04.12.2016 07:25 AM

Going neg works

From YouTube:

From the New York Times:

But despite claims that campaign advertising has lost its potency, there is growing evidence that negative ads still work — and that they are beginning to take their toll on Mr. Trump.

Ken Goldstein, a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco who tracks campaign advertising, pointed to Wisconsin as a place where the ads, paired with a focused message, a smaller field and a persuadable electorate, had an effect.

“Negative ads are never a silver bullet,” Mr. Goldstein said. “What negative ads in particular do is allow people to introduce or amplify messages that are out there with movable people.”

From one of my books on the subject:

…just because someone tells you something is negative campaigning doesn’t mean that it is. Negative ads and negative campaigns have been defined in so many different ways that no one is quite sure what “negative” means anymore. What too many people seem to accept, however, is that negative politics is bad for democracy. It isn’t.

One of the better studies in this area is by the Annenberg Campaign Mapping Project (ACMP). ACMP divided campaign discourse into three types: advocacy, which are arguments in favour of a politician’s position; contrast, which are arguments contrasting two or more political choices; and attack, which are arguments critical of an opponent or the opponent’s position on something. Only the last type can be fairly seen as negative, but all three are often lumped together as just that. It is worth remembering that the Annenberg study found that attack ads actually contain a far greater percentage of “policy words” and more issue content than contrast or advocacy ads. And a 1998 national U.S. poll, also by Annenberg, concluded that voters regard contrast ads as “responsible” and “useful.”

So what’s negative about any of that? Nothing. Reporters (who are more negative in a day than you will be in a lifetime) like to call tough campaign messages negative because they prefer to report on conflict not agreement. Political opponents like to call the other side’s ads negative because they know voters believe they don’t like negative ads, and they hope to win support by condemning the opposition’s use of them. Don’t believe the hype. Most of the time, when you hear a politician is being negative, it’s not true. They’re merely being political.

As I wrote in this space some time ago, going neg on Trump (and anybody, really) would work. And it has worked.

Oh, and any Liberal who has persuaded themselves that Justin Trudeau wasn’t brutal with his two opponents in all of the televised leaders’ debates in the 2015 federal election? You’re dreaming in technicolour. Trudeau kicked the living Hell out of Messrs. Harper and Mulcair, over and over.

And they’re now gone, and he isn’t.

3 Comments

  1. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Warren,

    What I find so fascinating is not that negative ads work — but that they are working against the clear frontrunner so late in the primary/caucus cycle. Can’t recall seeing that before.

  2. davie says:

    One of the claims about negative ads and campaigning is that it reduce voter turn out. Trump and Sanders seem to be doing better when they increase voter participation in these primaries and caucuses. I wonder if the negative stuff is nibbling at voter turn out, even before the general election happens.

    • Ronald O'Dowd says:

      Davie,

      Generally speaking, negative ads seem to have had little effect on Republican turnout which is up considerably from eight years ago. Not so the Democrats.

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