Negative political ads and their affect

Joshua Schuetz
Staff Writer

With the election a week in the rearview mirror, we should take a look at one of the most irritating and, unfortunately, omnipresent aspects of campaigning: the negative political ad.

These advertisements are typically run by outside interest groups, (think Super PACS or single-issue advocacy groups), in opposition to a particular candidate.

While some of these ads critique the stance of a candidate on a particular issue, most are more concerned with impugning the character of the candidate being critiqued, usually by linking them with corruption and immoral behavior. 

Do these ads work?

Sadly, yes. Negative advertisements do generally encourage people to vote against a particular candidate or policy, especially if they are endorsed by the other candidate. 

It’s likely that negative ads reinforce the partisan leaning of the person watching them, thus making them more likely to go to the polls on election day.

On the same token, the ads might discourage those who are more moderate in their leanings from showing up.

Very few, (if any), people actually like these ads. They’re typically seen as distracting from actual debates about issues and cheapening to broader political discourse. 

However, they are increasingly common, being up over 60 percent in the 2018 election cycle as compared to the 2014 cycle. 

So why are these ads bad? Besides being obnoxious, excessive negative advertising in political campaigns can lead people to conclude that all candidates are corrupt, self-dealing, and generally unconcerned with the public good. That, in turn, can cause moderate or independent voters to drop out of the political process.

It can also create or worsen a resentment of politics among those who are not politically engaged.

There’s also a financial aspect to this issue: briefly, many of the groups which air these ads are outside interest groups, sometimes associated with industry, finance, or nonprofits, that want to put money behind a particular candidate or against another.

This has gotten significantly worse since 2010, when the Citizens United Supreme Court ruled that organizations could spend unlimited amounts of money supporting or opposing candidates, thereby leading to a flush of money into political races. 

In the race for Minnesota’s first House District, in which Mankato is located, over 13 million dollars were spent on the election by various groups.

The rise of negative advertising is obnoxious, but it is also manipulative and benefits organizations that are well-heeled.

They cheapen our discourse and weaken our commitment to politics and democracy, both of which should be seen as serious concerns.

Feature photo by Mansoor Ahmad | MSU Reporter.

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