Campaign Ads Cause Voter Disenfranchisement

Jo Ann Hardesty

With 24 days left to register voters to participate in the General Election TV/Radio Ads are making it impossible to engage new folks in the political process.

Why must elections go down this path? Can't candidates just tell folks why they are the best person for the job instead of all the negative campaign ads?

Normally 30 days prior to an election ad fatigue sets in. As a fully informed and engaged voter I don't want or need negative campaign ads, in fact they do more to turn off folks who are just starting to pay attention and NOTHING to change the minds of voters who's minds are made up.

So why do we have to suffer through this? Every day I speak with youth, low-income adults and people of color who don't have enough information to make good decisions and choices on their ballots but are so turned off by the ads they consider checking out of the process.

These ads make my job a lot more difficult. I don't have a good response for why these ads take over the airwaves....Do you?

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Jo Ann, I disagree with you on a regular basis.

    However you are dead center perfect with your observations here. It doesn't matter wheter it is a "d" or a "r"; this time of the cycle it gets nasty. Personally I think it does bacause the candidates would rather divert us with minutia than deal with the issues (health care, social security, immigration, taxes, etc) They really don't want to be tied to any real meaningful issues at this time of the election season.

    Tell the kids if they don't vote it will only get worse. Encourage them to become a part of the action rather than a bystander.

  • (Show?)

    Negative ads are everywhere because historically and in-general they work.

  • Derk (unverified)

    "More than a third of all white Democrats and independents—voters Obama can't win the White House without—agreed with at least one negative adjective about blacks, according to the survey, and they are significantly less likely to vote for Obama than those who don't have such views. "

    Racism may work once again to end this historic presidency. While we all know most republicans are racist homo-phobes baby-killers, will Southern democrats vote Obama?

  • LT (unverified)

    Carla, Carla, Carla, "Negative ads are everywhere because historically and in-general they work."

    I've been fighting that attitude for much longer than Blue Oregon has existed.

    Every time I see the ad with Merkley eating a hotdog, I am reminded of one of the classic cases (there are others)where negative ads tipped voters into supporting the person being attacked. It was Denny Smith (an incumbent with as much reason to worry as Gordon Smith has now) running ads that were WAY over the line---National Journal (or some other such publication like Almanac of American Politics) listed one really awful Denny Smith ad as a reason he was retired--and not a close election either. 55% Kopetski, 45% Smith in a year when maybe only 5 Congressional incumbents running for re-election were defeated.

    Many of us believe in (and fought for) the Jan. 1996 Wyden "100% positive" ads. Given the number of people who voted 3rd party in that election between the Congressman and the St. Sen. President, there is no telling who would have won if they'd both continued being nasty--or, how low the turnout would have been. (One election official was asking people who were fed up to send in blank ballots for the special election so they could publish the number of people who were fed up.)

    Research has shown that sometimes nasty ads sometimes "work" in the following ways: 1) May win primary but so anger people that the primary winner loses the general election. 2) May win one election but anger so many people that the next re-election is tough if not impossible (will be interesting to see if Saxby Chambliss is re-elected to the US Senate given that Chuck Hagel and John McCain protested the ads their party was using in 2002 to attack a disabled vet named Max Cleland--who became a martyr in certain circles). 3) May dampen turnout. 4) Nasty ads by a known quantity attacking an unknown (incumbent vs. unknown challenger) have sometimes been proven to work, but research shows that seldom if ever does an unknown running nasty ads against a known (not "I'm running because I disagree with my opponent's record" but "my opponent is a sleaze ball, vote for me") win an election.

    Sometimes nasty ads just mobilize the supporters of the attacked candidate to devote more time and money to the campaign than they had planned, tell their friends how angry they are, etc. And sometimes attacks create a sympathy factor.

    So don't tell me "negative campaigns work" as if that is beyond question. I've had friends survive really nasty attacks ("My opponent doesn't believe in tough sentences for drug kingpins" in a legislative race? The guy who ran those ads against an incumbent not only lost but was a laughing stock for years, of the "gee, he's only involved in that charity project to rebuild his good name" variety.) And no, out of the people I knew personally who were viciously attacked, they did not all lose. Most of them did not lose. A few lost in ways that no one ever forgave the candidate doing the attacking, and the losing candidate had more public respect than the candidate who won.

    Thank you Jo Ann for writing this post.

  • (Show?)

    Unfortunately, too often, going negative does work (not that it works every time, but that it does work quite often).

