Thursday, May 04, 2006

Positives in Some Negative Campaigning

The Tennessean has an article this morning explaining that "negative campaigning" was not effective in yesterday's elections and suggesting that it is not effective generally in local elections. Since negative or positive campaign ads do not stand as the only variable that might have been in play, the article does not by any means prove anything about the efficacy of negative advertising, though it does make sense that such ads would be less effective in more localized elections.

One additional caveat might be that all negative advertising is not created equal. This is an important flaw in much of the discussion of negative advertising. Campaign ads that point out the views or votes of an opponent and contrast them with those of the challenger, though negative, can be informative in terms of showing voters the differences between the candidates. Such a strategy is less legitimate if the advertising misconstrues or misleads about the actual views of the opponent.

Ads discussing the opponents character are a much dicier proposition. A candidate who has recently shown a lack of judgment with regard to personal conduct may have done something that demonstrates a serious flaw that precludes them from being trusted as a public servant; however, much campaigning on supposed character issues has represented nothing more than cynical attempts to put the opponent on the defensive. It would be nice if it were possible to establish some kind of moratorium declaring that anything that someone did over 20 years ago is off limits. However, no one expects politicians from either party to start playing nice on these types of questions.

Is negative campaigning a bad thing? It depends.

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