Drawing on both laboratory experiments and the real world of America's presidential, gubernatorial, and congressional races, the authors show that negative advertising drives down voter turnout - in some cases dramatically - and that political consultants intentionally use ads for this very purpose. In the 1992 presidential election, by the authors' calculation, over 6 million votes were lost to negative campaigns. Negative ads work better for Republicans than for Democrats, and better for men than for women; unfortunately, negative ads also work better in general than positive ones, so attacking has become nearly universal. Republican primary campaigns increasingly set the tone for our national general elections, and they do so with relentless attacks. Everyone, even a war hero like Colin Powell, is fair game, and few reputations can emerge unscathed. The result of such a bitter contest is that independent voters, who are disproportionately well educated and open minded, are repulsed by the entire system and have been converted to non-voting apathetics. We are losing some of our best citizens, and pandering to the extremists who remain.
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(234mm x 155mm x 17mm)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
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US Kirkus Review »
One of those books destined to be more talked about than read: Two political scientists offer an interesting take on negative advertising in election campaigns. Ansolabehere (MIT) and Iyengar (UCLA) showed both actual TV spots and ads that they designed themselves to 3,500 adults during six California races, then asked a battery of questions to gauge responses to positive and negative tones. The surprising conclusions: "Attack ads" impart valuable information to voters about candidates' positions; they tend to reinforce voters' partisan predispositions rather than persuade them to change their views, and thus are not truly manipulative; and their most significant effect is to decrease voter turnout, especially among independent voters, by magnifying cynicism about the entire system. The authors decry the loss of these generally centrist nonpartisan voters, which they claim has led to the polarization of the Democratic and Republican parties; they do not address the issue of whether the nation would really benefit from greater involvement by citizens who get most of their political information from 30-second television commercials. Their remedy - strengthening the two major parties - appears to largely contradict the book's most controversial finding, that decreased turnout actually benefits the GOP, whose prevailing ideology depends on hostility to government. Readers will continually have to struggle past the stolid prose and noisy charts; and those who doubt the efficacy of "controlled experiments" by social scientists will have to suspend disbelief; one must assume, for example, that people for whom $15 is sufficient inducement to drive across Los Angeles in order to watch television are representative of the national electorate. While some of the results here are intriguing, most readers will no doubt prefer having the contents filtered by their favorite pundits. (Kirkus Reviews)
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