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Why negative attack ads are effective April 6, 2012

Posted by rmshepard in Uncategorized.
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Flip on your television anytime between now and November 2012 and you’re likely to see a negative attack ad. While many viewers write them off, negative ads work. According to political science professor Joe Heim, who was recently interviewed on the matter by NPR, negative ads impact how we think about candidates. Heim argued, “I think they’re effective. When people are undecided or they’re not real strongly committed towards one candidate or the other, they can be very effective.”

Why are these ads effective? Eli Lehrer of The Huffington Post recently argued that some clearly don’t work, but many do. Lehrer contended, “So why do some negative attacks stick — even when they’re dishonest — and others roll off even when they’re largely accurate? I’d suggest that it has a lot to do with the way that effective attacks point to candidates’ character flaws while ineffective ones simply try to make the worst of policy differences. In other words, personal attacks work when they’re actually about candidates themselves.” According to Lehrer, attacks on policy don’t tell us much about candidates themselves, whereas character attacks speak more to deep truths that undermine trust.

For further discussion on this subject, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  What are the most memorable attack ads thus far in the 2012 election cycle?

2.  Why were the ads you cited above so memorable?

3.  Why do you think some attack ads work, while others do not?

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