Negative Campaign Ads
The history of negative campaigning goes back to over one hundred years ago. The most effective would be advertisements attacking an opponent's personality, record, or opinion. There are two types of ads used in negative campaigning: attack and contrast. Attack, identifies risks associated with the opponent, often exploiting people’s fears to manipulate and lower the impression voters have of the opponent. Contrast, contains information about both the candidate and the opponent. The information about the candidate is positive while the information about the opponent is negative.
Negative campaigns existed before Super PACs. Lyndon Johnson implied Barry Goldwater would start a nuclear war. Grover Cleveland was accused of having a child out of wedlock. Andrew Jackson was accused of killing a man, and having a wife who was a bigamist. Lastly, John Quincy Adams, supposedly procured prostitutes for the Russian Tsar.
The presidential election of 1800, Jefferson vs. Adams, is a perfect example of negative campaigning. Jefferson accused Adams of being a monarchist who wanted to move the country to a monarchy under Britain and France. Adams accused Jefferson of being a misogynist, which is a person who hates, dislikes, mistrusts, or mistreats women, and of having an affair with an African American woman (which turned out to be true).
Not only can negative campaigning be done by word, it can also be done through television. The most famous and successful negative ad in American political history is without question, "Daisy Girl," which ran only once on television during the 1964 presidential race before President Lyndon Johnson pulled it from the airwaves. It was replayed on TV news several times. The ad successfully scared Americans about the potential for the nuclear war, if Barry Goldwater were to be elected president. This ad implies that Senator Goldwater is a reckless man and Lyndon Johnson is a careful man. The "Daisy Girl" television ad opened with the image of a young girl plucking petals off a flower when an ominous countdown is heard in the background. At zero, there is a blast and a mushroom cloud appears from the nuclear explosion.
The ad was considered so effective that the liberal group Moveon.org made its own version of "Daisy Girl" in January, 2003. The newer ad, which ran over 30 seconds and cost the group $400,000, was an attempt to warn American voters about the looming war in Iraq and to argue for continued United Nations weapons inspections in the country. So, the real question is, do negative ads really work? A new study shows negative campaign ads in the race for the White House have skyrocketed since 2008. According to the Wesleyan Media Project, seventy percent of presidential campaign commercials ran so far has been negative. Also, experts say part of the reason for all this negativity is the "skyrocketing involvement of interest group." This activity is up to 1,100 percent from four years ago.
Some studies suggest that negative campaign ads are more easily remembered and therefore have a greater influence on voter’s attitudes and vote decisions. Other research provides evidence that the opposite is true. Lack of military service, past personal financial problems, actions of a candidate’s family members, and past drug and alcohol abuse are considered by some, to be information that's not relevant.
As for this presidential election, Obama and Romney both have their fair share of negative campaign ads against one another. The Pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA action made a negative ad where a steelworker who said his wife lost health coverage and died shortly after his plant closed under Bain Capitals ownership. Factcheck.org found the as to be misleading because Joe Sopter’s wife, Ranae, had lost coverage at least a year after the plant’s closing and died five years after its closing.
Mitt Romney has an ad where Obama announced a plan to “gut welfare reform” signed by President Clinton in 1996 and that under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job, they just send you your welfare check. However, the administration didn’t want to do that. The Department of Health and Human Services announced it would wave work requirements if states had better ideas.
All in all, negative campaigning in used in just about every election, big or small, and in mild or harsh cases. People would argue that negative ads do effect a person’s voting decisions and others would say it doesn’t make a difference. No matter what, an election will always contain a negative ad here and there, but it’s the one’s that we pay attention to that will determine whether we believe them or not.