Bill Tieleman has a story in the Tyee: A Tale of Two Attack Ads from BC Libs, NPA about the emergence of negative campaigning from the right-wing parties in both the provincial and civic arenas. Now Bill is a loud and proud partisan guy and and always wants to portray his opponents in the most unflattering light possible, but this is more about strategy…the strategy of negative campaigning (which Tieleman feels is a mistake on the BC Liberals and NPA’s part). I think he’s pretty much 100% right about the BC Liberal’s decision to go after BC Conservative Jim Cummins.
But what about the other half of the equation?
In support of his argument, he cites this checklist, from a Democrat political consultant, of when to go negative:
- When you are taking on an incumbent;
- When you are being significantly outspent;
- When there is irrefutable information that your opponent has done something wrong;
- When your candidate has little name recognition.
Tieleman then checks the boxes above in relation to the NPA’s recent “Chicken and Wheat Fields” radio ads. The check marks aren’t as strong as those with the BC Liberals, but they’re still there enough to make you wonder what the NPA is thinking. But there’s more to Bill’s cite than the above, and it makes me think there might be method to the madness. Now it’s from Wikipedia, so caveat emptor and all that, but it kind of struck me…the entry carries on…
A subsequent study done by Stephen Ansolabehere and Shanto Iyengar in 1995 corrected some of the previous study’s flaws. This study concluded that negative advertising suppressed voter turnout, particularly for Independent voters. They speculated that campaigns tend to go negative only if the Independent vote is leaning toward the opponent. In doing so, they insure that the swing voters stay home, leaving the election up to base voters.
And then I was reminded about something Frances Bula said a few days ago (in a different context):
Elections are not just about winning votes. They’re about suppressing votes for the other side.
So while the NPA is taking on an incumbent…they’re not being outspent, they can’t really point to something they’re opponent has done terribly wrong (the Riot is close, but I personally am not convinced the majority of the public sees it in partisan terms…yet) and Suzanne Anton, as Tieleman says, has gotten lots of press over the last few years…well then….what does that leave?
Is it really their strategy to turn off independents and the non-decided enough they’ll stay home on election day?
It’s moments like this I find politics very, very depressing.