It appears the 2016 political campaign is off to a mud-slinging start, and many are asking, “As bad as it is now, could this possibly be the most negative political campaign ever experienced?” I think history can answer this question for us with a resounding, “No!” We read of political races in the past which have been so hard fought and so emotionally stressing that even in the aftermath of the election, anger and deep hurt remained.
For example, Andrew Jackson and incumbent John Quincy Adams’ 1828 presidential campaign got especially vicious and ugly when Jackson’s mother and his wife became the opponent’s target, and personal attacks and slanderous accusations were made about the two women. Though Jackson ultimately won the election, the harsh and hurtful feelings of the campaign lasted for years afterward, and neither man was able to “bury the hatchet.”
Aaron Burr, the sitting Vice-President of the U.S and Alexander Hamilton, the former Secretary of the Treasury under George Washington engaged in a dual as the culmination of a bitter, long-standing rivalry between the two men. Hamilton was shot, and with his wife and sister-in-law by his side, he died the next day. The final straw before the Burr-Hamilton dual was when Hamilton defamed Burr’s character in an editorial during the gubernatorial race in 1804, a race in which Burr was a candidate. The dual effectively ended Burr’s political career.
I don’t expect any duals this election cycle, but there are certainly plenty of harsh words being lobbed about. It seems that these last few weeks leading up to the August 2 Primary Election have been filled with what I feel is an inordinate amount of negative advertising. The ads have reached the point to where people are calling me, texting me, and stopping me in public places and asking if what is being said is actually true, and who is the one telling the truth?
It clearly appears that this summer’s Primary Election, especially in Missouri, has been mired in a great deal of negativity and mud-slinging. Even I have come to ask, “How can these candidates state half-truths, take different quotes out of context, and, in fact, just dream up things to use against each other?”
As troubling as the campaign’s negative ads and speeches are, I recently read that mud-slinging in today’s politics has become “as American as Mississippi Mud, and as American as apple pie.” Even in light of this, one has to wonder, “Has negative advertising reached the point where Missouri voters are completely confused and totally disgusted with the entire political process?”
Negative campaigning seems to be the norm in the political world, with advertising basically falling into two categories: attack and contrast. The attack ads focus exclusively on the negative aspects of the opponent. Consequently, there will be no positive content in an attack ad. These ads usually identify the risk associated with the candidate’s opponent, which often exploit people’s fears by attempting to lower the voter’s impression of the candidate’s opponent.
The attack ads are more influential than the contrast ads and contain information about both the candidate and his or her opponent. The information about the candidate is always positive, while the information about the opponent is always negative. The contrast ad compares the candidate with his or her opponent, and, generally, these ads are seen as less damaging to the political process than are the straight attack ads.
Common negative campaign techniques will always try to paint the candidate’s opponent as soft on crime, dishonest, corrupt, and a potential danger to society and the office they are seeking. Oftentimes the candidates will try to blame each other for creating a negative atmosphere in the campaign. Dirty tricks are also very common in today’s campaign world, as is “secretly” leaking damaging material to the media or trying to use false information to discredit an opponent. Unfortunately, all of these tactics have been seen in a number of our statewide races.
I think we are all glad that the primaries will soon be over. Personally, I am to the point that when I hear a negative political ad on the radio, I just hit the “off” button. Though there are less than one hundred days left until the General Election in November, I predict there will be much more negativity to come. Let’s hope, though, that there are no duals being planned.