    I have to say that I've been asked on multiple occasions to go negative on my opponent by people out here in the community. Instead, I try to stick with the issues and why I would be a good fit on the council.

    Back a month or so ago, we both agreed to not run negative campaigns, and I plan on sticking with that agreement. We have enough negative out here without us creating more.

  • RW (unverified)

    Jenni, that's great to hear. Just to report to you the tenor of all who pass through our house -- we look askance at ANY political slime or lying. Even if we believe in the guy, we disapprove of pigslime and pushing people in it.

    It would be worth it to do some key informant exit polls to see how the negativity moratorium affected the electorate. Probably too late to talk to PSU or some other university with a program/grad students interested in public policy tests like that.

    Thanks for your commitment to keeping it clean and factual. It really does matter to some of us that OUR chosen candidate maintain the integrity we desire. If your opponent does the same, you should both be featured in the media in an interview to explain how you decided, stuck to it and what it means to you as political people. That will be an accomplishment worth talking about.

  • meg (unverified)

    "Every day I speak with youth, low-income adults and people of color who don't have enough information to make good decisions". Do they live in a cave?

  • LT (unverified)

    Meg, people who are barely scraping by don't have as much time to pay attention to politics as people here.

    We had a neighbor visiting when the ad with Kurt and Martha Schrader came on the TV and I said it was only the 2nd time I'd seen it and I know and admire Kurt and Martha.

    He said, "Yeah, that veterinarian ad has been on a couple weeks".

    And I have found intelligent people in the community who ask me questions about basic details because either their friends are totally non-political or else they believe every wing nut email they get.

    And there are people who try to be informed who say "Let's see--Schrader is running to replace Darlene and Merkley is running against Gordon Smith, is that right? So who is running for our state rep.?"

    Some people have more to think about than keeping all those names straight. They don't live in a cave, just have very busy lives.

  • Eric Parker (unverified)

    Just leave all races blank as a form of protest and vote NO on every intiative. Easy and fast.

  • (Show?)

    The best example of a negative campaign losing a race was the early '80s initiative against the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant. PGE went all "hot dog" on the chief petitioner, Lloyd Marbet -- actually, worse -- in some full-page ads in the O. Voter reaction against PGE was clear -- and that was the beginning of the end for Trojan (now just a memory).

    People around here don't always go for that sort of thing, as Mr. Smith may soon find out.

  • (Show?)

    Yea, because you know there's nothing like denying the right of 18 year-olds to vote for school board. Heck, at 18 I was running for school board.

    Not all measures/initiatives on the ballot are bad. A "no" vote across the board isn't always the way to go.

    And leaving the races blank just hurts the candidates you do support.

  • RW (unverified)

    Meg, that was really middle class and narrow-minded of you. Not all people have had the opportunity to learn key critical thinking skills; not all people have had exposure to some alternate streams of information. I see people up here constantly posturing as if their faulty thought product were somehow better b/c the magazines and blogs they read had four syllable words instead of hallmark greeting tags. But the true personal insight work and testing of substance was not nearly as better than these folks in the cave you are sniffing at.

    Yes, Meg, if you lived where I did in Oklahoma and in Nevada and in Montana, you would be astounded by the fewer options for thought streams and media access. All newspapers and radios owned by the very small subset of conglomerates... all of the news outside that potato patch scooped from the EXACT same AP wire across the entire country....

    Get your nose out of the air. Realize that even in our content-rich haven here we do a piss-poor job of challenging ourselves to relinquish our postures. And in many many other parts of this country, even here in Oregon, outlets, sources and access points are parched.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    The corporate media is not going to change and candidates will continue to use negative advertising, because it works. Especially when a Republican like Gordon Smith or John McCain can't win on issues, winning on making up stuff about their opponent, or showing them while eating, maybe that will distract attention.

    The only alternative is to use voter education and registration programs using community based organizations that low information voters typically affiliate with, whether they be young or old, or of minority ethnicity. So much is at stake, war and peace, economic opportunity, our health care security, our basic citizen rights, the safety of our environment.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Politics as played by professionals is a very cynical game. Negative ads run because polls and focus groups suggest they work. People who are disgusted by political campaigns and so do not vote do not figure in the matter because, well, they don't vote. Indeed, many more people might vote if campaigns were not so petty and nasty, but political consultants are not hired to promote democracy, they are hired to win a particular election.

