Negative advertising has been prominent in the 2008 election, and has been used by both parties to confuse, mislead, and draw voters to their parties.
According to a report released by the University of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Advertising Project, 47% of the ads released by Senator John McCain between June 4 and Oct. 4 were negative and 25% of Senator Barack Obama’s ads were negative.
With both presidential candidates relying on a quarter of their campaigns being negative, it is necessary to define what a negative ad is.
Richard A. Curcio, an associate professor of history and political science here on campus said, “Negative ads are when one candidate in a political race runs an advertisement on television or in the mail that is saying something comparing himself or herself with the opponent and it is intended to make the opponent look bad.”
The definition explains how it works yet does not explain how negative ads capture the attention and votes of potential voters.
Enriqueta Aragones, a professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, describes one explanation: “risk aversion,” in a research report entitled “Negativity Effect and The Emergence of Ideologies.”
In short, people are more likely to vote against someone than to vote for someone.
The main issue of negative campaign ads is their ability to misinterpret an opponent’s policy or moral background. An informed voter should often check the ads with unbiased sources, such as websites that check facts or third parties, not a candidate‘s official webpage. An example in McCain’s campaign is the ad “Dishonorable.” According to Factcheck.org the ad accuses Obama of saying that the troops in Afghanistan are just “bombing villages and killing civilians.” However, what Obama really said was a criticism of U.S. military strategy and not of American troops.
Senator Obama has also wrongly interpreted Senator McCain’s policies. According to Factcheck.org, Obama accuses McCain of proposing an $880 billion cut from Medicare spending and reducing Medicare benefits in ads like “It gets worse.” These statements are false.
Many articles and reports have claimed both candidates base at least 50% of their campaigns on negative or mixed ads; however, Professor Curcio has a different impression.
“From a historical perspective this campaign has been fairly mild,” said Curcio “the most negative ad ever, known by everyone in the political circle, was in 1964; Linden Johnson was the incumbent president and he was beating his opponent very badly. His opponent was Barry Goldwater and Linden Johnson was trying to show that Barry Goldwater was dangerous and if he were president, it would lead to a nuclear war. Therefore, he made this ad and it was called the ‘Daisy’ ad. It shows a cute little girl in a field and she is picking flowers. She picks a daisy and starts pulling off the petals while counting down as she picks them. Then a man’s voice starts counting down and they hit zero. The little girl looks up and huge mushroom cloud blows up, a nuclear bomb, and the screen goes black and it says ‘President Johnson.’
“Politics is combat, a hard sport. I do not think the attacks have been so hard. Honestly, if you want to run for president you cannot have too thin a skin. I can tell you as a historian, presidential elections have been tough,” added Curcio.
This may be a negative campaign and advertisements may be mild or extreme, but ultimately it is the responsibility of the voter to make an educated decision on who he or she believes to be the most qualified to be president.