It has been fascinating to eye-witness one of the most negative advertising campaigns in the nation – Connecticut’s race for Governor. It is popular wisdom to decry the negativity and say that it doesn’t work on “me.” But, of course, the data show that it indeed does work on “me.”
In the absence of a compelling and visionary message that distinguishes a candidate, the typical person looks for something on which to base his/her decision. And surprise, surprise, negative accusations break through more than visionary platitudes. And so off it goes – candidate A characterizes his/her opponent, candidate B responds, the attacks become more and more acerbic.
I was recently speaking with one of our state senators, Kevin Kelly, on the subject and it was his view that there is great opportunity for a leader who can come forth with a clear and compelling vision for the future. He cited both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton as leaders who were able to articulate such a vision.
To put words in Kevin’s mouth, the negative advertising is perhaps a symptom of a lack of vision and leadership. If I can’t sell myself based on a clear picture of where I want to lead the state/country, then I guess I have to fall back on demeaning my opponent to make him appear less appealing than me.
The true irony is that all of this demeaning has worked! The negative ads have convinced us. We agree with you. The other guy is petty, incompetent, a liar, unprincipled, radicalized, evasive and a crook. Oh, and by the way, we see the winner as pretty much all of those things too, but just a little less so.
Could this be a least a partial cause of the unprecedented low approval ratings for both parties? As Benjamin Franklin said in Poor Richard’s Almanack, “He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas.”