    The news media could help by condemning ads that are false, but they make big bucks running tha ads, whatever their content. Don't expect improvement any time soon.

  • RW (unverified)

    Well put as usual, from a man who experienced from the inside what it's about.

    The lack of diversity within the media ownership and data streams is concerning.

    Don't expect improvement: ever.

  • rw (unverified)

    And, closer to home, a sponsored link on the left gutter of this blog insistenly says McCain/Palin are advocating banning ALL abortions no matter the circs.

    Not true.

    Again, I'm about to pass out from the PAIN of having to speak on that gork's behalf, but there it is: it's bad enough that the only honor they will accord a woman and her body and her self, is if she's raped, incested or otherwise violated.... might she have a chance to choose whether her body will be MADE a vessel and her life forever in service to another's life.

    That sponsored link we are allowing to reside up here is espousing a political lie.

    Why isn't the truth powerful enough? We women HATE the fact that they dice and slice our right to make decisions about our lives, our souls, our bodies, based upon something so negative as violations, depredations, abominations.... let us have the right to REALITY based dialogs! Respect us enough to give us truth-telling ads, not debunkable pablum that wastes our time in wading thru our feelings about THAT before we can move on to the discussion you ad-makers pretend you want us to be having!

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    RE: Abortion

    McCain has the position that all abortions should be criminalized except rape or incest. Palin, when asked the question in the 2006 election specifically state - no exceptions.

    One reason she stopped the city of Wasilla from paying for forensic exam rape kits is because they contained Plan B contraception to prevent pregnancy, and fundamentalist extremist that she is, Palin considers it murder to use emergency contraception to prevent pregancy. So if you're raped, according to Palin, the law should force you to bear a child. Nice candidates you got there, Repugs.

  • (Show?)

    I find negative ads to be as lame and nasty as the next person. And yeah, they sometimes turn me off. But by and large they really do work.

    I'd love to see it not work, frankly. But the odds aren't in that favor.

    I also haven't seen data to prove to me that they depress turnout, either. But I'd be fascinated to see it if someone can provide it.

  • (Show?)

    Part of the reason we see so many more negative ads than positive ads is that voters are more likely to believe the negative ads. When a candidate tells you what a great guy he or she is, most listeners say, "Yeah, right." But when a candidate says his or her opponent is a no good so-and-so, most listeners say, "Hey, that's right!"

    Cynicism is to blame, but it is cynicism on the part of the voters at least as much as the candidates or the media. This applies to issues, too. It's far easier to get people to agree on a problem than on its solution. Take global warming, for example. There aren't many global warming deniers on BlueOregon, but you can get a heck of an argument over cap-and-trade, much less (God forbid!) LNG. Just ask Jeff Alworth whether any of the responses to his post were nasty, personal and insulting.

    I'd guess some of the worst probably came from people who decry negative advertising.

  • (Show?)

    One reason she stopped the city of Wasilla from paying for forensic exam rape kits is because they contained Plan B contraception to prevent pregnancy, and fundamentalist extremist that she is, Palin considers it murder to use emergency contraception to prevent pregancy. So if you're raped, according to Palin, the law should force you to bear a child. Nice candidates you got there, Repugs.

    Standard rape kits in fact do not contain emergency contraception such as Plan B:

    I don't know why Palin was trying to make victmis pay for rape kits...but its not about emergency contraception.

  • (Show?)

    Thanks to many of you who replied to this post. I agree with LT that we must continue to fight this notion that negative ads work.

    Remember Kevin Mannix in the primary? Everyone knew his opponent was a liar but Mannix action's caused him the election.

    Are people dumb enough to vote for Smith because of how Merkley eats a hot dog?

    Meg- No people aren't in caves, they are trying to survive. Believe it or not, some people do go through their lives not paying a lot of attention to politics or politicians. Try working two to three jobs with no health care and living in a cave may look appealing.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)

    The indirect commentary here about social class and "knowledge of politics" is interesting and certainly pertinent. A few comment as someone from a working-class background:

    First, it's not at all obvious to me that middle-class and upper-class folks are intrinsically more knowledgeable about politics than the working class. Readers of Blue Oregon, please consider: how commonly in your life do you encounter middle-class people who are, if not unaware of political issues, just simply disengaged from these issues? I can tell you the answer for me: practically every day. There can be many reasons, I suppose, from "too busy" to "my vote is irrelevant" and beyond.

