Mad Messages: Attack Ads Dominate Campaign Season


When it comes to election season, the power of positive thinking is overrated. Approaching two months before Election Day, negative political ads are all over TV, radio and social media. And it all starts at the top with the presidential race. The Trump campaign has a new ad questioning the decline of Joe Biden's mental abilities, while an anti-Trump group released a similar ad targeting the president. The Biden campaign is also running ads blaming Trump for U.S. coronavirus deaths.

Negative ads during presidential campaigns are nothing new, with the most notable still being the infamous Daisy ad aired by Lyndon Johnson against Barry Goldwater in 1964. And there is a good reason we still remember and talk about ads like that more than 50 years later. "Everybody says they hate negative ads, and yet year in and year out the most effective ads at moving the polls are negative advertisements," says Matthew Wilson, political science professor at Southern Methodist University. "It's much easier to stir up doubts about your opponent than to reinforce your own character and standing."

Another factor in the modern negative ad is the likelihood it will go "viral" on the internet and social media. "A really biting, trenchant critique of your opponent is more likely to get those shares and re-tweets than a sort of gauzy, positive message about your vision for America," says Wilson.

With both the Trump and Biden campaigns lining up hundreds of millions in ad spending for this fall, get ready for a lot more negativity between now and November 3.


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