During big election years, negative political ads flood our screens, but just how effective are they when it comes to influencing voters?
Mark Glantz, a media studies and communication professor at St. Norbert College in De Pere, said that political ads are designed to grab your attention and trigger an emotional response from you.
“The wording matters an awful lot, but it’s just as much about the pictures and the music, and that haunting sound that they make, and the dark, distorted pictures of the candidates that we’re supposed to loathe,” Glantz said. “Yeah, there’s a lot going on in these things.”
He said negative attack ads are more influential than positive campaign ads.
“We tend, as human beings, to remember negative things more than we remember positive things, and that’s one of the reasons that campaigns want to run so many negative ads,” Glantz explained.
You’ve probably seen political ads that hit you right in the heart, talking about how a candidate’s platform could affect your children and your family.
Political strategists know that voters can be motivated by fear.
“There’s a lot of reason to question whether fear-based appeals are actually what’s best in a democracy, and that’s how people aught to make their decisions or if people are really at their best when they’re afraid,” Glantz said. “So there’s that element of it as well, but it’s also worth noting that it’s probably pretty effective for the candidates that run them.”
Besides rallying voters to go to the polls, political attack ads can change the way a candidate campaigns once an ad runs against them and they have to defend themselves.
“You’re going to look reactive, you’re going to look like you’re not in control of your message, you’re going to have to bring up issues that you’d probably rather not talk about, even if there’s actually no guilt on your part,” Glantz said.
So it’s no wonder that every election year, we see campaigns and Super PACs pour millions of dollars in to political advertising.
You can’t avoid them, but you can control how informed you are about the full story.
“There’s some evidence that suggests that when people are bombarded with really negative messages about both candidates, they kind of throw up their hands and say, ‘Well, I don’t know who to vote for, it seems like both people are no good,” Glantz said. “So I would encourage voters to remain steadfast in their determination to vote, don’t get turned off to politics just because there’s some people running some extraordinarily negative messages right now.”
Glantz added that positive ads can be more effective for incumbents who already have a political record they can highlight, while their challengers may not have a political background, and use negative ads to convince voters why they are a better choice.