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Review: Geer, In Defense of Negativity

jacket imageThe Washington Post recently reviewed John G. Geer’s In Defense of Negativity: Attack Ads in Presidential Campaigns. Reviewer Dan Balz wrote: "Geer has set out to challenge the widely held belief that attack ads and negative campaigns are destroying democracy. Quite the opposite, he argues in his provocative new book: Negativity is good for you and for the political system. Geer believes that democracy is strengthened by vigorous debate and asserts that negative ads contribute to, rather than detract from, that dialogue…. Negative ads, he says, are far more likely to be about substance rather than personal attacks and are more likely to be supported by documentation than positive appeals. He argues that negative ads are more specific than positive appeals and therefore more useful to voters in weighing the relative merits of presidential candidates. He also says the media have been far too alarmist about the level of negativity and the effects of attack ads on the political process…. Geer states what others before him has said: Negativity has long been part of American politics…. While conceding that negativity has steadily increased, he challenges the belief that the rise results from scurrilous personal attacks by one candidate against another…. Negativity has increased because the two parties, now more ideologically divided than in the past, have more to argue about…. What has really changed, according to Geer, is awareness of negativity by the media."
In Defense of Negativity, Geer’s study of negative advertising in presidential campaigns from 1960 to 2004, asserts that the proliferating attack ads are far more likely than positive ads to focus on salient political issues, rather than politicians’ personal characteristics. Accordingly, the ads enrich the democratic process, providing voters with relevant and substantial information before they head to the polls.
An important and timely contribution to American political discourse, In Defense of Negativity concludes that if we want campaigns to grapple with relevant issues and address real problems, negative ads just might be the solution.