    Second, it is a commonplace nowadays to remark that the Democratic Party has a big struggle to stay relevant to the working class. Certainly the weakening of unions is part of this, but could it be that something about the Party itself has changed? I'm the son-in-law of a functionally illiterate construction worker who knew instinctively that the Democrats did a hell of a lot better job of representing his interests than did the GOP. You all know where this is going: the "elitism" label that the GOP is constantly trying to stick on the Democrats. My spouse, the child of that functional illiterate, is as reflexive a Democrat as her father, but she also jokes about the "Perrier-filled room" that has replaced the "smoke-filled room" as the venue for Democratic Party insiders to cut deals.

    My question: How does the Democratic Party make itself the natural home for those working-class folks again? This is a question about strategy, about the long-term view. Negative advertising is all about tactics, the present election cycle. If those folks who HAVEN'T GOT THE TIME, money and inclination to read Blue Oregon and The New Yorker once again saw the Democratic Party as their natural political home, those negative ads would fade into irrelevance.

    (Naderites take note: if you want to intone here and attack the Democrats, by all means do so, but please tell us how you're building a political party that the working class with gravitate towards.)

  • Pat Malach (unverified)

    Negative ads are everywhere because historically and in-general people who make money off of politics are incapable of original thought.

  • Realpolitik (unverified)

    It's not a "notion" that negative political ads (which beg for a definition) are effective, it's an empirical fact. Read the academic literature on the subject.

    Besides, the intended audience for these ads aren't political junkies and those bothering to view a blog such as this one.

    The target for these ads is the apolitical crowd (read: most of the population) that prefers to fill their mind with celebrity gossip and the latest public relations pabulum.

    You know....the ones that often decide close elections.

  • Idler (unverified)

    Meg is right and her sanctimonious critics should get off her back.

    How does a voluntary decision not to vote equate to "disenfranchisement," for pete's sake?

    What does anybody's ancestry have to do with their intelligence and diligence in seeking information, if indeed they give a damn?

    Why assume that lower-income people are, by and large, shorter on time than others? Does anybody really doubt that there are huge numbers of eligible voters who have more time than curiosity?

    Honestly, the language of this post is extremely condescending to those with lesser means or darker skin. Despite its good intentions, the message that emerges from it is that some people are just too stupid to vote.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)

    Mr. Walls is correct about the tendency of Democrat as well as Republican elites to diss working class people. I have many times taken BO posters to task for their elitism re the assumed stupidity and ignorance of ordinary folks (and their own implied superiority).

    We Naderites are offering solutions (Political Issues that Matter for 2008) that benefit the great majority of people. Working class people don't have to "gravitate towards" us because they are already there, and if the single corporate party gave up its monopoly over broadcast debates, they would know it.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Jo Ann,

    Mannix was outspent by Erickson about 5 to 1 and had about as much negative baggage. If that spending had been reversed, Mannix would have won, even if - or more likely, especially if that money had been spent exposing Erickson's negatives.

    I do not see the upside of pretending that negative campaign ads don't work. I do see the upside of campaign finance reform to prevent the buying of elections.

  • (Show?)

    I'm kinda with Idler on most of his points (except that I'd substitute the word "ignorant" for the word "stupid".

    The other central point here is that the term "negative ads" is way to broad to address in any useful way. Here's a pull from a study done by some wonks in New Zealand that addresses this point pretty thoroughly.

    it can be argued that some of the criticism of negative campaigning misses the point. Parties and candidates quite reasonably have the right to point out any mistakes in the record of the rival candidate, to present themselves as a political alternative and compare and contrast themselves and other candidates and parties (Kavanagh, 1995). Moreover, most criticism of negative advertising does not make any distinction on the truthfulness, relevance or civility of the types of negative ads used. By combining them all together, a fair criticism against a specific ad (or a type of ads) is unfairly directed against all negative advertisements (Mayer,1996). Mayer (1996) points out that “rather than trying to limit or discourage negative campaigning as a generic category, we ought to recognise that some negative campaigning is good and some negative campaigning is bad –and then think more carefully about the kinds of moral criteria that really should make a difference”

  • LT (unverified)

    I'm OK with this "then think more carefully about the kinds of moral criteria that really should make a difference”

    IF 1) "My opponent voted against the elderly" is more than just some procedural vote on the ammendment to the substitute resolution to overturn the majority report.

