies.

The authentic middle-class voter is constructed both visually and verbally. Part of the featured voters’ legitimacy lies in the interpersonal feel of the ad, which allows the viewer to identify with these “average voters.” As each person appears for the first time, (s)he is identified by her/his first name on screen in white writing, along with their former association with Obama. We see on the screen, for instance, “Barbara voted for President Obama,” “Mary voted for President Obama,” and this repeats for each voter. This creates a relaxed, first-name, interpersonal basis with these people, constructing a neighborly feel. In addition, the camera is positioned at an interpersonal distance, so that the viewer is face to face with Barbara, Mary, and the others (Meyrowitz 1995). Another marker of their authenticity is that none of the testifiers look directly at the camera, but rather look at someone to the side of and beyond the camera. This suggests that they are having a conversation with someone beyond the screen and just happen to be filmed while earnestly conversing (Parry-Giles 2000). These voters are constructed as authentic middle-class citizens who share their disillusionment with the President.

Ad Content – Measured Disappointment, Reflection, and Moderate Voters.

After a harshly fought primary that saw Republican candidates moving to the right while courting conservative primary voters (Cohen 2012), Mitt Romney found himself in the general election, facing considerably more moderate voters. This ad is a toned-down bid for moderate voters in states that have historically moved between red and blue.

“New Ideas” features soft, pensive music throughout while the three former Obama supporters share their stories of disillusionment. Each voter explains that they gave the President a chance, but that their experiences in the last four years have led them to stop supporting Mr. Obama. For instance, Alex remarks, “I have not received the hope and change that I believed in in 2008.” The ad’s argument depends heavily on the audience’s willingness to infer implied premises. Thus, this ad constructs a quasi-logical, enthymematic argument, which gives the voters’ decisions to stop supporting Obama the feel of a logical process (Perelman 1970, 290-293). The voters’ decision to not support President Obama rests on a premise that is not explicitly stated—these citizens vote for candidates because of their potential to fulfill campaign promises. The featured voters expressly state that they supported Obama in 2008 because he offered something new and hopeful. They then explicitly express their views that Obama did not fulfill his campaign promise. Thus, the major premise does not allow the implied conclusion that they should vote for Obama again, as they know he has not fulfilled his campaign promises. In this quasi-logical enthymeme, only one minor premise is directly stated, but the other premises work implicitly to guide the viewer to the conclusion that these people engaged in a logical thought-process before retracting their support for the President.

In addition, the ad never explicitly states that any of the voters will not vote for Obama, but instead features the voters’ disappointment. It sends with a question and assertion written on the screen: “Has President Obama Earned Your Vote? It’s Time for a Change.” This asks the audience to reflect on our own experiences with this president’s policies and compare them to those of the featured voters. It does not, however, simply end with the question prompting individual reflection. After asking the question, the ad ends by supplying the answer—“It’s Time for a Change”— suggesting that the audience can only answer “no” to the question and to Obama. 

Who’s talking About the Ad 

L.A. Times

“Until recently, the group [AFP] devoted its substantial resources to running so-called ‘issue ads’ that attacked the president’s tenure without calling for his defeat. But AFP… shifted strategy this summer after a new court ruling declared that groups that run issue ads close to the election have to reveal their funders…The new AFP spot strikes a quiet but emphatic tone, as real voters express regret for backing Obama in 2008.”

http://articles.latimes.com/2012/aug/24/news/la-pn-americans-for-prosperity-against-obama-20120824

New York Times

http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/07/americans-for-prosperity-begins-25-million-anti-obama-ad-campaign/

Washington Post

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/election-2012/wp/2012/08/24/americans-for-prosperity-tries-softer-6-million-touch/

Works Cited 

2009. “2008 Official Presidential General Election Results.” Federal Election Commission (FEC). January 29. http://www.fec.gov/pubrec/fe2008/2008presgeresults.pdf.

2012. “Americans for Prosperity.” Sunlight Foundation. October 30. http://reporting.sunlightfoundation.com/outside-spending/committee/americans-for-prosperity/C90013285/.

2012. “‘A Better Future’ to be Republican Convention Theme.” 2012 Republican National Convention. August 17. http://www.gopconvention2012.com/news-press/press-releases/a-better-future-to-be-republican-convention-theme/.

Calmes, Jackie. 2012. “Obama Says Romney’s Tax Plan Favors Wealthy Only.” New York Times. August 1. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/02/us/politics/obama-citing-study-says-romneys-tax-plan-would-benefit-only-wealthy.html?_r=0.

Cohen, Tom. 2012. “Romney Still Faces Conservative Doubts as Convention Approaches.” CNN. August 9. http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/09/politics/romney-conservatives/index.html.

Gold, Matea. 2012. “Americans for Prosperity steps up campaign against Obama.” L.A. Times.August 24. http://articles.latimes.com/2012/aug/24/news/la-pn-americans-for-prosperity-against-obama-20120824.

Meyrowitz, Joshua. “New Sense of Politics: How Television Changes the Political Drama,” Research in Political Sociology 7 (1995): 117-138.

Newport, Frank. 2012. “Obama Remains Women’s Presidential Pick; Romney, Men’s.” Gallup. August 23. http://www.gallup.com/poll/156848/obama-remains-women-presidential-pick-romney-men.aspx.

Parry-Giles, Shawn. 2000. “Mediating Hillary Rodham Clinton: Television News Practices and Image-Making in the Postmodern Age.” Critical Studies in Media Communication 17(2): 205-226.

Perelman, Chaïm. 1970. “The New Rhetoric: A Theory of Practical Reasoning.” In The Great Ideas Today, 1970, 273-312. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Peters, Jeremy. 2012. “Americans for Prosperity Begins $25 Million Anti-Obama Ad Campaign.” August 7. http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/07/americans-for-prosperity-begins-25-million-anti-obama-ad-campaign/.

Weiner, Rachel. 2012. “Americans for Prosperity tries softer, $6 million touch.” Washington Post. August 24. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/election-2012/wp/2012/08/24/americans-for-prosperity-tries-softer-6-million-touch/.

Weinger, MacKenzie. 2012. “Poll: 0 percent of blacks for Mitt Romney.” Politico. August 22. http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0812/80015.html#ixzz2AtZxyTfF.