Why attack ads? Because they work

Los Angeles Times:

In poll after poll, Americans say they don’t like negative campaigning. Yet in the final week of the Florida primary, more than 90% of the ads broadcast were attack ads. That’s not likely to change in the run-up to Super Tuesday.

So why do candidates rely so heavily on a kind of advertising voters say they abhor?

Because it works. To understand why, you have to consider what we know about how emotions work — and the different ways our conscious and unconscious minds and brains process “negativity” during elections.

In 2008, my colleague Joel Weinberger and I tested voters’ conscious and unconscious responses to two ads. The first was an anti-Barack Obama ad of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s. “It’s 3 a.m., and your children are safe and asleep,” it began, “but there’s a phone in the White House and it’s ringing.” It then went on to suggest that Clinton, because of her seasoning in national politics, was far better qualified to answer that phone than the less-experienced Obama.

The second was an anti-John McCain ad put out by the Campaign to Defend America. It was designed to suggest that a vote for McCain was a vote for four more years ofGeorge W. Bush policies. The ad juxtaposed the policies promoted by the two men and interchanged their heads, concluding that the Republican nominee was “McSame as Bush.”

Read the whole story: Los Angeles Times

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