Attack ads have become a political staple

stephen2By Stephen Rhodes

I haven’t heard anyone say they like attack ads, a staple, it seems, in political campaigns. I would think in a protracted 78 day federal election campaign that we are sick and tired of them.

Attack ads rely on a germ of truth, stoke the committed voter and dangerously inform the uninformed and by almost any standard of measurement descend to personal low blows.

trudeauAttack ads have been part of the Conservative arsenal going back to Jean Chretien.The attacks are personal, so we get a vacationing Michael Ignatieff and an unready Justin Trudeau. The Liberals have also used them, attacking Conservative leaders Stanfield and Clark. In 2004, the Martin Liberals accused Stephen Harper for his “hidden agenda.”

Well, if they didn’t work, parties wouldn’t use them.

Attack ads aren’t aimed at everyone. The plugged-in people hate them as irrelevant. But, for the ill-informed it may be the only exposure they have to the party leaders. And the party faithful don’t need them but attack ads stoke their anger and fear, ensuring they get out to vote.

So, why do they work? We pay more attention to negative information, complain about it, but pay more attention to it. We are bombarded by the media all day along, and across multiple platforms, with negative information. And while positive ads can be good, in political campaigns negative ads are more effective.

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