He said, she said: Negative campaign ads and the 2012 election

Do negative campaign ads really serve a purpose?

Do negative campaign ads really serve a purpose?

You’ve all seen the commercials: Dan Maffei’s campaign accusing Ann Marie Buerkle of colluding with Todd Akin to redefine rape. Buerkle’s ad lambasting Maffei for giving bonuses to his staff with taxpayer money. The commercial referring to Maffei as “D.C. Dan.” The one that makes Buerkle look like a hag.

Negative campaign ads have come to dominate the election cycle, to the point where many dread turning on the television. Why do so many politicians undertake this campaign strategy? And more importantly, is it effective?

“When it is based on true actions, it is fine and even necessary,” said Donna Marsh O’Connor of Liverpool. “When it is based on lies and involves name-calling, it degrades our civil society. We cannot always simply promote the positive qualities of a candidate. Sometimes it really is about the problems with a candidate. It is essential to represent those problems without creating larger ones in the process.”

But Stephanie Piston of North Syracuse said they left her annoyed.

“How do we teach respect to our children when the politicians don't treat each other with respect?” Piston said. “And it is plastered all over on the television and radio? My kids are asking questions and sometimes I am at a loss to answer them when it comes to these ads.”

Her comments were echoed by Joelle Litz of Liverpool.

“I feel like the negative ads turn people off from voting,” Litz said. “Who wants to vote for a person that tries to make himself look better by trash talking his opponent?”

Effective in moderation

A new study by Juliana Fernandes, assistant professor of strategic communication at the University of Miami School of Communication, shows that these kinds of ads can be effective if they’re shown in moderation; massive exposure to a negative ad has a backlash effect on the people’s perceptions of the sponsoring candidate.

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