Substance needs to be more than what’s flung
If you haven’t seen it firsthand you probably have heard about apes that throw their feces. Researchers – yes, people that actually study this behavior – contend primates do it to express anger and fear. Some scientists even claim that slinging stuff demonstrates the tossing ape’s superior communication skills in comparison to others of his species.
The slinging season is underway for politicians, and although surveys indicate public disdain for such behavior, those running for elected office do it anyway. Why? Because it works.
We contend mudslinging is simply a nicer word describing what apes and politicians are tossing. It is intended to gain the advantage by highlighting anything considered unfavorable about one’s opponent. Sometimes there is an element of truth in the negativity, but mostly it consists of embellishments and exaggeration.
Negative campaigning is nothing new. During the presidential race of 1796, Thomas Jefferson’s supporters accused President John Adams of having a, “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Those were fighting words for that time period.
A famous, negative television advertisement aired during the 1964 election season and was dubbed the “Daisy Girl.” In it, a child seen picking flowers in a field of daisies is interrupted by the sound of a blast and image of a mushroom cloud. The message, presented by incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign, portrayed challenger Barry Goldwater as being determined to enter into nuclear war.
Negative techniques include portraying an opponent as soft on criminals. Remember Willie Horton during the 1988 race between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis.
Candidates will often suggest or proclaim their opponents are dishonest, corrupt or a danger to society.
The most common negative campaigning begins by attacking the other side for running a negative campaign.
A Knights of Columbus-Marist Poll survey found that 78 percent of Americans are increasingly disenchanted with negative campaigning, including personal attacks on opponents in paid television and radio commercials. Additionally, 66 percent of respondents complained that candidates spend more time criticizing opponents than addressing issues.
The saddest part about negative campaigning is that in spite of personal claims, the public still accepts being the ones ultimately covered with the stuff candidates sling at one another.
We have long believed if all any politician can present is negative claims against an opponent, the mudslinging candidate probably does not have much to offer.
We encourage the public to be smarter than politicians slinging their stuff.