My Pet Peeve Strikes Again

So, I have a pet peeve about talking heads dissing “negative” ads (if you’re not going to tell voters about your opponent’s bad acts, why even bother running a race). The talking heads struck again while discussing Wendy Davis’ latest ad in Texas’ gubernatorial race. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Dorian Warren said, “What we know about negative ads is that they almost always depress turnout” (Source). Actually, Dorian, we don’t know that; it’s just that you and others keep repeating this bs.


Negative Ad Complaints: TX Primary Edition

It’s like a bad recurring rash, i.e., the complaint about “negative” ads, or as I like to call them: informative.

The latest comes from Gromer Jeffers at the Dallas Morning News regarding the recent Republican primary in Senate District 16:

Huffines, part of the family that owns area car dealerships, has considerable campaign resources and has used them to drag Carona through the mud.

What’s dragging the incumbent through the mud you might ask?

He’s criticized the senator for political issues and ethical questions, saying the incumbent has used his perch in the Legislature to shepherd laws that helped his property management business.

So, bringing up information which has already been verified and discussed in the media - see here - is dragging him through the mud.  Yes, the Godfather mail piece was probably pretty cheeky, but humor and cheekiness don’t undermine the information.

If the information wasn’t factual, then perhaps there would be grounds for complaint; however, the facts of the ads were never disputed.

Then there is the well worn canard that negative advertising drives down turnout:

For Huffines, the idea is to not only aim at Carona’s support base, but to use the attacks to suppress the vote.

Actually, negative ads have no impact on turnout or a slight positive effect (see here and here).

The claim that negative ads reduce turn out is particularly egregious in this instance, since the incumbent hasn’t had a primary opponent since he was elected in 1996.  In 2012, twenty-nine thousand people voted in the SD16 primary.  This year 49,637 individuals voted.  This was more than voted in the CD 32 primary where Pete Sessions was challenged by TEA Party activist Katrina Pierson (Source).

Past posts on this topic:

Attacking Negative Ads

Do Negative Ads Make A Difference?


Each election cycle we get news stories about campaign ads, particularly negative ads, and their role in elections. University of Michigan prof Ted Brader has done a good job of addressing some of the more common myths about campaign advertising:

1. Negative ads are more effective than positive ones. And of course, vice versa, which is something I’ve talked about before here and here. Prof Bader also makes a good point about the diversity of ads (ads aren’t just negative or positive - usually a mix of both). The type of ad one uses and its topic has more impact on voters than whether the ads is positive or negative (Source).

2. Campaign ads are uninformative. It’s a constant theme that political ads are banal, nasty, etc. and don’t tell the voters anything. One of the reasons I like “negative” ads is that they are usually more informative, and you also have contrast ads. Prof Bader makes two good points here: 1) ads boost name recognition at the very least and 2) ads provide voters with information about the policy differences between candidates that media outlets rarely cover.

3. Less-informed voters are more easily swayed by ads. This is something I have seen expressed on Twitter with regards to the Texas Senate race, and of course, it’s not true. Political psychology doesn’t just affect the uninformed and uneducated - see Drew Westen’s The Political Brain.

4. A candidate should respond to an attack ad with a counterattack on the same issue. This is a more nuanced myth; it may occasionally be necessary to pursue this strategy, but the myth is that one should always respond on the same issue. It’s better to stay on message.

5. News organizations neutralize misleading ads by fact-checking them. Fact-checking can provide some useful information, and in other cases, they’re kind of ridiculous. Regardless, partisans will generally dismiss or accept fact-checks depending on whether they fit the partisan’s beliefs.

(h/t: MonkeyCage)


I might be the only person in the blogosphere (or at least, one of the few) who defends negative advertising, and a recent survey by YouGov shows that voters aren’t necessarily turned off by negative ads - depending on their content. As the charts from YouGov show, voters find negative ads which point out differences between the candidates to be helpful; however, ads which criticize a candidate’s family to not be helpful (there are some other charts as well). As YouGov notes, positive ads usually only offer platitudes and little substance, whereas negative ads - more so if they’re done correctly - offer more information for voters about the candidates (because they’re telling you things about the candidate he/her wouldn’t say about themselves).

I’m not ashamed to be a fan of negative ads - with one caveat: they have to be factual. A negative that isn’t factual will not be effective and will backfire on the candidate.


This is one of the reasons I enjoy NPR; they approach these questions using the data and studies available as opposed to relying on anecdotes about how people don’t like negative ads (and thus hurt a campaign). You can read the transcript of the radio program here.

(h/t: MonkeyCage)


Is 2012 The Nastiest Campaign Ever?

So says the man who didn’t exactly run a clean campaign himself in 2008. McCain doesn’t really offer anything up bolster that claim, and if one compares this campaign to previous ones, I think you’d have to say McCain is exaggerating at the least, although more likely he’s just full of shit.

McCain calls this the nastiest campaign ever because he needs to try to tap into some feeling against negative campaigning (a misplaced feeling in my opinion, but that’s another topic for another time), since he needs to drum up antipathy towards super PACs by claiming they’re the cause of the nastiness by running negative ads and driving up the candidates negatives.

However, the candidates unfavourables have remained fairly consistent throughout this race according to Gallup’s tracking of the race, and indeed, Santorum’s positive intensity score has increased. But there are other polls looking at favourable and unfavourable numbers, such as the NBC/Wall Street poll [pdf]. Asked to describe their feelings about Romney, the number describing their feelings as “very negative” has been climbing since June 2011 (suggesting something other than super PAC money at work here). Among Republican primary voters, his numbers have been more consistent.

Sen. McCain may be disposed to oppose super PACs, but there is a better way to make this argument than pretending 2012 is a nasty campaign year and laying the blame at negative ads produced by super PACs. Furthermore, a negative ad is not necessarily a “nasty” ad.