go to content
Politics

I Watched TV In Iowa And The Political Ads Drove Me Mad

This is what happens when you spend an hour in an Iowa hotel room wading through political TV ads. BuzzFeed UK's Jim Waterson is in the US for the primary season.

Posted on

Watching TV in Iowa has become completely insufferable, due to the nonstop barrage of TV ads.

As a British person in Iowa, nothing quite prepares you for the sheer overwhelming nauseating sensation of high-powered and completely contradictory political messages being chucked out of the TV screens every 30 seconds during the caucus season.

In the UK we have tight restrictions on politicians buying adverts on TV and radio: They can't. Instead, each political party gets a handful of five-minute slots provided to them by public broadcasters during election periods, for which they produce boring and worthy films that no one watches or gives a damn about.

I sat in my hotel room in Iowa City on Friday night, three days before today's caucuses, and watched the local CBS affiliate station for an hour: This is what normal, decent Iowans trying to watch a talk show (in my case, Ellen) have to put up with.

In the space of an hour there were at least 17 political adverts, many of them running side-by-side with directly contradictory messages, sometimes beside identical messages from associated super PACs, and sometimes just repeatedly hammering the same message until any sane person would want to turn off the TV.

First up: an advert about how people love Bernie Sanders, soundtracked by Simon & Garfunkel's "America".

Bernie then intones "I approve this message", despite there being no message other than some sweeping shots of people saying they love Bernie played behind a baby-boomer anthem soundtrack.

Then there's another credit card, this time a limited edition with Rubio's face on it.

TV

The main accusation of the advert, paid for by a Jeb Bush-associated super PAC, is there are "just too many questions" about the Florida senator. Exactly what you're supposed to do with these questions is unclear, although it presumably involves not voting for him.

Just when the average Iowa TV viewer has finally understood there are "questions" about Rubio, suddenly there are more "questions" on their TV ad slots. This time about Trump.

And the ad finishes with a question. No conclusion, no major direction, just an open-ended question.

This ad runs repeatedly throughout the hour to the point where the average viewer will probably be able to recite it for life.

Brief reminder: This is all during one hour of television programming on a typical day in Iowa late in the caucus season.

The non-stop stream of candidate adverts on Iowan TV briefly diverts into a campaign about ethanol subsidies.

TV

Innovatively, the citation provided on-screen for one of this advert's key claims is simply "science".

Remember: This is just a selection of the political ads fitted into an hour slot in Iowa during caucus season.

Many were repeated multiple times in the same hour, many ran side-by-side with directly contradictory adverts, and all of them cost someone a lot of money for the sake of reaching potential caucusgoers in the state.

When the candidates move out of town after Monday night's caucus, one thing's certain: The people of Iowa will be finally be able to enjoy watching TV again.

Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Jim Waterson at jim.waterson@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.