Talking Politics - Reality Show Campaigns and Negative Ads | KBIA

Talking Politics - Reality Show Campaigns and Negative Ads

Apr 19, 2016

Credit Sully Fox / KBIA file photo

I suppose it is possible for the 2016 presidential campaign to get more strange, and I expect it will.  It is the best reality show ever.  Here are some of the juicy parts:

  • Millions of voters Feeling the Bern
  • Trump and Cruz trading insults – about each other’s wives
  • A Clinton campaign that has been declared too big to fail
  • College students getting the vapors because some mean person chalked the word “Trump” on a sidewalk

Even The Donald and Megan have made up.  You can’t make this stuff up.


I can’t wait for the general election campaign, not because I’m bored with this current phase, but because the post-convention campaign is when the REAL negative ads will start, comprised largely of Democrats airing ugly things that Republicans have said about other Republicans, and Republicans doing to same thing to Democrats.

I don’t watch TV much for lots of reasons.  Here are two: NPR is better; and when Newton Minow declared in 1961 that television was a vast wasteland, he had no idea how polluted the landscape would be 55 year later.  But I do watch enough to get a sense for the political ads.  And recently I read a book by two political scientists that caused me to think differently about them.

In a book entitled The Positive Case for Negative Campaigning, Kyle Mattes and David Redlawsk remind us that the political science definition of negative advertising is “talking about the opposition.”  They cite extensive research to demonstrate several key points:

  • Voters are able to use negative ads to extract useful content, and they do so without being overly traumatized.
  • Candidates are not going to disclose negative information about themselves.  Someone has to do it, and it is almost an obligation of an opponent to do so.
  • It’s not the attacks themselves that bother voters – it’s when the attacks are seen as inappropriate and/or unbelievable.
  • Negative ads provide information that otherwise would not be in the environment, information that is important and even diagnostic for voters.

That’s my favorite phrase in the book: negative ads provide information that is even diagnostic for voters.  Golly -- I never thought of myself as a medical doctor when I watch TV.  Maybe this fall I’ll have a new appreciation for both political ads and for all the ads for high-priced prescription drugs.  The side effects of some of these drugs is death.  The side effect of negative ads is just a mild headache.