The question of attack and defense in political campaign is a complex matter. All too often candidates and their managers rely solely on instinct and produce for themselves electoral disaster . While no part of campaign strategy formation can be said to be certain in all cases , there are a number of basic concepts in the development of attack and defense patterns helpful to campaign planners .
One of the most important points in understanding how to use attack and defense in political campaign is understanding the basic nature of political communications Game .
Far too many strategists , managers, and candidates fail on this fundamental point. They tend toward a mindset that is inappropriate for political campaign strategy construction . If one sees the "playing field" on which the campaign is being conducted from an inaccurate perspective , it will be difficult to devise a winning strategy for political campaign to be conducted on that field .
The obvious difference is that in a political campaign ( and not in a sport event) the person or entity deciding the outcome of the event is the observer , not the participant . It is the voters who choose the winner of an election . It is the player ? participants who choose the winner of a sport event . It is commonplace for a campaign to become so embroiled in the notion that its role is to defeat the opponent that it loses sight of the voters . The desire to " win the fight ", to " score points in the debate ", to " make the opponent look bad " . etc. , fouls clear thinking about how to win votes from voters . A political campaign strategist must keep in mind that his job is to move voters , not candidates , at all times .
Here are two important sentences in the attack and defense mindset .
1- The purpose of attack in political campaign is :to WIN votes 
2- The purpose of defense in political campaign is : to keep from LOSING votes .
A good approach to remember when making an attack is : 
1- test the substance , style ,and impact of the attack on voters (in focus groups and survey research ) Before making it public .
2- Get the facts correct . An erroneous attack loses votes instead of gaining them .
3- Make the attack as powerful as possible at the moment of its presentation . Do not dribble information out over several days .
4- If the attack is successful ( meaning that voters move away from the opponent and/or toward the attacker ) keep it up until movement stop.
5- If the attack is not successful ( meaning that voters do not move away from the opponent and/or toward the attacker ) stop the attack and move on to something else in public communication .
A good approach to remember when responding to attack is ;
1- Do not panic.
2- Take (make) time to measure public response to the attack before responding.
3- If the attack does not draw blood , do not respond.
4- If the attack demonstrates voter loss , respond with an appropriate strategy , not necessarily with a response to the substance of the attack .
Kind of attacks 
1- A" direct attack " is , as the phrase suggest , the simplest and most straightforward approach . Candidate A ---------- Criticizes Candidate B
Jones : " Smith's vote against the new high way system was wrong "

2- An " indirect attack " is more subtle in substance or in target . 

Jones " Smith's vote against the new highway system certainly showed a great deal of courage , particularly since it means that many suburban voters will have to pay millions of dollars in lost time driving to and from work . I understand the reasoning behind his vote , but I am not certain that suburban commuters , as they are stuck in traffic going to and from work each day , will remember to thank Mr Smith for this vote "

Such an attack can be more powerful in winning votes than a direct attack , particularly if the voters have been turn off by large volume of negative campaigning .

3- A " bomb shell attack ", is what most candidates dream about , and what many candidates believe they have , even when the true substance of their attack is minor .A genuine bomb shell attack was the one made on US Presidential Candidate Gary Hart in 1988 .


It is rare that a bomb shell attack occurs . Therefore one must consider an attack situation that is all too common in campaigning experience ; the" Fail Attack " . The causes of the attack failure are many . Perhaps the cause most frequently found is cause failure to research the attack , and its potential impact on voters , before delivering .

This situation points up the invaluable rule ;  if the attack fails stop .

Voters , for example , may accept the substance of the attack , and register greater vote intention for the attacker for making it , but , at the same time , reduce their favorable rating of the attacker . In a sense , they may agree with the attacker , but be reluctant to admit it . It is here that the work of a pollster is invaluable . Supperficial polling might indicate that the attack is working , just because voters agree with the substance . Advance polling , however , can be very helpful in checking to see wether surface reactions have caused any real vote gain or loss over time .

The point is important to remember . Voter agreement with the substance of an attack does not automatically produce vote loss for the person being attack .

The " smaller / larger " designation refers to the size of the public image ( name id and favorability ) of the candidates involved .

It is not infrequent that a candidate with little name ID and a relatively low voter approval rating will decide to become better known by attacking an opponent with substantial name ID and a relatively high approval rating . This is almost always suicidal .

The third party attack brings needed credibility of the attack , and increases the likelihood that the candidate behind the attack will gain votes .

Kind of Defense.

1- "Direct Defense" is the simplest and most common defense .

