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Negative campaigning

    '''Negative campaigning''' is trying to win an election by attacking an opponent rather than emphasizing one's own positive attributes or policies


    There are a number of techniques of negative campaigning the most open and often the most effective is running advertisements attacking an opponent's personality or record Common examples would be painting an opponent as soft on criminals dishonest corrupt or a danger to the nation One of the earliest and most famous such ads is one by the campaign of Lyndon B. Johnson that successfully portrayed Republican Barry Goldwater as threatening nuclear war
    Dirty tricks are also common in negative political campaigns These generally involve secretly leaking damaging information to the media This isolates a candidate from backlash and also does not cost any money The material must be substantive enough to attract media interest however and if the truth is discovered it could severely damage a campaign Other dirty tricks include trying to feed an opponent's team false information hoping they will use it and embarrass themselves
    Often a campaign will use outside organizations such as lobby groups to launch attacks These can be claimed to be coming from a neutral source and if the allegations turn out not to be true the attacking candidate will not be damaged if the links cannot be proven
    One common negative campaigning tactic is attacking the other side for running a negative campaign
    Push polls are attacks disguised as telephone polls They might ask a question like "How would you react if Candidate A was revealed to beat his wife?" giving the impression that Candidate A might beat his wife Members of the media and of the opposing party are deliberately not called making these tactics all but invisible and unprovable
    Negative campaigning can be conducted by proxy For instance the highly partisan ads placed in 2004 by allegedly independent bodies like MoveOnorg and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth
    G Gordon Liddy played a major role in developing these tactics during the Nixon campaign of 1972 Karl Rove the architect of much of George W. Bush's campaigns is considered a master of negative campaigning

    Risks and consequences

    On the whole negative campaigning is seen in a negative light It does not focus on substantive issues or policies and rather tends to focus on personality A demonstrated effect of negative campaigning is that while it motivates the base of support it tends to alienate centrist and undecided voters from the political process reducing voter turnout and radicalizing politics
    If negative ads are not well crafted they can produce a backlash as voters dislike any sense of bullying A disastrous ad was run by the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in the Canadian federal 1993|1993 Canadian federal election] emphasizing Liberal Party of Canada leader Jean Chrétien's facial disability The ad was a disaster and the governing Conservatives were reduced to two seats
    Negative campaigning is often viewed as being most common in American elections but such tactics are also present in Canada Europe and many other democracies
    In the United States negative campaigning has been found to be highly effective rather than risky Negative tactics are often used by challengers as well as incumbents

    Controversy and reform

    Those who use negative campaigns attempt to justify them by saying that the voter needs to know about the person he or she is voting for even if it is bad In other words if a candidate’s opponent is a crook or a bad person then he or she should be able to tell the American public about it. Cathy Allen president of Campaign Connection of Seattle also suggested negative campaigning might be the 'proper course' in the following situations:
    • when taking on an incumbent
    • when being significantly outspent
    • when there is irrefutable information that the opponent has done something wrong
    • when the candidate has little name recognition

    Opponents contend that while the above argument makes sense logically the negative ads are seldom used for the stated reason Instead negative campaigning presents twisted or spun information under the guise of bringing hidden negatives into the light Often those guilty of negative campaigning and publicity the press and politicians are the first to denounce it by telling the attacker to be nice stay clean be positive not hurt others not get personal not to scare people etc
    Due to their implicit shady nature and vast cost some even promote the idea of setting limits on negative campaigning similar to that of tobacco advertising Such restrictions would eliminate negative ads from television and radio where negative claims cannot be sufficiently explained due to time constraints and require printed warnings

    Notable examples

    • "Black baby of John McCain" slur in the George W. Bush primary campaign
    • Willie Horton ad used by in the George H. W. Bush 1988 presidential campaign against Michael Dukakis

    See also