4.3 The Lisbon Treaty Debate: Battling Negative Campaigns
Chapter 5: The 2008 United States Presidential Election Campaign
5.2 Barack Hussein Obama: The Name of a Terrorist?
5.3 McCain: An Old Vampire Warmonger and Adulterer
5.4 Sarah Palin: Terrorist, Pit-bull, and Hockey Mom
Chapter 6: The Obama Nation: Post 2008 Election
6.2 Tea Parties for Terrorists?
6.3 The Mosque Controversy at Ground Zero
Chapter 7: Conclusion and Recommendations
7.4 Future Research and Implications for Professional Practice
Chapter 1 – Introduction and Context Review
Negative campaigns can be personal attacks or attacks centered around the actual issues facing society. This paper seeks to analyze the personal attacks type of negative campaigning and the effects of these negative attacks, particularly against individuals and groups, rather than politicians. While negative attack ads have historically helped win campaigns, which it may, but does it promote democracy? If it doesn’t promote the common good for society or dialogue in pursuit of the common good, are these attacks still justifiable? What is to be said about individuals or groups who are genuinely striving to speak out regarding specific issues, in hopes that their voices will be heard? Although negative campaigns have been proven to win campaigns and have been proven that they work, they neglect democracy, understanding, or communication.
1.2 Democracy vs. Negative Personal Attacks
Democracy is a government that is directed by the people. In a democracy, the government focuses on informing the voter on the issues that are important to them, thus encouraging an educated decision. Society, or the Public, refers to the members that build this democracy and work to promote the common good of themselves and others. Negative personal attacks lead to a certain public opinion, which is uneducated on the crucial aspects of their vote and distorts the common good that society is looking for. Negative campaigns work to persuade the public into believing things that are completely untrue or partial truths which are altered to create a negative attack against the other person or group. The media promotes these negative personal attacks, because they thrive on them. Although negative attacks have a proven history of success in winning campaigns, these campaigns do not promote democracy, as they do not promote dialogue or knowledge. The need for dialogue and democracy within politics is great, as freedom of speech rights are being destroyed. Instead of promoting freedom of speech and dialogue, negative personal attacks ultimately segregate society and encourage hatred and disrespect.
1.3 Context Review
Negative campaigning is most often regarded as one candidate attacking another. In this type of negative campaign, each candidate strives to portray the other in the worst possible fashion. The other main type of negative campaigning is the attack on a person, group, or section of society. This paper will focus on the latter type, as this is the type of negative campaign that is the most prominent and recognizable, yet rarely is discussed.
Negative campaigning against individuals, groups, or a section of society has become more popular in modern culture. Politicians have been known to spawn “attack ads” against one another and publicize negative facts, or untruths, about the other. Politics can be a world of “dirty tricks”, a world that once seemed confined primarily to the political sector, but is currently making its way into the mainstream world, into mainstream media.
Politics has a long history of negative attack ads and negative campaigning, but now this form of attack is being directed at normal everyday citizens. The typical negative campaigning against political candidates is still in effect, but is consistently getting more pernicious and now is involving the general public. Citizens are entering the debate, by releasing their own negative attacks against politicians, which often are going above the lines of “freedom of speech” and entering the scene of inappropriateness. But, there are other citizens who are bringing forth genuine concerns and substantive attacks, but then are being attacked with claims that they are “bigots”, “racists”, or “extremists”, when all they are doing is voicing their authentic concern for their country.
Chapter 2 – Literature Review
Negative campaigning has a long history of practice within the political sector, comprising of one candidate attacking the other candidate with negative smear ads. In today’s world, negative campaigning has become more prevalent than ever, not just in the political, but now in the public sector. The negative campaigns set out to influence public opinion of various candidates and groups and focuses on negative attacks in order to attain their goal. The public loves drama, thus media prefers drama because it allows them to attract more followers. Negative campaigns are effective. They work. This is why they are used; but for various reasons, they destroy the ideals of democracy. Negative campaigns do not promote dialogue or intellectual reasoning; for this and for other reasons determined in the research, democracy comes to an end within sphere of negative campaigns.
2.2 Negative Campaign
Smear campaigns are more prevalent than ever in politics and are now spreading out of the political spectrum into the public sector. Negative campaigning is most often regarded as one candidate attacking another. In these negative attacks, each candidate strives to portray the other in the worst possible fashion. The other main type of negative campaigning is the attack on a group, religion, or section of society, which is often facilitated by a politician, political group, or an opposing group. The public claims that they do not enjoy negative campaigns or smear ads, but they do work to some extent.
