In an article published this morning on the Politico website, John G. Geer, author of In Defense of Negativity: Attack Ads in Presidential Campaigns turns a critical eye on this year’s presidential campaign to offer some fascinating insights as to why the mudslinging that many argue has sullied this year’s elections might not be so bad after all. Geer writes:
Americans do not like negative ads; as much as 80 percent of the public indicates distaste for them. Yet people do not think it’s negative for candidates to attack on issues. It’s the personal attacks they equate with negative ads. Most commentators include issue attacks as negative, such as McCain’s strongly disputed claim that Obama supports sex education for kindergartners. To complicate matters further, most attack ads in presidential campaigns are not personal, they’re about issues. That fact rarely gets discussed by the news media. Instead, the news media focus on one or two outrageous ads and fail to look at the broader patterns.
Along these same lines, consider the favorable aspects of negative ads that are rarely mentioned: They are more specific and documented than are positive ads. And they’re more likely to be about the important issues facing the nation.
Why is there such a disconnect between perception and reality? My answer will not be popular in some quarters, but the real source of negativity in presidential campaigns is not attack ads themselves but the coverage of them by the news media.