The 2012 general election has been more negative than ever, and voters are troubled by the bombardment of advertisements on several different types of media outlets. This election has sparked massive debate—and with that comes the unavoidable wave of “dirty” political ads, designed to swing voters to support either the Democratic or Republican party, or, in some cases, to not vote at all. Negative political ads are everywhere; social media has even allowed us to get personalized ads on Facebook and Twitter pages based on our status updates and ‘likes’. The advertisements are flooded through every technological outlet, and in crucial swing states, some are constantly aired. ABC News Online reports that over $332 million has been spent on advertising since the start of the campaign. Both parties are guilty of airing advertisements designed to pull the other opponent down rather than support their own personal message or ideology.
Matthew Blackwell, in a study entitled “A Framework for Dynamic Casual Inference in Political Science” that a politician’s tone in advertisements should be analyzed through a variety of media outlets. Advertisements vary from state to state, especially those that do not have overwhelming support for a particular party, like Pennsylvania. Otherwise known as swing states, these locations are prime territory for explicitly negative political ads. Voters should like at the entire time frame of the election to determine how many negative campaign ads were used. Blackwell writes, “A campaign can go negative at multiple points over the course of the campaign. Perhaps a candidate attacks early, before their opponent has a footing, or perhaps she runs negative ads late, responding to smear tactics. These two situations, as far apart as they are, would both register as going negative.”
It is important for local realize to realize that candidates could be employing negative methods in response to the opposing candidate’s propaganda, or they could be starting it at the urging of their campaign managers. Simply, negative advertisements boost more interest, and as a result, improve the candidate’s poll numbers.
Dr. Patricia Dunham, chair of the Political Science department at Duquesne University, believes these ads will continue despite the hateful façade.
“Rhetoric in Washington has become more crude since the 1950’s. When you hear criticisms, it gets your attention in a way that positive ads don’t. Scandals are interesting,” said Dunham.
Campaign managers realize that negative ads produce success. Outwardly, the public may have disdain for ads, but later would support their candidate’s negative ads or use it as a tool to research an issue or a statistic.
In a CNN study done by Ruthann Lariscy, the success of negative advertisements is examined. She writes, “The evidence is conclusive: about as many of us seem to be entertained by attack ads as are turned off by them.” Lariscy credits this to psychological elements; the human brain simply remembers negative information easier, and often, negative political ads are more complex since they have an “implied comparison.”
“It’s simple enough. We have to stop voting for the candidates that are putting out negative ads. Both parties are guilty. We must draw the line between what is negative and what is a lie—if this means deferring from the two main political candidates, then that may have to happen,” says Dr. Dunham.
The New York Times analyzed the nature of the 2012 election season’s advertisements and found that over 81% of both parties’ material was negative. The new ads in the 2012 election have tiptoed around the moral line.
Jeremy W. Peters, a reporter for the New York Times, addressed a commercial created by Mitt Romney’s campaign that attacked Obama’s spending, using infants as emotional manipulation. Romney, who has lower approval ratings with women, wanted to shut down some the support they had for Obama. The advertisement alluded to the fact that Obama would be giving someone’s baby over $50,000 in debt. This is where the negative ads start to become dirty political tactics.. These type of advertisements are centered on a lot of research, according to Peters. “There was copious research behind each line in the script. After months of conducting focus groups, Republican strategists found that appeals about the longevity of the deficit are more likely to stick with politically independent women when the issue is framed as a problem that their children will inherit.”
Heavy research is put into emotional advertisements; the committees realize pick a core group to focus on, and find out what their emotional appeal centers around.
Megan Winters, a third year political science student and employee at Allegheny County Democrats, often tries to inform the voting public about the difference between fact and propaganda.
“It’s crucial to make the distinction between a negative ad and an ad that is inviting the audience to make a false inference. One of the most famous advertisements in the propaganda category is a Bush advertisement used in 2008 that tried to gain support for the War in Iraq by alluding that Saddam Hussein had something to do with the terrorist attacks on 9/11. This was completely false, but the ad continued to run.”
Democrats are just as guilty. Many ads are featured that prey on Romney’s lack of support with the middle and lower classes. A lot of Obama sponsored advertisements allude to the fact that Romney does not care about the majority of our country if they’re not in the top economic percents, according to the ABC News article.
“Despite what the American people say about their disdain for negative campaign ads, they revel in the once they’re aired. They love mudslinging and so do the media. It makes great conversation and great headlines,” said Winters.
Political advertisements are central to election years; candidates can get their message across through countless outlets, whether it is social networking sites, television or print journalism. Understanding the true effect of negative advertisements has a complex history, but ultimately, they continue to be shown because of their overwhelming success rate. For Pennsylvania voters in this election, it is important to realize the voices behind the advertisements. They will continue as long as the success rate does.
An example of an attack advertisement made by Mitt Romney’s campaign that attacks Obama’s view on the welfare system.