“In survey after survey, registered voters say they don’t like the negativity and the mudslinging in politics. But, if that is true, then why is there so much mudslinging in campaigns? One reason, people love soap operas and they love gossip - and political campaigns have plenty of both” (Swint: xi).
Negative campaigning is a popular form of action in politics because politicians and the media both know that these campaigns are effective. People have an innate interest in drama, which explains why celebrity gossip magazines and websites are also so successful. Scholars have studied the negative campaign phenomena and verify the power of negative ad campaigns.
“Several scholars have noted the persuasive power of negative arguments (Cobb & Kuklinski, 1997; Riker, 1996), and their prominence in campaign advertisements suggests that the most enduring appeals might well be those that are negative (Ansolabehere & Iyengar, 1995; Jamieson, 1992; Kaid & Johnston, 1991).” (Jerit: 565)
Although negative ads are appealing to the public, many argue that they are unfair or coerce the voter to case their vote under false pretenses. Westen writes that it is important to
“Understand the use and misuse of negative emotion in campaigns (which is what negative ads try to engender) requires distinguishing between attacks that are unfair, misleading, or unethical and those that are not only accurate but essential for catching voters’ attention and informing their emotions.” (Westen: 319)
Negative campaigns are often filled with misinformation, twisting of facts, or outright lies. This is where a negative campaign becomes an immoral or unfair attack. What is more disconcerting is that politicians and the media realize that the public is captivated by drama and thus use the medium of negative campaigns to literally coerce the public into believing various misinformation or untruths.
2.3 Public Opinion
Writer and political commentator Walter Lippmann believed that the way a person imagines the world determines what the person will do; it thus determines his effort, his feelings, his hopes, not his accomplishments and results (Lippman: 34). Lippman recognized the power that the media and politicians hold and how they are able to use this power to influence the public. Lippman’s view was that even the most outspoken person, apparently independently thinking person, places his entire hope on the formation by propaganda of a class conscious group (Ibid: 34). If what Lippmann writes is true, that means that propaganda and campaigns have more depth of importance and control than the world has come to recognize. This would mean that negative campaigning is an extremely powerful tool in the coercion of man to believe anything, true or untrue. Politicians and the media know this to be true and are able to get away with campaigns that distort truth, in order to promote a candidate or a particular issue. In Lippmann’s view, “For what operates in history is not the systematic idea as a genius formulated it, but shifting imitations, replicas, counterfeits, analogies, and distortions in individuals minds” (Lippmann: 101). The human mind is a powerful thing, but is being corrupted by the untruths promoted in the current negative campaigns of distorted information. But, truth or untruth, negative campaigns work and this is why they are used widely and promoted within the media.
2.4 The Media Prefers Drama
The media has become an integral part of any campaign, most especially the negative campaign. With the massive rise in social media networking, a drop in newspaper production (which were generally held to a higher standard), and the rising popularity of political communications within the media, people more than ever rely on the messages fed through the circuits of television and the internet. The media though must still work to gain the attention and loyalty of its viewership, thus they must catch the attention of the public, this is often done via dramatic events that harbor the interest and intrigue of the public. “The use of emotional appeals is consistent with the media’s preference for drama and excitement in news reporting (Bennett, 2003).” (Jerit: 567) Candidates and groups know that the media is looking to air drama, thus they will also try to create drama, in hopes that it might attract the media’s attention and they will get promotion. Jerit goes on to say, “the use of emotional appeals by candidates reflects their belief that these arguments are more likely to be covered than sober, factual formulations.” (567) Politicians and other individuals are willing to distort information and facts, because they understand that they will only get promotion if there is drama and excitement involved.
“Since no reader can know all the judgments figuring into the decisions about what news or entertainment to offer, constant opportunities arise for the media enterprise to secretly allow advertiser influence.” (Baker: 77)
The media has the power to run whatever ads they prefer and ultimately spin the information however they like. It is, therefore, important that members of the public judge the information given, accordingly. This should lead the public to become more careful and analyze the stories presented in the media because deception is consistently running through the media airwaves.