    2) The vote in question wasn't a time when 2 competing bills to do the same thing were being voted on, and all the incumbent was doing was choosing which was a better version (GOP in 2002 thought Cleland (D-GA) voting for the Democratic version of the Homeland Security bill meant he deserved to be compared to Osama Bin Laden).

    3) The issue is not something outside the jurisdiction of the office being contested. "OK, you say your opponent was not tough on drug kingpins. If you were elected, what 3 specific actions could you take in this office to be tough on drug kingpins--or is that really the jurisdiction of some other office?" Bush ran ads against Dukakis as if what he blamed Dukakis for would be his priorities. Had that been true, he would have pushed to end all parole of violent offenders at federal and state levels, directed the EPA to clean up Boston Harbor, and asked his Justice Dept. to find a way to overturn the Supreme Court decision (W. Virginia v. Barnette) which Gov. Dukakis and his AG had the "gall" to uphold. That Bush had different priorities once in office just made people who had been paying attention cynical.

    4) Making fun of a family member is off limits, calling someone "liberal and hip" is just plain shallow, sending an inflamatory mailer regarding gun control into a rural district might just backfire (even if the people who wrote the mailer were part of the Brady Bill coalition from day one and thought every resident of the state should agree with them) and using the voice of Hitler against a candidate with a Polish name is just plain over the top.

    This is why flat statements like "Negative campaigns work" so infuriates me. Sometimes negative ads have gotten their candidate elected. Some negative ads have been shown to dampen turnout. Some negative ads have just so infuriated people that they redoubled their efforts for the candidate attacked, and vowed they would be rude "and give that candidate a piece of my mind" if they ever saw the candidate who ran the ad in public.

    And, regarding the ad with Merkley eating a hot dog, 2 questions: 1) Has Gordon Smith ever made a public statement on the invasion of Georgia? 2) How do we know Gordon wasn't stuffing his face with a hot dog (or does he always eat them with knife and fork) when he heard about the invasion of Georgia?

    Or are we all robots who will see the ad and vote for Gordon because the ad made us distrust Merkley? Folks that was the approach of "we're all real tired of career politicians", the ad Gordon inflicted on us in Jan. 1996. Wyden went 100% postive. Wyden won that election. But "negative campaigns work" is still an article of faith in some political circles? Gimme a break! At one of the early Wyden-Smith joint town hall meetings, one of them said that the meetings were pennance "because we were aware at how angry people were for the campaign we inflicted on them.

    Seems to me there are some consultants who believe the slate is wiped clean and everyone who runs nasty ads is forgiven by the end of the election year. Yeah, and it never rains in Oregon.

    One of my favorite campaigns was for legislative office where the Democratic challenger was a runner. He had a picture taken of himself running somewhere on a nice sunny day. In the ad, below the picture, was the caption "Why is this man running?"

    Then the rest of the ad was a point by point rejection of the incumbent's voting record. "He voted for this, I would have voted against it. He opposed that, I would have supported it".

    It was a campaign against a strong GOP incumbent in a district not won by Democrats in decades. But the election night margin was closer than anyone expected.

    THAT approach creates intelligent discussion.

    Stuff like McCain saying Obama profited from the economic mess by having contributions from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac executives (ignoring that Obama was not in the Senate when McCain supported repeal of the Glass Steigel Act and deregulation generally) just dumb down the discussion.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)

    Kershner: We Naderites are offering solutions (Political Issues that Matter for 2008) that benefit the great majority of people. Working class people don't have to "gravitate towards" us because they are already there, and if the single corporate party gave up its monopoly over broadcast debates, they would know it.

    I'd like to buy this argument. Geez Louise, I voted for Nader in both 1996 and 2000 because I liked what he had to say. But after 2000 I had the epiphany that was inescapable: Nader didn't, and doesn't, give a rip about getting his hands dirty with the business of practical politics and building a movement from the ground up. WHY is an interesting question: Is he too arrogant (he often comes off that way)? Some sort of quasi-anarchist who sees "leadership" as evil or oxymoronic?

    Sorry, Mr. Kershner, what you've done is tell me to check out a website. And I'm not buying the claim that having Nader join McCain and Obama in the debates would lead to an epiphany by the working class that Nader's their man. It's a claim that goes along all too cleanly with Nader's disdain for engaging in politics in lieu of preaching.

