HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
October 23, 2006, Herald Journal

Ignore negative campaign ads


Remember that scene at the end of the Judy Garland movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” in which Dorothy is told to click the heels of her ruby red slippers together? The Good Witch Glenda tells Dorothy that all along she had the power from the shoes to go back home to Kansas.

Voters likewise have the power to end negative campaign advertising. Everyone complains about those negative ads, but we have the power to get rid of them. We just don’t realize it.

All we have to do is ignore them and not base our votes on what we see in them. It’s that simple.

The reason candidates use negative advertising, especially negative advertising on TV, is because they work. If they didn’t work, they wouldn’t waste millions of dollars of campaign funds on them, and the hours and hours of time invested in raising those millions of dollars.

The problem is, people believe whatever they see on TV. If it’s on TV, it must be true. Even the same people who complain about negative advertising are influenced by them.

TV’s influence must be based on the adage, “seeing is believing.” Voters aren’t nearly as persuaded to vote a certain way by print ads as they are by TV.

Print ads, though, help with name recognition, because ballots are printed and don’t show pictures of the candidates.

When voters aren’t familiar with the candidates’ positions, they will vote for a candidate whose name they recognize. That’s why it is very difficult to win an election against an incumbent.

If voters don’t recognize any of the names at all, they will choose a candidate with an ordinary name, such as Miller or Collins, not one that would be difficult to pronounce, such as Zchigfishingag. Minnesota voters tend to pick a Scandinavian sounding name if they don’t recognize any of the candidates’ names.

Another factor that influences voters on a subconscious level is how the candidate looks. Many voters will choose the best-looking candidate. Given a choice between two women, even female voters will choose the best-looking candidate.

Voters also tend to choose the tallest male candidate.

We can’t control our subconscious choices, however. We also have to keep in mind the makers of the negative advertisements purposely created images and words designed to get our attention and make us remember the content of the ad when we go to the polls.

Most of us have learned to tune out boring TV commercials about hemorrhoid medicine or laundry detergent, though. We can do the same with negative campaign ads.