2.4 Moniker: What’s in a Name?
Name-calling has become the headlining factor in campaigns, the “sound byte” adjective, if you will, while formal and civilized debate about the “issues” has become cliché. Candidates are quick to vocalize their negative campaign against their opponent with a simple word or phrase outlining their negative feelings. Sometimes these campaigns, as with negative campaigns in general, can have some amount of truth attached to them, but most readily act as an outlet to dodge debate or discussion on the real underlying issues. “Words are important. All by themselves. If we are patient enough to examine them carefully, if we are willing to look for connections among them, much can be learned.” (Hart, 2000: 24) In the case of a campaign centered on truthful arguments, there may be some substance to the moniker used. In negative campaigns, though, they simply exist to attack the other person. This offers reason for concern. As Paul Johnson states in his book Enemies of Society,
“A man who deliberately inflicts violence on the language will almost certainly inflict violence on human beings if he acquires the power. Those who treasure the meaning of words will treasure truth, and those who bend words to their purposes are very likely in pursuit of anti-social ones. The correct and honorable use of words is the first and natural credential of civilized status.” (259)
If man confronts another person or a group with an attack, rather than dialogue or debate, one can almost assume that this will continue once they are elected to a position of power. This is evident in politics and will be discussed further in this research paper.
According to Ansolabehere and Iyengar, “advertising polarizes American elections… advertisements are informative and not manipulative…” (10) This claim has been proven wrong in the research for this paper and the findings will be further developed throughout the continuation of this presentation. Although the claim that advertisements are meant to be informative and not manipulative could be true in some cases, in most cases of negative campaigning this is not true. This statement assumes that the information being presented is truthful, but the current situation of campaigning is filled with untruths about candidates, people, organizations, and groups. But, as discussed before in this paper, these attack ads are effective and that’s why they are being used.
Studies show that “people pay greater attention to negative information than to positive information.” (Martin: 548) Politicians use negative campaigns because they work, the same can be said for the types of negative campaigns that are promoted by the media. Politicians win elections using negative campaigns and the media garners attention and viewers (and therefore, advertising dollars) in using negative campaigns. Even though negative campaigns may focus on fear and misinformation, they are effective and they have been shown to mobilize a group or person to political victory.
“Arguments that incite fear or anger seem especially good at resolving one of the ‘essential tensions’ of a campaign: the need to mobilize the party's base while attracting the support of the uncommitted (Johnston et al., 1992). Because citizens, even partisans, are notoriously inattentive to politics, they must be mobilized anew every election (Johnston et al., 1992, p. 79).” (Jerit: 567)
Negative campaigns mobilize people because they stimulate problem awareness, stimulate anxiety about the candidates, and they make people perceive races as being closer than they actually are (Martin: 557). They work to create strong emotions based on various negative factors of the person or group, and this then encourages activity for or against whatever is being advertised. Although negative campaigns can stimulate activism, the negativity can also hinder activity and leads voters to become apathetic and annoyed by such advertising.
“The use of campaign advertising to suppress turnout has escaped universal condemnation presumably because the demobilizing impact of negative advertising has been a well-kept secret, and a tacit assumption among political consultants.” (Ansolabehere and Iyengar: 11)
Ansolabehere and Iyengar go on to say:
“As the independents in the middle stop voting, the partisans at the extremes come to dominate electoral politics. It is the voice of this increasingly small and increasingly polarized voting that public representatives hear.” (10)
Negative campaigns do not promote democracy, as these campaigns work to coerce the voter through misinformation. Negative campaigns do not promote dialogue on “the issues”. We see that this form of campaign is undemocratic because it suppresses voter turnout. According to the further research findings of Ansolabehere and Iyengar,
“… advertising does pose a serious threat to democracy- but this threat is not usually one that is laid at its feet. Voter suppression is profoundly anti-democratic. It may not be the result of an explicit reaction to a particular message; voters simply grow to dislike negativity and withdraw accordingly.” (12)
Negative advertising leads the voter to become apathetic and despondent, rather than advocate involvement. The greatest danger within the venue of negative campaigns is in the way they lead the public away from the ideals of a democracy. This is especially unsettling when revealing that, “Every winning campaign in the last century has featured salient attacks on the opposition.” (Westen: 331) Were these attacks promoting democracy?
