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> Attack Ads, They Really Were Worse This Year
post Nov 3 2010, 03:23 PM
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Although the idea that this election has been particularly vitriolic has been parodied in this viral video on the 1800 election, an article posted at Miller-McCune reports on a study showing that negative ads did actually increase as compared to other recent elections:

In the analysis, 49.9 percent of Democratic spots this fall have been pure attack ads (compared with 27 percent of congressional ads in 2004). Meanwhile, 56 percent of Republican ads have been attack ads (twice the percentage from 2004).

The statistics over the past decade don’t necessarily point to a worsening trend. Rather, this has just been a vitriolic year, with the campaign mirroring the negative mood of the country, the high stakes of this election and the large number of closely contested races.
While Democrats and Republicans this fall both pushed attack ads, Fowler was struck by their differing negative strategies (if anyone can find varying ways to be negative, it’s politicians). Democrats were more likely to personally batter opponents, while Republicans were more likely to attack policy issues.


This difference in negative strategies may have hurt the Democrats:
According to Lau and Rovner [10] social psychologists feel that negative information has a tendency “to be more influential than equally extreme or equally likely positive information.” [10] Citizens may want to hear the good qualities of the candidates but they tend to remember more about the less desirable ones when presented with them. Research indicates that voters are open to candidates attacking each other as long as it’s on issues that they deem to be “appropriate.” For example, survey of Virginia Voters, 80.7% of voters feel it is fair for a candidate to criticize an opponent for “talking one way and voting another” but only 7.7% feel it is fair for a candidate to attack an opponent for the “behavior of his/her family members.” [11] Effective attack ads attempt to paint the other candidate as dishonest politically rather than personally.


Many political scientists, like John Geer of Vanderbilt University, agree. “Many pundits view negative ads as counterproductive, but nothing could be further from the truth,” Geer says. “Attack ads contain more substantive information than positive ads.”


1. Did personal attack ads like "Aqua Buddha" hurt Democrats or Republicans more?

2. Can negative ads be more beneficial to civil discourse if they contain some substantive critique of the opposition's policy?

3. How do negative ads affect how you vote, if at all?
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