Ansolabehere and Iyengar contend that negative advertising disenfranchises voters by turning them off from the political process ..
Why are political commentators so trouble by negativity?
Any deliberative process usually benefits from having criticism and debate .
why would attacks in campaigns be so problematic?
Why do they not advance the debate ?
Politics is often rough and tumble; why is not attack advertising thought of in those terms?
Why are we worried about civility in campaigns ?
If some aspects of a candidate record is alarming , is it not important to raise that concern in a attention grabbing fashion ?
Should not the public understand the seriousness of the problem ?
Campaigns are not feel-good exercises ; they are pitches battles for control of government . The stakes are often high and the competition is usually fierce .
" The real issue should be whether or not candidates present the information in campaigns that is useful to voters . The tone of that information should be a secondary issue , at best ."
What seems to go largely unnoticed by many critics of negativity is that exaggeration applies to positive propaganda as well .
The underlying point here is that is difficult , and perhaps impossible , to asses with any precision whether any ad is truly misleading . By some standards , all ads are misleading in the sense they stretch the trhth .
The core of the problem is that one has to decide when exaggeration crosses the line . There are times when it is clear . But , for most part , the issue is at best murky , because by definition ;
" the objective of propaganda is to present biased information on behalf of a candidate".
- First , we must jettison the assumption that negativity undermines democratic politics .
Negativity plays an important and under appreciated role in democracies . In fact , I will argue that the practice of democracy requires negativity by candidates . Because we demand to know the good and the bad points of candidates and their policy goals .
When going negative , candidates can actually advance the debate , not undermine it . This simple point seems forgotten in many of the discussions about the subject .
For a negative appeal to be effective , the sponsor of that appeal must marshal more evidence , on average , than for a positive appeal .
- The second major thrust of this project involves gathering systematic evidence about negativity in campaigns .These additional pieces of evidence help to flesh out my general arguments about negativity .
- The third part of this undertaking is to develop clear and explicit standards for evaluating negativity . An attack spot hits the airwaves and political commentators decide essentially on a ad hock basis whether it is " fair or unfair ."
WHY NEGATIVITY PROMOTES DEMOCRACY.
I cannot provide an answer to whether politics is more or less negative now than in the past . But this discussion highlights two important points . First , there is a tendency for political observers to leap to conclusions that the available data do not support . Second , real or not , there is a widespread belief that negativity is a problem in today's electoral process with little historical precedent , and that reality is leading the problem to draw more and more attention.
Without negativity , no nation can credibly think of itself as democratic .
It is important to realize that the agents of change must first demonstrate the reasons why change is needed .That is , they need to go negative before they can go positive . In short , attacks can enrich the quality of democratic life .
One of the hallmarks of a democracy is the chance for open and free expression .
John Stuart Mill (1859) contends that an opinion gains legitimacy and credibility if it faces criticism .
While it is true that a free press is an essential part of any regime that purports to be democratic , that is only part of the story . We also need the criticism from competing candidates to ensure that we more fully vet the respective plan and qualifications of these politicians . First , parties and candidates have a clearer incentive to be effective critics than journalists .There is a second advantage of the candidate negativity as opposed to press negativity .The press is more interested in the horse race and campaign strategy. Candidates by contrast, rarely talk about the opposition's campaign strategy or their prospects of winning and instead aim their fire on their plans for government and personal competence .
Additional payoffs from the ability of candidates to go negative . First , the threat of criticism provide politicians incentive to adopt sound policies and to be the type of individuals who will attract votes . Second , criticism can increases the quality of information available to voters as they make choices in elections .To make good decisions , they need to know the past record of candidates and what they propose to do in the future . A central part of that information involves understanding the shortcomings of candidates .Negative ads ," inform the people about the consequences of the wrong choice " A. Castellanos.
James Madison argues that to have a " free and responsible government the public need to know the comparative merits and demerits of the candidates for public trust ". Stanley Kelly observed that the voters need " to know what it is that distinguishes the candidate for a particular office ", " voters need to be exposed to the arguments of both sides " Douglas Arnold puts the matters quite simply ; " an environment in which incumbent representatives and their supporters emphasize their accomplishments while challengers and other critics emphasize representatives' shortcomings can be informative for citizens ".
The quality of decision making increases when one is exposed to criticism of relevant arguments .
Concerns That Negativity Undermines Democracy .
Skeptics would argue that negativity is not equivalent to criticism .Rather , negativity is best thought of as an unfair or excessive criticism .Negative ads often strike people as uncivil , scurrilous , and nasty. As Lynn Sanders point out , deliberation requires mutual respect among participants .
- How can the nasty personal attacks leveled by candidates against each other foster mutual respect?
- How can people reason together when candidates are slinging mud at each other?
-Attacks ads according to this perspective , undermine the political debate and serve as obstacle to informing voters about which candidate deserve their support. If so , then negativity blocks the ability to the public to perform properly their task in a democracy -just the opposite of what I argue above ..
- Negativity will play to the emotions of citizens , weakening their ability to reason.
The competence of the electorate has been discussed by a number of scholars ;
- Kelly , suggest the weakly committed( poorly informed ) do a good job of understanding the candidates positions on issues they care about .
- Popkin , advancing the notion of low information rationality
- Lupia & Cubbins , limited information need not prevent people from making reasoned choices .
- Zaller , Floating voters cast ballots sensible ways .
This basic concern about the balance between criticism and excessive criticism is long standing . The general point is sound. If candidates get into such fierce name-calling that the debate degenerates into a pointless exchange , then perhaps negativity does the damage its detractors fear . But when this line is crossed ? It is not clear .
Nevertheless , the central point to this discussion is that criticism can be essential to democratic politics .
- Do attacks in campaigns constitute a useful form of criticism that allows the public to hold officials accountable ?
- That is , Does negativity increases the quality of the information available to the public ?
- Or is negativity too harsh ?
- Is it too often unjustified personal slander ?
-Does it deal with issues that are little more than red herrings ?
Chapter 2 describes the data collected to undertake the investigation
Chapter 3 , first establish a set of normative standards for assessing the quality of the information in campaign appeals . Second , negative appeals are more likely to have documentation supporting them than positive appeals .
Chapter 4 ,assesses the merits of personal attacks .
Chapter 5 , evaluates the merits of issue-based attacks . Are this attacks about legitimate issues . Are they about important and real problems .The findings again suggest that negativity better deals with issues of importance to the public than positive appeals . In the second part , shows theoretically why issues attacks will be more likely to spell out the policy differences between candidates , presenting evidences consisting this insight.
Chapter 6 , evaluates one of the most controversial presidential campaigns in modern times ; Bush- Dukakis .
Next it consider why negativity has been increasing over the last forty years . the basic thesis is simple : negativity is on the rise because parties have more about which to dis agree .
CHAPTER 2 ASSESSING NEGATIVITY.
My definition of negativity seeks to avoid some problems , it is simple and straightforward " negativity is any criticism leveled by one candidate against another during a campaign ".Under this definition there is no gray area .An appeal in a campaign either raises doubts about the opposition (negative ) or states why the candidate is worthy of your vote (positive ) .