Monday, October 20, 2008

Negativity a Matter of Perception?

"Everybody Knows Politics is a Contact Sport." Barack Obama Readers Digest Nov 08
by Janet Crain
We have heard many statements about this campaign and one resounding theme has been the number of negative ads ran by John McCain. Actually the two are just about even and given the sheer numbers of Obama ads, he will undoubtedly end up with the most.
However, I have yet to see a McCain ad taking jabs at Obama's physical limitations or mental abilities. Yet such was not off limits for Obama. This has been a campaign with issues about race and gender. Never once did anyone suggest a person's age was immaterial. And lately a new"ism",classism, has reared its ugly head. Expressed as "inexperienced and not ready", this language was code for "didn't attend the right Ivy League Eastern College, didn't get a law degree, never worked as a community activist (Thank God!!!), has no Hollywood celebrity friends, comes from a backwoods unsophisticated background, etc." Make no mistake, much of the resistance to John McCain's vice-presidential pick has been to Sarah Palin's perceived "ordinary" background. As if any ordinary person could pull a crowd of 60,000 people.
So this has turned into a really ugly negative campaign from the Obama camp. Honest inquiries into Obama's past associations with William Ayers, Tony Rezko and Rev. Jeremiah Wright have been called negative and "over the top".
When a few honest answers could have settled this months ago if there is truly nothing to hide.
So here are some facts and figures about the number of negative ads presented. And an interesting article from Newsweek about the positive aspects of "going negative".

Senator Obama made some charges about negative ads last night:

"Well, look, you know, I think that we expect presidential campaigns to be tough. I think that, if you look at the record and the impressions of the American people -- Bob, your network just did a poll, showing that two-thirds of the American people think that Sen. McCain is running a negative campaign versus one-third of mine. And 100 percent, John, of your ads -- 100 percent of them have been negative.
The fact is the percentage is much LESS than 100% and the numbers show that both candidates are running the SAME NUMBER of Negative ads."

McCain’s advertising has not been completely negative over the course of the entire campaign. Looking at the tone of all of McCain’s advertising from June 4 to October 4, we found that 47 percent of the McCain spots were negative (completely focused on Obama), 26 percent were positive (completely focusing on his own personal story or on his issues or proposals) and 27 percent were contrast ads (a mix of positive and negative messages).But what about Obama? Our analysis reveals that 39 percent of all general election Obama ads have been positive (solely about his record, positions or personal story), 35 percent have been negative (solely focused on McCain) and 25 percent have been contrast ads – mixing a bit of both. So, on a proportional basis, the McCain campaign is and has been more negative than Obama.But, Obama has aired over 50,000 more ads than McCain. So, hasn’t he simply aired more of everything – including negative ads – than McCain has this year, or than anyone in history, as McCain may have alleged?

Ready, Aim, Fire!

Attack ads are ubiquitous this campaign season, but they are not the threat to the electoral process that do-gooders claim.

By Sharon Begley NEWSWEEK
Published Oct 11, 2008
From the magazine issue dated Oct 20, 2008

Barack Obama has been "palling around with terrorists" and wants to teach 5-year-olds about sex? John McCain is "out of touch," in bed with lobbyists behind the housing-market meltdown and doesn't know Ctrl-Alt-Delete from @?
Please. For true connoisseurs, such attacks are to negative campaigning what boxed wine is to a 1961 Ch√Ęteau Lafite: a weak imitation of the real thing, a tease that makes one yearn for the vintages of yore. We're thinking here of vintages such as 1800 when, during the Thomas Jefferson-John Adams presidential race, the Connecticut Courant wrote that if Jefferson won, "murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes." New Englanders, Advertising Age noted in an editorial last April praising negative campaign ads, "reportedly hid their Bibles for fear that the infidel president would declare them illegal." Or vintages such as 1828, when supporters of presidential candidate and incumbent John Quincy Adams called opponent Andrew Jackson a cannibal and a murderer. The previously married Mrs. Jackson got off easy; Adams's supporters merely accused her of being a whore.

The fine tradition of negativity and attacks goes back to the nation's founding document. By the count of political scientist John G. Geer of Vanderbilt University, 70 percent of the statements in the Declaration of Independence are not uplifting promises of more-just and democratic governance, but attacks on England and George III ("He has obstructed the Administration of Justice," "He has dissolved Representative Houses" and, of course, "He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people"). These criticisms "provided the basis for thinking about abuses of power and the centrality of certain basic human rights," Geer writes in his 2006 book "In Defense of Negativity: Attack Ads in Presidential Campaigns." "Without such negativity, the argument for establishing a new nation that 'derived its just powers from the consent of the govern[ed]' would not have been possible."


Beyond turnout, there is a realization that, as Geer argues, "negativity plays an important and underappreciated role in democracies," in large part by presenting more, and more detailed, information than positive ads do. And make no mistake about what may be the most valuable information voters glean from attack ads and mudslinging: a sense of the candidate ("and I approved this message") who paid for them.

All of which is fortunate, since negative ads have become as omnipresent this campaign season as down days for the Dow. According to Nielsen Media Research, from June 3 to Sept. 7, the McCain campaign ran negative ads 76,238 times, while Obama made 75,246 such placements, with both concentrating the attacks in the battleground states of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Despite promising during the primaries to run a different, positive campaign, Obama has often gone way negative: in the week after the GOP convention, found the Wisconsin Advertising Project, 77 percent of Obama's ads were negative, compared with 56 percent of McCain's.

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