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Negative campaigning

From Academic Kids

Negative campaigning is trying to win an election by attacking an opponent rather than emphasizing ones own positive attributes or policies.

There are a number of techniques of negative campaigning, the most open and often the most effective is running advertisements attacking an opponent's personality or record. Common examples would be painting an opponent as soft on criminals, dishonest, corrupt, or a danger to the nation. One of the earliest and most famous such ads is one by the campaign of Lyndon B. Johnson that successfully portrayed Republican Barry Goldwater as threatening nuclear war. These ads are expensive, however, and if not well crafted can produce a backlash as voters dislike any sense of bullying. A disastrous ad was run by the Progressive Conservative Party in the 1993 federal election emphasizing Liberal leader Jean Chrétien's facial disability. The ad was a disaster and the governing Conservatives were reduced to two seats. One common negative campaigning tactic is attacking the other side for running a negative campaign.

Dirty tricks are also common in political campaigns. These generally involve secretly leaking damaging information to the media. This isolates a candidate from backlash and also does not cost any money. The material must be substantive enough to attract media interest, however, and if the truth is discovered it could severely damage a campaign.

In the United States, negative campaigning can be conducted by proxy - for instance the highly partisan adverts placed in 2004 by allegedly independent bodies like MoveOn.org and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The U.S. campaign of 1988 in which Michael Dukakis ran against George H. W. Bush was marred by the Willie Horton ad. The George W. Bush primary campaign was noted for the "black baby of John McCain" slur. The term "dirty tricks" seems to have come to the fore during the Nixon campaign of 1972 in which G. Gordon Liddy played a major role in developing these tactics which were spoiled for him by the inept events which included Watergate. Karl Rove, the architect of much of George W. Bush's campaigns is considered a master of negative campaigning.

Push polls are telephone calls disguised as polls that are actually attacks. They might ask a question like "How would you react if Candidate A was revealed to beat his wife?", giving the impression that Candidate A might beat his wife. Members of the media and of the opposing party are deliberately not called making these tactics all but invisible and unprovable. During the 2004 campaign the Repubican party brought this to a fine art, and also used written surveys in which one had the offer to provide important input, provided one also made a financial contribution.

Often a campaign will use outside organizations, such as lobby groups, to launch attacks. These can be claimed to be coming from a neutral source and if the allegations turn out not to be true the attacking candidate will not be damaged if the links cannot be proven.

Other dirty tricks include trying to feed an opponent's team false information hoping they will use it and embarrass themselves.

While some consider negative campaigning to be risky, in the U.S., it has been found to be highly effective. Negative tactics are often used by challengers as well as incumbents. It is probably used by those who feel insecure whether or not they are in the lead.

Negative campaigning is usually seen in a negative light. It does not focus on substantive issues or policies and rather tends to focus on personality. A demonstrated effect of negative campaigning is that while it motivates the base of support it tends to alienate centrist and undecided voters from the political process reducing voter turnout and radicalizing politics.

Negative campaigning is often viewed as being most common in American elections, but such tactics are also present in Canada, Europe and many other democracies.

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