15 Worst Political Adverts in U.S History

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From the dawn of televised campaigns to the era of viral internet memes, U.S. political adverts have always been a spectacle in their own right. While many have managed to make influential and inspiring messages, others have left us scratching our heads or shaking them in disbelief.

Here are the 15 most bewildering, bizarre, and downright worst political advertisements in U.S. history.

“Daisy” (1964)

15 Worst Political Adverts in U.S History
Image credit: Lyndon B Johnson’s 1964 Presidential campaign via Wikimedia Commons

This ad for President Lyndon B. Johnson depicted a little girl counting daisy petals before a nuclear explosion. The ad was seen as overly manipulative and fear-inducing, leading to its eventual pull from the airwaves.

“Willie Horton” (1988)

15 Worst Political Adverts in U.S History
Willie Horton

This ad by George H. W. Bush’s campaign focused on the leave of murderer Willie Horton during Dukakis’s tenure as Massachusetts governor. Many people saw the ad as racially charged and divisive.

“Demon Sheep” (2010)

15 Worst Political Adverts in U.S History
Image credit: Capitol Weekly via Flickr

This bizarre ad was released by Carly Fiorina’s Senate campaign in 2010. It featured a man dressed as a sheep with glowing red eyes, symbolizing her opponent as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” The ad was widely criticized for its weird and creepy imagery.

“You Won’t Be Safe in Joe Biden’s America” (2020)

15 Worst Political Adverts in U.S History
Provided by Frenz

A campaign advert commissioned by Trump exploited fears of civil unrest and crime, painting a dystopian picture of America under Biden’s presidency. However, critics argue the ad used misleading representations and unnecessary fear tactics.

“Rats” (2000)

15 Worst Political Adverts in U.S History
Image credit: ImpiousDigest via Flickr

A controversial ad from George W. Bush’s Republican campaign briefly flashed the word “RATS” while criticizing Al Gore’s prescription drug plan.

The subliminal message sparked accusations of manipulation, triggering a strong negative response.

“These Hands” (2012)

15 Worst Political Adverts in U.S History
Image credit: Museum of the Moving Image via Flickr

During the Obama-Romney campaign, a political ad sought to undermine President Obama’s position on small businesses. However, it received backlash for distorting his words and employing manipulative emotional tactics.

“Tank Ride” (1988)

15 Worst Political Adverts in U.S History
Image credit: Unknown author via Wikimedia Commons

An ad in Michael Dukakis’s presidential campaign showed him in a military tank, aiming to portray his strength on defense.

However, the image of Dukakis in a tank helmet became fodder for ridicule and was used against him by his opponent.

“3 am Call” (2008)

15 Worst Political Adverts in U.S History
Image credit: Benjamin via Wikimedia Commons

In 2008, Hillary Clinton launched “The 3 am Call” campaign ad to question Barack Obama’s crisis management skills. The ad faced criticism for its fear-based tone and lack of focus on Clinton’s capabilities.

“Big Bird” (2012)

15 Worst Political Adverts in U.S History
Image credit: Nathan via Flickr

President Obama’s 2012 political ad “Big Bird” cleverly responds to Mitt Romney’s plan to defund PBS. The ad links Romney to corporate greed with humor and satire, using the iconic character Big Bird.

Although the ad received mixed reviews, it was ultimately withdrawn after facing criticism from Sesame Street’s creators.

“Celeb” (2008)

15 Worst Political Adverts in U.S History
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

John McCain’s ad compared Barack Obama to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, suggesting he was more of a celebrity than a leader. Critics felt it was trivializing and out of touch.

“Convicted Murderer” (2018)

15 Worst Political Adverts in U.S History
Image credit: ammy Ruso via Flickr

An ad by President Trump’s campaign featured an immigrant convicted of murder to paint Democrats as weak on immigration. Its fearmongering and divisive approach was widely criticized.

“Dangerous Donald” (2016)

Donald J. Trump by Michael Vadon via WikiCommons

This ad by a pro-Clinton Super PAC portrayed Trump as reckless and dangerous. Critics found it as overly dramatic and fearmongering.

“Ashley’s Story” (2004)

15 Worst Political Adverts in U.S History
Eric Draper via Wikimedia Commons.com

An ad for George W. Bush’s re-election campaign showed a teenage girl whose mother died on 9/11 praising Bush. Many criticized the advertisement as exploiting a tragedy for political gain.

“Wind Surfing” (2004)

15 Worst Political Adverts in U.S History
Image credit: Life Journeys via Canva. com

George W. Bush’s campaign ad mocked John Kerry for windsurfing as a metaphor for his alleged flip-flopping on issues. Critics deemed it as overly trivial and distracting from real issues.

“Laughing at Us” (2016)

15 Worst Political Adverts in U.S History
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

This anti-Trump ad featured a montage of other world leaders supposedly laughing at Trump. Critics saw it as a petty and unconvincing argument.

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