The Affects of Negative Ads (Week 6)

In a world where Donald Trump is President-Elect, half of America is asking how it was possible for him to get that far.  As we look back at the campaign, excessive media coverage and  negative commercial ads, played a key role into building up and tearing down certain candidates. Jamaal Williams, 40 year old part-time worker, explains his media intake over the past election season.

“Since my injury, I’ve spent a lot of time at home. All day everyday, that’s what I saw. If it wasn’t ads, it was speech replays or table discussions about the former. The Hilary ads already reinforced what I knew about Trump and his bigotry, and the Trump ads were so outrageous they were pure comedy for me.”

So if ads are viewed as entertainment for some and ineffective for others, why is that campaign strategist still use them?

According to a 2012 article by CNN negative ads are more complex than positive ones. Negative ads are designed for the uninformed voter. A positive message may focus on numbers or community involvement but is all around straightforward. Per CNN every negative ad has at least an implied comparison. If Clinton is “not a representative of the middle class,” then by implication the candidate sponsoring the ad is saying he or she is a part of or willing to represent the “hard working people” of middle class. The subconscious is more likely to remember an insult than a compliment– just think, how clearly do you remember the last insult you heard, whether it was made against you or another. This complexity can cause us to process the information more slowly and with somewhat more attentiveness.

A 2011 study from Arizona State University revealed that a voters’ tolerance for negative campaigns and political rhetoric depends on individual characteristics. For example, voters who align with a political party or a profound interest in the campaign are to be swayed by negativity. The study also suggest that men are more tolerant than women of negative content, while older respondents are less tolerant.

However, Phylis Burton, 55-year-old Stafford County school bus driver, believes that as the race came to a close, there was not enough negative coverage for one candidate in particular.

“I feel like I heard more about Clinton’s emails in the final days, than anything else. That’s what killed her in my opinion. Everybody was making excuses for Trump’s foul mouth instead of calling it for what is was. If there had been more bad press for him things could have turned out differently.”

In a May 2013 post for “The Monkey Cage,” a leading political science blog, John Sides of George Washington and Lynn Vavreck of UCLA reviewed the 2012 campaign; they noted that  back-loading, airing ads close to the election was actually more effective than front-loading, airing ads early in the campaign. The goal was to influence voters on Election Day, and that strategy was implemented in this last election.

September 2016 report from the Wesleyan Media Project shows that 53 percent of ads that aired during August were negative whereas in the 2012 election 48 percent were negative during the same time period. The report notes that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have taken different approaches with their advertising: “Just over 60 percent of Clinton’s ads have attacked Trump while 31 percent have been positive, focusing on Clinton. Trump, on the other hand, has by and large used contrast ads, which both promote himself and attack Clinton. He has aired no positive ads.”

Alleen Davis, 35-year-old Virginia resident admits that the anti-Hilary commercials did influence her.

“At first I tried not to pay any attention to the constant defamation. Those commercials did make me question her loyalty to big banks. I tried to do a little research on my own and found that a lot of big corporations backed her, but even still she was better than the alternative.”

A 2011 study from Arizona State University revealed that a voters’ tolerance for negative campaigns and political rhetoric depends on individual characteristics. For example, voters who align with a political party or a profound interest in the campaign are to be swayed by negativity. The study also suggest that men have a higher tolerance for negative content then there female counter parts, while older respondents are less tolerant.

Despite the facts, Phylis Burton, 55-year-old Stafford County school bus driver, believes that there was not enough negative coverage for one candidate towards the end of the race.

“I heard more about Clinton’s emails in the final days, than anything else. That’s what killed her in my opinion. Everybody was making excuses for Trump’s foul mouth instead of calling it for what is was. If there had been more bad press for him, things could have turned out differently.”

In a May 2013 post for “The Monkey Cage,” a leading political science blog, John Sides of George Washington and Lynn Vavreck of UCLA reviewed the 2012 campaign; they noted that  back-loading, airing ads close to the election was actually more effective than front-loading, airing ads early in the campaign. The goal was to influence voters on Election Day, and that strategy was implemented in this last election.

This influence reaches far beyond eligible voters, and can affect young future voters as well. Baltimore County teacher, Jade-Olivia Patton, had this to say about the effects of negative ads and political discourse in her classroom.

“I teach third graders, and it’s hard to regulate what they see and hear. The ‘grab her by the pussy’ rhetoric was hard to control and my students repeated this phrase without fully understanding what was being said. I found myself having conversations in the classroom that I believe was meant for the home.”

Michael Wallace, 24 year old DC resident fears that this negativity will continue in future election cycles.

“The election was a joke, but I can see how the [negative] commercials were effective. At the rate we are going, all ads will be negative. People are so willing to believe the bad before the good, but obviously they benefitted somebody. I’m afraid that with all the bashing no one is going to talk about the real issues.”

His sentiments are not unwarranted, according to a recent article in Journalist Resource, author’s wrote this, “From a historical perspective, it is worth considering, that increased news media focus on negative advertising itself has helped accelerate this trend, creating a vicious cycle of attack politics driven by political consultants and journalists.”

With the results of this last election, the cycle does not seem to be ending any time soon.

Work Cited

Wihbey, John, and Denise-Marie Ordway. “Negative Political Ads and Their Effect on Voters: Updated Collection of Research.” Journalist’s Resource (2016): n. pag. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.

Lariscy, Ruthann. “Why Negative Political Ads Work.” CNN (2012): n. pag. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.

Wihbey, John. “Variability in Citizens’ Reactions to Different Types of Negative Campaigns.” Journalist’s Resource 55.2 (2012): 307-25. Web.

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