2.6 An End to Dialogue, An End to Democracy
Modern negative campaigns work to encourage quick, subconscious decisions not even focused on sentimentality and personal drama. The mission of modern propaganda “is no longer to transform opinion but to arouse an active and mythical belief.” (Ellul: 25) The mind is a powerful mechanism and the media and politicians know this and use this to perplex human reason. Communication is a two way device, which promotes reason, intellect, and dialogue, but this is not a part of the majority of negative campaigns, which do not engage the voter beyond eliciting a fast, emotional response. The process of negative information instills an automatic thought process, which is “quick, effortless, (and) subconscious.” (Martin: 548) This is not encouraging the voter to deeper thought or understanding, but rather it promotes a “quick, effortless, and subconscious” judgment. Negative campaigns seek to manipulate and distort public opinion, and play on their emotions to sway the vote. It is quite easy to sway some voters, as many people have no interest in or a disgust for politics in general. As Jerit states, “citizens, even partisans, are notoriously inattentive to politics.” (Jerit: 567) Therefore, these negative appeals are used to rouse voters, but don’t inspire thought or reason, especially if those voters have no interest in politics or political issues to start with.
If a voter does have an interest in politics, other things can influence them subconsciously, which can affect the status of democracy in the world today. Author Kathleen Jamieson stated, “Our fears shape our perceptions of the facts.” (33) Fear is a powerful force, especially when affecting the mind, which can disturb logical human reasoning. Even the Founding Fathers in the United States saw how emotion would come to affect the political realm and thus democracy.
“The framers of the U.S Constitution themselves were of many minds about emotion, although in general… they feared the distorting influence of emotion on the rational thought necessary for good decisions in a democracy.” (Westen: 26)
If emotion and fear are able to have such an effect on human reasoning, it is also affecting the way that the world functions. With the major influence of political rhetoric, negative smear campaigns, and fear, no one can say for sure how many voters present day actually vote with an understanding and knowledge of the intrinsic issues.
If voters are making decisions on account of subconscious thought, emotions, and fear, the idea of democracy could be coming to an end in the very near future. Ex-communist Whittaker Chambers made mention of this very issue in the early fifties saying,
“In this century, within the next decades, [it] will be decided for generations whether all mankind is to become Communist, whether the whole world is to become free, or whether, in the struggle, civilization as we know it is to be completely destroyed. ” (Coulter: 8)
Dialogue, intellect, and reason are being weakened in the current venue of negative campaigns, which could ultimately lead to the destruction of democracy and freedom. The lack of reason and dialogue in politics and throughout society is having some effect on democracy throughout the world. According to Arthur Schlesinger Jr. regarding political rhetoric,
“Social fluidity, moral pretension, political and literary demagoguery, corporate and academic bureaucratization and a false conception of democracy are leading us into semantic chaos.” (Hart, 2000: 24)
Simply looking at the world of politics today or society in general, one can already see the chaos that is having devastating effect on dialogue, freedom, and human reason.
As discussed throughout this research, although the negative campaigning history of practice within politics has been shown to be successful, it ultimately weakens, if not defeats, the opportunity to have a democratic society. Negative campaigns have become more widespread, not just in the political, but also reaching into the public sector. Negative campaigns are successful in influencing public opinion, by controlling the information being delivered to the public, in such a way to domineer human reasoning. The public loves drama, thus media uses drama to attract followers and to facilitate the information that is being fed to the public. Negative campaigns work and they aggrandize the campaign to the forefront, but even though they work, they are shown to destroy democratic ideals. Negative campaigns do no promote dialogue or intellectual reasoning. Negative campaigns do not promote democracy.
Chapter 3 – Note on Method
The method of research for this paper relied on a strong combination of both qualitative and quantitative research methods. The qualitative research consisted of published writings in order to initiate the hypothesis, laying the foundation for the quantitative research. The qualitative findings laid a certain philosophical theory, which would converge with the later findings within the quantitative method of research. The quantitative method comprised of a series of interviews and further analytical research. Both methods of research were crucial to the theory and the outcome of this paper. Although each was important, neither was without its own complications. Using the proper research tools, including analytical and logical reasoning, this dissertation was brought to fulfillment.
3.2 Qualitative Research
The first stage of research was centered on the study of academic journal articles, books, and other published works. The articles and books used throughout this research included both “sides” of the political spectrum, the left (liberal) and the right (conservative). The qualitative research included various angles of academic study and theory including: political, philosophical, sociological, and psychological. This section of research offered a foundation for further intricacies to be revealed in the quantitative research.