Smith " my vote was right because it save the voters of this state 10 millions dollars "

2- Indirect defense is less frontal , and can be more precisely directed at targeted set of voters, An indirect response might sound like this ;

Smith; " I understand Jones attack on me for voting against the new  highway system , and I appreciate him calling my vote courageous . I know that this vote might concern some suburbans voters because they could face increased commute time from and  to work . But I will not vote for a highway that would have the effect of doubling taxes , not only to suburbans voters , but all voters . I think I was right and that voters will agree with me on election day " 

3- inoculation is one of the most effective forms of defense , but it is used with surprising lack of frequency . Is called inoculation because it takes place in time before the attack is launched .

Smith ; " Later in this campaign , I fully expect to be attacked by my opponent Jones  because I voted against the new highway program , Well , let me explain to you , before this attack comes , that the new highway have double your taxes , a point Jones may overlook . Now , how many of you want your taxes doubled ? .

Smith has presented his defense before Jones attack , so that , when voters hear the attack they will view it in the context of Smiths remarks . This is an excellent way of blunting the vote-losing impact of some attacks .

4-As in the case of a third-party attack , when a candidate cannot offer the defense himself , it is sometimes better to have someone else offer it for him .

5- A personal favorite of mine is  , Silence , is an excellent strategic defense , particularly when no damage has been done . It is here that the personal , internal , emotional burden carried by many candidates weighs heavily on strategic decision making , however . An answered attack repeats the attack , giving more people a chance to learn of it .Obviously some attack must be answered- but not all .An unanswered attack , that has no impact on voters , simply goes away. Silence can be a very effective defense strategy .

6- A " prior redirection " defense is a somewhat more sophisticated version of the inoculation defense . In it , the defending campaign attempts to move the public , and the opponent , to a new and different issue , away from the attack expected . 

7- The 'accept and redirect ' defense is a variant of the prior redirect , but it takes places after the attack , It requires specific acceptance of the attackers charge , then a shift to a new , and presumably important topic .

8- The " confusion " defense is a controversial , and I prefer not to use it , because it has a deleterious effect on the political system . Nonetheless , it is certainly a part of the strategist s arsenal and will be met many times in the field . What happens is that the original attack is lost in a confusing welter of charges and counter charges , the end result of which usually isto turn off most voters . It is a risky defense because the original attack may still shine through the confusion .

As one might suppose , each attack or defense strategy is best applied under certain conditions and in ways shown by experience to be most likely to produce votes . ignoring those conditions , or an effective methodology for execution of the strategy , may make a perfect viable attack , or defense , useless in the real world .

The basic survey research factors useful in strategy construction are : 

1- Mood

2- name ID

3- Favorability/Unfavorability

4- Depth of Image

5- Vote intention

6- Vote solidity

There are no questions about that there are many more factors of importance , timing , targets , message ,etc. but these are the principal considerations that deserve discussion now .

The attack and defense thoughts related to mood are booth simple and obvious , it is more difficult ( but not impossible ) to present and sustain a successful attack when the public mood is good that when it is bad .

Favorability and unfavorability ratings are a key point in all parts of strategy development , and particularly in the area of attack and defense . Candidates with a high negative image ( +40%) will almost always find it much more difficult to make a successful attack on a opponent , and to defend against attack by opponents , than those with lower negative .


All too often , candidates and consultants simply assume that a voter who departs from support of an opponent automatically will move to backing the candidate making the attack , In multi-candidate races this is clearly not the case , Even in a bi-polar campaigns , voters can , and do , simply drop out of the process .

An attack based on exploitation of opponent negatives must always be accompanied by a prior , concomitant , or subsequent , presentation of positive reasons for voters to move to the candidate making the attack . This is more common sense than sophisticated strategy , but many attacking candidates overlook the point . Thus , an attack strategy based on use of opponent negatives must include some positive candidate support element to attract voters who are departing the opponent .

The genuine value of image depth , however , is in defense . It is much more difficult to move voters away from a candidate about whom they know some number of positive characteristics than it is to move them away from voters about whom they can report only a vague and general positive feeling , or no image depth at all .

Second choice questions are helpful in this analysis , to find where the original supporters go when the candidate is remove from the race .

Vote solidity is , or should be , one of the most important indicators of the success or failure of a given attack or defense . If voters can be rated as solid , somewhat solid , somewhat soft , or soft , in support of a given candidate , it is possible to gauge the shift in solidity of support levels as attacks or defense progress .