Monday, October 13, 2008

Negative Ads as a Positive to Democratic Discourse?

John Greer, a political scientist at Vanderbilt, wrote the following piece about the virtues of campaign negativity in Sunday's Washington Post. Read it here.

Greer makes many of the same points I've made to students in lectures over the past five years, and in op-ed pieces. Negative ads are more memorable, contain more accurate information, and focus more on issues than positive ads. Campaigns are about disagreements, so advertisements should highlight the differences between candidates. In fact, we should expect it.

There is also some evidence that more money and more advertisements increases turnout and voter learning. The rationale is simple: the richer and denser the information environment, the lower the barriers to voting. In absence of information, voters are less likely to participate and it is harder for them to make a decision.

Want proof? Try making an informed decision between local school board candidates this fall and you'll see what I mean. Given the dearth of information produced by these low information campaigns and the lack of attention paid to them by the media, you'll probably become frustrated long before you find out anything meaningful about the candidates. And, in the end, you'll probably not vote for either candidate.

But you will vote for the presidential candidates, because you will have all the information you need at your fingertips, courtesy of the press and all those negative ads.

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