Secular Right | Reality & Reason



The Elizabeth Dole “atheism” ad

Before the 2008 election cycle entirely passes into history, let’s take note of the TV ad that, according to some, helped seal Elizabeth Dole’s loss in her effort to hold on to her North Carolina Senate seat for the GOP:

If this sort of thing goes over badly with voters in North Carolina, a state with strong evangelical church attendance and long the base of Sen. Jesse Helms, it’s hard to see it as a viable strategy nationwide. (And don’t write it off as an isolated lapse of some Dole staffers, either: as YouTube confirms, the official National Republican Senatorial Committee was hip-deep in the strategy.) At the moment there’s intense interest in the race for chairman of the Republican National Committee, in which organized religious conservatives seem to have placed their chips on former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (who’s also drawn support from some more secular figures on the right). Other figures in the RNC race include former Maryland Lt. Gov. Mike Steele and Michigan GOP chairman Saul Anuzis.


  • ◄Dave► · January 6, 2009 at 9:54 am

    Agreed. I would have voted against her for the stupidity of the attack, even were I not godless. I know the experts all agree that repetitive negative advertising works on the sheeple, which is why most politicians must resort to it, else their less squeamish competitor has the advantage. On the other hand, I think it turns off too many potential voters who might use a little more reason in their decision as to which is the lessor of two evil egos. Why did we ever allow the politicians to encourage voting by thoughtless simpletons?

    Why bother to vote, it just encourages the fools to think we like them. Or worse, that we actually want whatever nonsense they are pandering with; or worse yet, that we want them to be our leaders, rather than merely our employed representatives. As a sovereign individual, I don’t need a leader with some grandiose vision of a glorious future; just a faithful employee to represent my interests, and defend me from all the power hungry fools other jurisdictions choose. ◄Dave►

  • Joe Donovan · January 6, 2009 at 10:04 am

    Well, I live in Raleigh, NC. Elizabeth Dole’s statements were politically incorrect, but she was speaking truth. I am involved with a local atheists meetup group here, and we are looking into doing something public to commemorate Darwin’s birthday next month. I went over the state Museum of Natural Science (which happens to be across the street from our state legislature building) to see if they were planning anything or interested in doing something. I was told that even though many of the staff personally would support this effort, that the “E” word is never referenced in the museum, and nothing could be held there. I don’t see any evidence that the state legislature will produce any kind of proclamation recognising Darwin’s 200th birthday. Also, I don’t expect any of the newspapers across the state to recognise it either.

  • Transplanted Lawyer · January 6, 2009 at 10:50 am

    Yes, but let’s not forget that Kay Hagan was quick to throw atheists under the bus, too. She characterized Dole’s ad as an “attack on my Christian faith” and said that she had never even heard about the Godless Americans PAC “and certainly doesn’t agree with anything they stand for.”

    Senator Hagan is and will be no friend of ours.

  • Derek Scruggs · January 6, 2009 at 10:54 am

    @Transplanted Lawyer, agreed. I don’t know enough about Hagan to form an opinion, but I did see her response ad and think Dole ultimately lost because she was lying. If Hagan actually were an atheist (instead of a Sunday school teacher) it might have worked.

  • Author comment by Caledonian · January 6, 2009 at 11:31 am

    Making a serious accusation against an opponent, falsely, is one of the best ways to lose people’s support.

    I suspect that this ad hurt Dole not just because the accusation was wrong, but because the accusation was perceived as being serious, that the public viewed being a “godless atheist” as a significantly bad thing.

    If this were the case, it would suggest that the strategy is a very powerful one. Given the bigotry frequently directed against the godless, I favor this interpretation over your more-hopeful one.

  • Dan L · January 6, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    I think you have some serious reverse causation here. Dole didn’t lose because of the crazy ad, she put up a crazy ad at the last minute because she knew she was behind. Is there any evidence that she actually lost ground after the ad was made? From what I remember the polls stayed about the same for the last month of that race. Given more time, it’s possible that ad could have worked. I’m fairly sure a more tactful version of a “My opponent is friends with atheists” ad would work in states with large evangelical populations.

  • A Good Sign? — The New Clarion · January 6, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    […] Secular Right notes that this campaign video did not help Elizabeth Dole get reelected. […]

  • Ted · January 7, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    I agree with the commenters — I don’t see how this is a victory for atheists. To the extent the ad hurt Dole, it hurt Dole because voters perceived it as a low-blow unfair attack on someone who wasn’t actually an atheist. Hagan attacked the ad as untrue and unfair, not as the non sequitur it was.



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