Negative Ads: Smear Campaigns, Presidential Ads and Election Pessimism

Negative Ads: Smear Campaigns, Presidential Ads and Election Pessimism

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Negative Ads: Smear Campaigns, Presidential Ads and Election Pessimism

You might be wondering: Is it just me or are there way more negative ads during this presidential campaign?

It’s not just you.

Smear campaigns are on the rise.

  • There are more campaign ads in general. This election is projected to put out 3.6 million political ads. Compare that to Ronald Reagan’s race where he aired a whopping 27 in 1984.  (Advertising Age)
  • Almost two-thirds of presidential ads on the air between June 1 and Sept. 30 were negative, compared to about 40 percent during that period in 2008.(4)
  • Another study found that 70 percent of presidential ads were negative through April 22 of this year. (6)
  • Of the $332 million spent on TV advertising in the first leg of the campaign, roughly three quarters funded negative messages. (Washington Post analysis of Kantar Media/CMAG data).


5 Reasons Presidential Candidates Use Negative Campaign Ads

1. Negative presidential ads get us engaged. They force us to stop and think, “Hmmm. Is that true?” or to evaluate “Do I agree or disagree with this attack?” And if they get us thinking, we’re more likely to remember what we’re told (even if it’s not the God’s honest truth).

2. Negative campaign ads provoke our fight or flight response. Using good old fashioned scare tactics, negative advertising isn’t really even trying to convince you who to vote for. They’re trying to convince you who to vote against. Who to stay away from. If you *think* a candidate will destroy the country, strip you of your money, ruin your religion, take your rights and beat your children, you’ll cast a vote for the other guy out of the natural human inclination to defend yourself.

3. Negative campaign ads take advantage of our biased memories. Human beings are riveted by road-side accidents, we make the tabloids rich feeding on celebrity failure, we spread rumors of bad news so fast that Wikipedia has to keep a page of people who didn’t die even though it’s been publicly stated they did. We’re predictably more interested in bad news, which is why some attack phrases used in previous presidential elections (“swift boat,” for example) get more searches than broader topics (like “Iraq War”). (3) Plus, a bonus for the political marketers, we often eventually forget the source of the negativity we hear and just remember the statement itself.

4. Negative campaign ads call our bluff. A lot of us like to pretend we’re politically in the know, but really we skim the surface of presidential information and hot button issues. We know the trendy phrases because they’re lauded in headlines, commercials and SNL sketches, but when it comes down to it, political marketers are betting we won’t check our facts…so we won’t catch their exaggerations or misleading combinations of facts.

5. Negative campaign ads work. One study showed even those of us who think we aren’t being affected were sub-consciously taught to associate certain negative phrases like “lightweight” or “terrorist” if they were repeated in commercials.

5 Things You Can Do About Smear Campaigns

1. Don’t listen. Fast forward or mute political commercials, refuse to follow You Tube links and stick to reputable sources of information, such as the candidate’s voting records, instead of relying on ads for information.

2. Take the bad with the good. It’s good to be informed of both the good and the bad. Listen to the bad without giving into the urge to write the candidate off because of one particular negative portrayal. Accept that candidates are humans and like all of us, if you went digging enough or had access to enough of our secrets, you’d find some unadmirable traits or acts in all our files. It’s okay to have a general idea of candidates’ weaknesses or previous errors. You don’t want to date a “good-looking” guy, only to find out he’s a totally different person after you marry him.

3. Be yourself. Don’t adopt either the viewpoints, attitudes or language of political marketers and commentators. If you don’t normally run around slapping the label “terrorist” or “anti-Christ” on someone, don’t do it in this context either. Odds are, if you randomly spent an hour with either candidate in their home context, around their kids, away from the campaign trail, you might not agree with them, but you wouldn’t have secret desires to deface their photos with horns and pitchforks either.

4. Ask them to raise the bar. Write campaign headquarters for both candidates or tweet, Facebook and otherwise post your request that candidates keep it cleaner. Remind them that there is such a thing as a boomerang effect–if voters think a candidate plays too dirty, and takes too many low blows, it may turn them off voting for him or her.

5. Refuse to follow suit when  you talk about the presidential race. It’s easy to decry how it’s a choice between “two evils”, how we desperately need a third party, how if only Occupy, the Tea Party or the Libertarians had the reigns… But rather than fight and be divided over every difference of opinion we can (thank God the rest of us don’t have the money for campaign ads), how about we aim for kindness in divergent opinions and set a positive tone for our country and a good example for our kids by also touting the positives?

  • Both men are educated and articulate and serious about the job.
  • We live in a country where even the “wrong” candidate can’t run away with the country because there are multiple checks and balances to his power.
  • Our government has the resources to provide either presidential candidate with a host of the most qualified and best advisers in the world.
  • The existence of political parties helps ensure that multiple perspectives of issues will be kept in mind when making laws, even perspectives that don’t align with whoever holds the presidency.
  • We get to have a say so. It may be a small say so, but black or white, man or woman, gay or straight, Republican or Democrat, we all live in a country where we now have freedom of speech and the right to vote.
  • And heck, if worst comes to worst, we can always impeach him. =)

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Sources. Want to read more?

1. Why Negative Political Ads Work – CNN

2. Presidential Campaigns Setting Records for Numbers of Ads and Negative Messages

3. The Barrage of Negative Ads May Haunt the Presidential Elect

4. STUDY: Presidential Campaign Ads More Negative Than In the Past

5. Negative Campaigns Are Banking on Voter Ignorance

6. Why Do Negative Political Ads Work?


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