    The Nader "movement" (now there's a contradiction in terms, I'm afraid) looks to me like the guy who says he really, really wants to learn to speak Spanish, and spends his spare hours poring over a textbook, but avoids ever engaging in conversation with Spanish speakers, or traveling to a Spanish-speaking country, or even watching Spanish-language TV.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)


    Has anyone claimed that negative ads always work? Perhaps I missed that. The point is that negative ads work more often than they do not. Are you infuriated by someone claiming that it is hot in the summer? Or that adults weigh more than children? Or that small cars get better gas mileage? Getting hyperbolic about straw man arguments is no way to "creates intelligent discussion."

    As to your proposed rules for campaign ads, I think most people reading this string would prefer ads that speak to important issues, are truthful, and are not nasty; but there is no way to enforce that in the real world. For the most part candidates will do anything to win an election, including disgusting many voters enough to alienate them from the process altogether.

    As to Smith's ad about hotdogs and Georgia - just about any federal campaign would have used that video as Smith did. Jeff flubbed that one.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)

    One more thing about this:

    Kershner: We Naderites are offering solutions (Political Issues that Matter for 2008) that benefit the great majority of people. Working class people don't have to "gravitate towards" us because they are already there, and if the single corporate party gave up its monopoly over broadcast debates, they would know it.

    Oh yes: The old materialist doctrine. Once the downtrodden see the economic truth, they'll support the "right" politicians and seize power. Geez Louise, haven't the last 40 years of Republican ascendancy taught us that the way Americans vote commonly has little to do with economics?

    Let's neither diss the working class nor romanticize it.

  • jerome James Cole (unverified)

    Campaign ads disenfranchise people? Crap. I have already seen dozens and dozens. Am I still allowed to vote?

    Get real!

    Poll taxes disenfranchise people! Jim Crow laws disenfranchise people!

  • LT (unverified)

    Tom, about this:

    "Has anyone claimed that negative ads always work? Perhaps I missed that."

    First of all, Carla said here "Negative ads are everywhere because historically and in-general they work."

    Secondly, for a long time (way before BO was created) there were people who would say, "But you see, negative campaigns work'.

    That's as idiotic as McCain supporters saying "the surge worked".

    In both cases there can be examples given where what they said worked was an INGREDIENT. Not the whole story, just part of it.

    I think the short sentence ended in "work" or "worked" is meant to be a debate killer---as if everyone should just believe in the "surge" because those like McCain and L. Graham tell us to believe in it, and no one should do anything to protest brainless commercials except to hit the mute button or turn off the TV, because no one has the right to protest a campaign tactic which some people believe in.

    I say we should be more intelligent than that, AND be aware that the conversation with the neighbor, door to door campaigning, and other forms of campaigning which don't require the services of a political consultant work better in such a cynical time as now.

  • (Show?)


    I didn't mean anything I wrote to be a debate-killer. I'm simply stating my opinion based on the reams of anecdotal evidence I've seen.

    I'm happy to be proved wrong. Feel free.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)

    Negative ads work especially in combination with efforts to purge the poor from the voting rolls and random poll closures and roadblocks.

  • LT (unverified)

    Carla: Denny Smith's "liberal and hip", voice of Hitler ad, and an ad eerily resembling the "Merkley stuffing his face with a hot dog" ad---but Kopetski defeated D. Smith 55%-45%.

    Denny Smith ran nasty ads against Kitzhaber for Gov. 1994, and we all know how that turned out.

    City Councilman in Salem ran a really vile campaign. How dare the mayor (mayor not a paid position in Salem, the mayor was also a lawyer) take a client who looked bad--people looking that suspicious shouldn't be able to find an honest lawyer. Not only was the mayor re-elected, but the councilman went from being in the majority to being a minority of one (and finally resigned) because the nasty ad campaign caused so much revulsion that the mayor was able for the first time to help elect a council majority that agreed with him.

    Terry Kay against Jim Hill for St. Sen.(esp. when it was discovered that although Kay came from an old Salem family, he'd lived in Portland until a year or 2 before the election while Jim Hill and his wife had raised their daughter in Salem). "How could someone with an old Salem name do that poorly in S. Salem?" --Kay didn't win anything except the chance to be a laughingstock among people who'd lived in S. Salem for years.

    The first year Avakian ran for state rep. his GOP opponent was proud of having hired a young person "to be in charge of collecting dirt"--although all the dirt ever found was on a 3rd candidate, not on Avakian.

    Wasn't there a 2006 St. Rep. candidate named Curry who got really nasty? The only elected St.Reps listed on the roster for 2007 are Cameron, Cannon, Clem, Cowan---so that attack by Curry didn't work.

