How a zombie apocalypse is informing a new wave of Dem ads

The final sprint of the midterms has brought another battery of ads, with scores of spots set to ominous music and deep-voiced narrators warning about the perils of the opposition.

But deep into an election cycle once assumed to be a lost cause for Democrats, something new is emerging: A wager from a group of progressive operatives that their party’s success comes down to narrative storytelling presented in an animated format.

Yes, cartoons.

Wide Angle Research, a nonprofit focused on moving politically-conflicted audiences, isn’t forsaking the hard-hitting tactics that have become a trademark of the campaign season’s close. Instead, the operatives pushed even further with online spots meant to mine some Americans’ darkest fears.

In one of the ads, a 10-year-old girl is sedated in a hospital after being raped. A doctor tells her parents she’ll have to return for a pregnancy test as part of a new government mandate. The narrator in the ad says states are passing abortion bans with no exceptions, adding that “a rapist can force himself on a child. But it takes Republican rule to force her to have his baby.”

In another spot, parents are arrested for child abuse for supporting their transgender child. A third one focuses on violent threats to election workers.

The style and format of the ad campaign, produced with help from the firm 76 Words, is built off of more than 18 months of unorthodox research, including studies that delved deep into the psyche of voters. Operatives at Wide Angle Research believe it represents a new frontier in digital campaigning.

“It’s all in the news now about how Dems are focusing on abortion because they’re realizing it’s a very powerful issue for them. And it is,” said Ineke Mushovic, executive director of Wide Angle Research. “But how does that relate to the fact that election offices are currently fortifying themselves with bulletproof glass because election officials are afraid for their lives? How does that relate to [Texas] Gov. [Greg] Abbott telling child agencies they need to investigate parents who support their trans kids? Dems can make this election about an issue (abortion), or Dems can tie the issues together and make it about something bigger.”

Launched in 2021, Wide Angle Research is not among the best-known Beltway names. Indeed, its website is sparse, Mushovic has spearheaded the project from a cabin in the Colorado mountains. And the group declined to list the names of its funders, save to say that it is supported by several high-net worth individuals who, in Mushovic’s words, “believe it is time to fight back and they hadn’t seen it in the Democratic Party.” But the firm has relationships with other entities in the party’s ecosystem, including Indivisible and UltraViolet; and it partnered with the group Future Majority on its research. That work, while under-the-radar, was praised by operatives in the party tent.

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