The “average person” rails against negative campaigning. The “average person” campaigns negatively.
Example: On behalf of candidate John Fencl for Washington Township (Indianapolis) school board, two “average person” neighbors distributed a flyer two days prior to the election. The first half supported Mr. Fencl saying he is a quality person and a school parent. With that information and endorsement by this neighbor, I was ready to vote for Mr. Fencl.
Then, the flyer attacked his opponent, Deitric Hall, with negative information, including the allegation that Mr. Hall could not name all schools in the district. The negative allegations changed my decision because
- Hall had no chance to refute the information
- No one I know can name all Washington Township Schools
The authors could have had my vote on the strength of their status as good neighbors and good persons. They lost me by stooping to the lowest element of campaigning: negative unprovable allegations.
Another example took place more than twenty years ago when two friends were competing to be president of a service club. A few days prior, an “average person” partisan whispered to me that the opponent was having an affair outside of marriage. To me, the allegation was over the top, not subject to verification, and largely irrelevant to the individual’s capacity to preside one year over our little club. Also, reasonably reliable statics are that 70 % or more of both men and women have cheated on their spouses. (I have wondered whether information about sexual behavior causes people to vote against a candidate, or for a candidate. In nations such as France, Italy, Argentina and Bolivia, sexual prowess appears to be a positive for many candidates. In the U.S., how can an individual having had an extra marital affair vote against another with the same experience?)
Negative campaigning is embedded in the human psyche, a factor in all elections since the founding, except, perhaps, for George Washington. “Going negative” falsely allows the critic to rise above, to believe and to feel that he or she is in a position to judge and has a higher moral or intellectual status than the object of criticism. If I declare that Mrs. Clinton lied, I assume the right to judge, with or without supporting information. Tossing negative bullets makes the critic feel better, superior, to the targeted person.
Bottom line: negative campaigning is here to stay.
One aside. In 1960, Birch Bayh ran for the United States Senate on a song, played three or four times on hour on radio stations. The song was “Hey look him over, he’s your kind of guy; his first name is Birch, his last name is Bayh; send him off to Washington, ….” That campaign likely also had negative elements toward Senator Homer Capehart, but I do not remember them. Five years later, Birch Bayh wanted to use the song again only to find that his opponent had purchased the rights.