    Mark Hatfield and Les AuCoin ran very similar ads against Harry Lonsdale in 1990 and 1992 (same theme, probably some of the same pictures) and the unknown Lonsdale got as close to defeating Hatfield in 1990 as Wayne Morse had gotten after being defeated by Packwood (who had won in a recount). AuCoin won that 1992 primary by 330 votes (recount result), but so alienated half the voting Democrats that in many cases they wrote in Lonsdale, left the ballot line blank, or voted for AuCoin in the general but didn't lift a finger to help him. People who had defended AuCoin against Republican attacks in previous elections were especially angry. And it gave Packwood a tool--when AuCoin said in a debate that Packwood was running a negative campaign, Packwood said "After what you did to Lonsdale in the primary, YOU are calling ME negative?"

    How many more examples do there need to be before the phrase "negative campaigns work" is banished and the more intelligent "Negative campaigns are a gamble--sometimes they win the election they are used in, but they can also blow up in a campaign's face and alienate people for years if not into the next decade"?

    And to answer Posted by: joel dan walls | Sep 21, 2008 8:30:37 PM

    "efforts to purge the poor from the voting rolls and random poll closures and roadblocks" would work even if every ad and mailer was 100% positive. If people forgave attacks and dirty tricks after the election year was over, why did the movie RECOUNT win Emmys tonight?

  • (Show?)

    The good thing is that we have a lot of research on this topic. Particularly in the last decade, the Campaign Media Analysis Group has been tracking how many ads have been displayed and in what markets. The Wisconsin Campaign Advertising Project has paired these data with an archive of all the ads and quantitative coding of the content of the ads.

    The Wisconsin project makes its data publicly available.

    There are two easily accessible books about the topic:

    Ansolabehere and Iyengar "Going Negative"

    Geer, "In Defense of Negative Advertising"

    Negative advertising "works" in a few ways:

    1) Negative ads generally carry issue information, particularly when compared to generally gauzy personality ads.

    2) Negative ads change minds.

    3) After viewing negative ads, respondents are more likely to be able to correctly identify the issue positions of the contenders.

    There is disagreement whether negative advertising can depresses turnout.

  • Eric Parker (unverified)

    "Negative ads change minds"

    Sure did for me. I am going to leave the senate race blank because the ads made me realize that no matter who is in office, I am, and still will be, screwed.

    And be sure to vote NO on everything - that way we don't have to worry about who is right and who is wrong. Just let it die and we don't have to worry about it.

  • LT (unverified)

    Paul, thanks for citing the book "Going Negative".

    But regarding this--it sounds like it is based on poll results.

    "2) Negative ads change minds.

    3) After viewing negative ads, respondents are more likely to be able to correctly identify the issue positions of the contenders. "

    How many of the "respondents " who could "correctly identify the issue positions of the contenders" said they were going to vote for the person running the negative ads? Or wasn't that part of the research?

    And don't forget, ads like Willie Horton may have helped elect Pres. GHW Bush, but who carried Oregon that year? More recently, did the Swift Boat ads result in Bush carrying Oregon in 2004? How did those anti-Hooley Erickson ads work out in 2004? Did you know any people (like the ones I know) who voted Bush/Hooley in 2004 as incumbents deserving of re-election?

    There was documentation after the 1990 election (written up in post-election stories, as well as coming up in personal discussions) that negative ads by Denny Smith (esp. the voice of Hitler ad) changed minds, alright--people on the fence and perhaps even some previous Denny supporters changed their minds and decided Denny had gone too far, they'd vote for the other guy.

    When groups advocating for a Democrat (or against an NRA Republican) did ads/mailers in rural areas saying the Republican candidate opposed sensible gun control, did it help the Democratic candidate? That's not what my friend living in Linn County believed. He was furious that such a mailer caused the election of Betsy Close (his friend had been the Dem. running nominee against her).

    Paul, perhaps the difference between us is that I am looking from the point of view of election results, and you appear to be looking from the point of view of studying ads, " many ads have been displayed and in what markets. The Wisconsin Campaign Advertising Project has paired these data with an archive of all the ads and quantitative coding of the content of the ads."

