In US politics, attack ads are always effective (this is only true some of the time in Canada or the UK). Arguably, negative campaigning isn’t negative for democracy. It’s part of discourse. The Annenberg Campaign Mapping Project (ACMP) discourse on advertising has three types: (1) Advocacy, which are arguments in favour of a politician’s position, (2) Contrast: which are arguments contrasting two or more political choices, (3) Attack: which are arguments critical of an opponent or the opponent’s position on something. Only type 3 are negative. Reporters are more negative in a day than you will be in your lifetime.
Negative campaigning isn’t becoming more widespread. It just isn’t. It’s true that after every campaign, editorialists and political scientists churn out pious opinion pieces about how awful and nasty and unpleasant the latest election was. A poll in the 1996 Clinton v Dole race showed that negative ads increased both the turnout and vote share. Reporters and opponents should research the political public record. It’s only fair. But war rooms can go too far.
Research is essential. Corroborating claims is essential. Thomas Jefferson had several mistresses all of them slaves. The opposition accused him of this but there was no proof. 200 years later the truth came out. Jefferson won the presidency anyway. The value of professional political consultants was the injection of large sums of cash by aspiring politicians and advocacy groups. They needed people who could navigate the competitive media environment. Being factually accurate is tremendously important. You need quick opposition research and response. The need for speed in the CNN, Fox News, NBC news cycle is paramount. It is fair, in some cases, to probe a person’s personal life. Buchanan was a rank anti-European. Bush’s attack dogs found out he drives a Mercedes-Benz sedan, a European car. Pure hypocrisy. Opposition are always interested in missed votes in the US. Scanning for fibs, contradictions are effective. March 2008: Hillary Clinton claims she was shot at in Bosnia. The Republican attacks on Bill Clinton criminalized him with effect in 1996.
Based on the James Carville Method for dealing with attack ads in political campaigns.
1) Don’t Get Mad, Get Even! If you look guilty, if you look worried, you’re screwed. Make them sweat. Make them angry. Don’t ever let them see you sweat!
2) Magnify Mistakes, Misspending, and Misstatements! When someone is out to magnify your mistakes, misspending, and misstatements then you need to return the favour. It’s the polite thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do, as well.
3) Hypocrites Always Deserve What They Get! Newt Gingrich on a number of counts.
4) Mock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em, Rock ‘Em! The best way to defeat someone is to mock him or her. Humour is always an excellent strategy.
5) Tell the Truth and Take Responsibility! If someone tells a bald-faced lie, go after him. But don’t emulate him.
6) Motives Matter! People want to know why someone is chasing a scandal. Is it because they have to or want to?
7) Expose the Bullies! If a bully accuses you of something: rejoice!
8) Get and Keep the People on Your Side!
9) Hit ‘Em Hard, Hit ‘Em Fast, Hit ‘Em Often! Speed kills your opponent. Never let a charge go unanswered. And Sponsorships work!