The Effects of Negative Propaganda in Politics

The Effects of Negative Propaganda in Politics
Politics is the foundation upon which this country stands upon. Today?s politicians power every decision and every move that the U.S. Makes. The central power that is behind this country is run by one man, the president. There is only on way to become president and that is to win the Presidential Election that occurs once every four years. Advertisement is used to ?sell? a candidate to the public. Positive advertisement is often used at the beginning of a campaign to let the public get to know the candidate. However, wherever there is positive advertisement to be found, there are negative ads following close behind. Negative advertisements are usually targeted at the opponent whose ideas or history might be able to be used against them in an incriminating way. Reactions to the content of negative propaganda cannot be controlled and it may or may not have its desired effect. Negative propaganda created by the media and candidates in presidential elections can stir up a whirlwind of uncertainty among the voters and cause mixed negative feelings about one or perhaps both of the candidates. Negative propaganda is nothing new to political campaigns. In fact it was used in the very first election that there was. According to Edwin Diamond and Stephen Bates: Name-calling and invective are themselves nothing new in American political life. Washington was called a ?Whore Master? and would-be-monarch; Jefferson a coward and atheist; Lincoln, a ?rail-splitting baboon.? Franklin O. Roosevelt, Jr., as a surrogate for John Kennedy in the West Virginia primary in 1960, declared Hubert Humphrey was a draft dodger. (327) It is obvious that negative campaigning did not just pop up out of the blue one day, but came with the Presidential Campaign package itself. As election strategies progressed, so did the use of political campaigning. "Up until the late 1970?s the candidates would use direct personal attacks on TV, opposed to surrogates doing the attacking, as they did post late 1970?s" (Diamond and Bates 327-328) Although this is not political propaganda, Richard Wright of earlier time criticism as well as the effect it can have on someone who is uneducated in that subject. One morning I arrived early at work and went into the bank lobby where the Negro porter was mopping. I stood at the counter and picked up the Memphis Commercial Appeal and began my free reading of the press. I finally came to the editorial page and saw an article dealing with one H.L. Mencken. I knew by hearsay that he was the editor of the American Mercury, but aside from that I knew nothing about him. The article was a furious denunciation of Mencken, concluding with one hot, short sentence: Mencken is a fool. (477) This article continues on to show the questions and confusions that came after reading this negative article on something he knew nothing about. Today?s negative campaigns are not quite so direct with name calling, instead using more hidden and mixed methods. While name calling can rile voters into disowning the targeted candidate, it may not always create a positive image of the candidate behind the attack. Keeping that in mind, today?s politicians will usually use a more tactical approach to demeaning their opponent. One common way to get a large group of people to support and individual candidate is with a public appearance and speech to a live audience. People tend to lose their own moral focus in a large group and can easily get swept up in the excitement of the crowd. Aldous Huxley would describe a persons reaction when put into a large crowd as the following: "In a word, a man in a crowd behaves as though he has swallowed a large dose of some powerful intoxicant. He is a victim of what I have called ?herd-poisoning? (223). When the crowd is over taken with ?herd-poisoning?, a great leader can take advantage of that group?s mental weakness and in a way control them. Hitler himself said, ?To be a leader means to be able to move the masses? (qtd. In Huxley 222) While the presidential candidates may not be using ?herd-poisoning? to manipulate the public into a mindless army, they are never the less using manipulation to persuade the public the see that all logic points to that candidate getting elected. This tactic is especially useful when trying to spread a negative statement about the opponent. Public speeches are used to take advantage of ?herd-poisoning? to get the crowd on their side, and at the same time put the crowd on offense against the other opponent. Television is also a major source of presidential advertisements. Commercials run daily for both candidates. Some of these commercials are positive targeting a particular group of people as their audience. While others are negative targeting ones opponent. These ads that are seen have been carefully planned out and have gone through a test run on a focus group. For example, Bush?s "Reelection Team Says Democrat?s 32-year Career Is Rich in Ammunition" (Kurtz). What is meant by ?Ammunition?? Simple, Bush?s reelection team sees that Kerry?s history is full of details that can be twisted and used against him. Comics also take part in this negative advertisement. However they do it for a completely different reason. They do it for entertainment. Which can at times lighten the mood of the election. The Saturday following the Sept. 30th debate, Saturday Night Live (snl) aired their own version of the presidential debate. snl picked out small characteristics about each of the candidates and took these characteristics to such lengths that there was no choice but to laugh at them. The snl debate kicked off with Bush going first. Announcer: When you say ?crush the terrorists?, how exactly do you plan to do that? Bush: (in winy voice) â??Byâ??Working hardâ??Working Saturdaysâ??? Announcer: So you plan to crush the terrorist by coming in on Saturdays? Bush: If that?s what it takes. (nbc) The debate continues on in this manner alternating between humiliating bush, and then Kerry. A small clip of this debate can be found at: http://www.nbc.com/Saturday_Night_Live/index.html and clinking on the Presidential Debate Featured Video. This negative advertisement doesn?t so much bring a negative outlook on the candidates, but more of a comic look. While this may lighten the mood, it still can cause voters to perhaps look at a candidate as a comic image, instead of the desired serious image. Not all of this negative advertisement works out quite the way it was intended to. ?I approve this message? is and all to common saying that is never really taken seriously. With all the negative and criticizing ads being supported by the candidates the plan can back fire causing the ?Boomerang Effect? (Chang, Park, and Shim). Garramon said, "Voters response varies with the content theme, but backlash or boomerang may be the most common effect of negative political advertising" (Chang, Park, and Shim). After a negative ad is seen with one of the candidates approving it, what message are they really approving? Are they approving of dumping billions of dollars into smear campaigns? Or do they approve of ?stretching the truth? and taking quotes out of context? These are questions voters have to ask themselves and wonder: who?s worse? The target or the one who?s target practicing? "In Merritt?s study of voters responses to negative advertising in California Assembly District found that ?the negative political advertising evokes negative affect toward both both target opponent and the sponsor?" (qtd. in Chang, Park, and Shim). Table 3. Question: Based on the advertisement, how do you feel about Ron Whitten who sponsored the political advertisement?). Frequency Percent Positive 80 27 Neutral 42 14 Negative 175 58.9 Total 297 100 Table 4. Question: Based on the advertisement, how do you feel about David Strick who is attacked in the political advertisement?). Frequency Percent Positive 50 16.0 Neutral 71 23.9 Negative 176 59.3 Total 297 100 Fig. 1. Tables 3 & 4. Effectiveness of Negative Political Advertising. 1998. 03 Oct. 2004 Overall, negative advertising is just another day in politics when it comes to the elections. It?s used to attack the other party while boosting the sponsoring party. However as seen by the results of Merritt?s study, negative advertisement will more than not end up backfiring giving both candidates a bad image. When it comes down to voting time, it is no longer which candidate is best for the job, but who do I dislike more? Leaving the other candidate the vote because the first one is more disliked than the one that was voted for. . That?s why it can only be concluded that negative advertising does indeed cause confusion and uncertainty among the voters which cause them to have an overall negative outlook on one if not both of the candidates.

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