    And I am concerned about more than just broadcast ads. There was one year when a Republican (unsuccessful, btw) had canvassing fliers distributed )which harked back to Nixon's "pink pages" accusing his opponent of being a commie). These fliers were distributed in a previous decade, before TV networks decided Republicans won red states and Democrats won blue states. The Democratic incumbent's record--printed on a pink background-- according to the Republican (about as accurate as how Smith ads portray Merkley's voting record) with the challenger's issue stands on a blue background. It was written to say the incumbent Democrat was a bad person.

    The incumbent in that race won re-election by over 60%, the Republican challenger never ran for office again.

    So even if there's a ton of data to say "negative campaigns work because they bring information and change minds", in that race the nastiness (in all forms of campaigning) backfired. As did the city council member being Willie Horton nasty to the incumbent Mayor of Salem and not only losing the mayoral race but going from being in the council majority to being a minority of one because the folks who re-elected the mayor elected city council members who agreed with the mayor.

    As I have said before, some negative ads in some circumstances have helped some candidates win elections. But I have seen too many contrary examples like the above where voters lived through a nasty campaign and did NOT reward the nastiest candidate with a victory.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)


    In your last comment addressed to Carla, you cite examples of losing campaigns that used or tried to use negative ads. These would matter if someone had claimed that negative ads always work [except in cases where both campaigns go negative, which is quite common]. Since negative ads are ubiquitous and since at least half of all campaigns lose, such examples have little meaning when the discussion is about whether negative ads, as a whole, help the campaigns that use them. If a candidate is badly outspent, or if he/she runs against a popular incumbent, it is unlikely that negative ads would turn the tide.

    Your memory of campaign ads is remarkable, but your argument is weak.

  • Meryl (unverified)

    I'm all for Meg's comments. I too work with low income folks and I find they are way too busy trying to meet ends meet to think too much about which candidate might better serve them. In the case of multi generational poverty, they have been poor, their parents and grandparents have been poor through Democratic and Republican administrations (how bout Clinton's Welfare to Work program?) and they're probably sufficiently cynical about how either candidate will change things for them.

    Even us "high minded" middle class folks, with our 2 parent 10 hour workdays, our 2 hr round trip commutes, our 2.2 kids in 2 different schools, etc... have become weary. Fortunately or unfortunately though, we have seen the effects of the last 8 yrs on our mortgages, savings, income brackets and purchasing power and we know we have something at stake. I don't think Meg was making a snobby comment. When people have little energy left for thinking, they are more likely to cast their vote for a sound byte, particularly a snappy and biting one that sticks in their heads.

    Additionally, when I lived in the USSR (1990-92, 1998-99), I noticed the government repressed any political involvement by making life so wearying for its citizens that, after 8-10 hrs at mindless jobs for the equivalent of $20 a month, commuting on stuffy and overcrowded transportation systems, waiting in food lines for hours, then going home, cooking from scratch and cleaning (the house, linens, dishes, etc...) by hand, there was simply no energy left for intellectual or political discourse beyond complaining that life sucked.

    Maybe the Soviets knew what they were doing and our current government has taken a page from their policy. Repression of political involvement takes many subtle forms.

  • RW (unverified)

    Actually Meryl, Meg was taking potshots at those bedizened, overwhelmed folks. I am, financially and in terms of family non-network, "one of them" but think and strain myself towards looking outside the cave like "one of you".

    There might be more "thems" lurking here than posting as a result of "you" (hehehehehe... this is getting tricky!!) posting in the SES us/n/them mode occassionally, and taking the narrative voice stance that makes it clear that all discussion of the frayed edgers of our society are not "us" up here, much as we are concerned for "them".

    :).... I hate the ashamed sense of divide I have. I move my brains around a LOT and spend lots of survival energy on that... but live at a survival level. I know mostly that world in real terms.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)

    Mr. Walls: I recommend that you research Jesse Ventura's campaign for governor of Minnesota. His poll numbers were similar to Nader's before he was allowed in debates, and then his numbers increased to 15%. (And Jesse is supporting Ralph's attempt to crash the party.)

    Your arguments about "Nader's disdain for engaging in politics" are bullshit. Nader has engaged in politics all his life. Our current economic, environmental and military disasters require alternative solutions to the ones given by the two parties that have caused them. If you don't like Nader, find someone else to support, but don't pretend that Obama's corporatist, militarist agenda holds any water.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)

    Meryl: I'm neither high minded nor middle class, but I disagree with you about low income folks being "...probably sufficiently cynical about how either candidate will change things for them."

    Cynicism implies that they are wrong, but, like the child who sees that the emperor is wearing no clothes, they are seeing the truth.


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