Archives: Voters should unite against excessive negative campaigning

Originally published in February 2012
Simon Nguyen

COMMENTARY | Voters like to say they are against negative campaigning. Yet, they often vote for the most negative candidate in term of campaign ads. This has been especially true in the 2012 Republican presidential race.

In Iowa and Florida, Mitt Romney and his super PAC were able to torpedo rival Newt Gingrich down in the polls by flooding airwaves with negative ads. According to Campaign Media Analysis Group, anti-Gingrich ads account for 68 percent of all campaign ads in Florida. The only state so far where Gingrich and his allies outspent Romney on attack ads was South Carolina. The former House Speaker ended up winning the Palmetto State by a big margin.

One of the reasons why negative campaigning has worked to the instigator’s advantage is the fact voters generally don’t know the candidates very well. Very few of them actually take time studying each candidate for his or her positions and past history. Most people get their inputs on the candidates from campaign ads and TV debates. Voters may not like the negative tone, but they still use the ads as their primary source of information.

The GOP presidential race would have been the perfect opportunity for voters to punish candidates who engage in excessive negative campaigning. Republican voters could have just picked any of the primary or caucus contests to send a warning that they do not approve of the onslaught of attack ads.

Regrettably, no message was sent in the half dozen contested states. Since the subject of super PACs and negative ads has been extensively covered by national and local media, a lack of awareness is definitely not an issue.

Fortunately, voters could still express their displeasure of the negativity in the coming primaries. With Mitt Romney having the nomination seemingly locked, any impact won’t be as pronounced. But it would go a long way to alter the increasingly negative direction of the presidential campaign.

If the status quo remains, we are likely to see negative campaigning reaching an even higher pitch in the general election. Super PACs from both parties have already signaled that they will go all out with negative ads in the fall. The real losers in this battle will be younger Americans who might be discouraged from voting by the extreme negativity.

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