Getting voters to ‘toon in;

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Campaigns increasingly use cartoons on Internet to grab attention.

The Orange County Register (California)

WHAT IT IS: Cartoons posted on Web sites by political groups are emerging as a last-minute strategy in the contentious special-election campaign.

HOW IT EVOLVED: With public interest in and access to the Internet on the rise — an estimated one-third of the state’s 37 million residents use the Internet — campaigns are increasingly using Web sites to spread their message. Web cartoons are a natural evolution of their online foray, the strategists say. But such animated political satire didn’t achieve widespread popularity until last year’s U.S. presidential race, with large online audiences worldwide viewing the spots and e-mailing them to their friends.

UPSIDE: It’s an inexpensive weapon in a campaign arsenal that has become defined by record spending, proponents and opponents of the special election say.

“They are very funny. They are very clever,” added Barbara O’Connor, who heads the Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media at Cal State Sacramento. “It reduces the stress level, because the ads that have been on TV have been so negative.”

An added benefit is that newspapers, television and radio stations tend to report on the cartoons, exposing even more voters to the message, said Todd Harris, spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s California Recovery Team.

“Like all things in politics, if you can find a way to communicate a political message in a clever and entertaining way, you are going to have a far better chance of having that message heard,” he said.

DOWNSIDE: “The kind of audience that watches these spots is limited,” O’Connor said.

“Largely young males, mostly white and Asian, who historically are not the kind of voters who turn out for special elections. Also, the cartoons don’t automatically pop up when browsing the Internet; they need to be e-mailed or downloaded from specific Web sites,” said Nancy Snow, professor of political communication at Cal State Fullerton. “There’s a lot of promise with the Internet, but it’s no panacea, and it’s not going to bring in all the eyeballs.”

EFFECT: Jerry Flanagan of Consumer Watchdog, a campaign affiliate of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and the California Nurses Association, said he hopes to have a million visits by Election Day to his cartoon attacking Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his ballot initiatives.

Harris is similarly optimistic that the California Recovery Team’s cartoon attacking big union spending against the governor’s initiatives will draw widespread attention.

But Snow and O’Connor predict it’s more likely that the cartoons will be circulated more among campaign insiders and political junkies than the general public.


In this animation, Schwarzenegger is portrayed as a whiny politician in bodybuilder briefs who fails to persuade Minerva, the Greek goddess of wisdom, and others depicted on California’s state seal to vote for his ballot initiatives. The $15,000 spot was posted Oct. 19 by Consumer Watchdog, a campaign affiliate of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and the California Nurses Association.


In this animation, union bosses portrayed as thugs go to a schoolhouse to “shake down” another teacher to pay for their fight against “reform.” The spot is updated daily to include the latest dollar amount in union spending on the Nov. 8 special election. The $1,500 cartoon was posted Oct. 11 by Schwarzenegger’s California Recovery Team.

Here are four Web sites with California campaign cartoons. Political animation may include objectionable content, so parental discretion is advised.

In alphabetical order, they are:

Cartoons from the last presidential election can be seen at:
Contact the author at: (916) 449-6687 or [email protected]

Consumer Watchdog
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