How Negative Is Negative Advertising?
(With thanks to Jamie Day, in our studio for the hideous picture of Trumpton...or is it Dillary?)
Here are my jokes about the candidates for US President:
I have two of them and they're both shit.
Don't take my word for it – see what Trump and Clinton have to say about each other.
Donald on Hillary: 'the devil'.
Hillary on Donald: 'a bigot'.
Little wonder commentators are calling this campaign 'the most negative in history'. Though I seem to recall the same being said about our election last year.
But before we blame the politicians for all the nastiness, let's ask why they resort to negativity.
First consider their audience: us.
As divisive as politics can be, three things unite 95% of voters:
- 1.Disinterest in politics
- 2.Contempt for politicians
- 3.That's it
With such a hostile crowd, why would politicians talk about how great they are? We'd never believe them!
The height of bile and apathy that stands between people and politicians makes negative advertising a no-brainer. Why bother rising above it when you can stoop to our prejudices by trashing your opponent?
That's why negative advertising – as much as we claim to hate it – works. It's easier and more effective to stoke dislike for a politician than to proclaim morning again in America. If that weren't true, power-hungry politicians wouldn't do it.
Second political advertising isn't as relentlessly negative as commentators tell us.
For every negative ad, there's a positive one. Here's Hillary and Donald – yes, even them – playing nice. And their campaign slogans, Stronger Together and Make America Great Again, might be vacuous but negative they ain't.
Third: is negative campaigning all that it seems?
If you were Clinton's ad man, it wouldn't be negative of you to tell voters what a disaster a Trump presidency would be; it would be your professional and patriotic duty. Because what really would be negative are the consequences of a madcap reality-TV star in the White House – which Donald would surely paint gold and rechristen Trump House. (He also plans to close Guantanamo Bay – but only to turn it into a golf resort.)
How revealing it was when Trump's 'negative' questioning of Hillary's health was last week vindicated by the news that Clinton has pneumonia and had lied about it.
What was called negative was, in fact, true.
And don't forget that negative campaigns are designed with us in mind. So before we blame Clinton, Trump and their ad men for so-called negativity, remember: we get the politicians and the campaigns we deserve.
Let me end by wishing Clinton a speedy recovery. But if the campaign has made her ill, now she knows how the rest of us feel.